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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

Conducting ourselves

It must be an immense disappointment to British musical prestige that they are no longer able to produce conductors worthy of any of the major appointments in our musical business.

Apart from the posts held with its admirable Concert Orchestra, the BBC has been unable to find any British conductors either for London or the regions. Excepting the London Symphony and the Hallé in Manchester, there is a dearth of British conductors even appointed as guests or assistants with the country's leading symphony orchestras.

Distressing as this certainly is to British esteem, and to composers and artists who, theoretically at least, usually lose out to foreign incumbents, it could be that the young in Britain do not feel the need to develop themselves into commanding musical gymnasts. Maybe they see the superficial showmanship of standard repertoire conducting as the wasteful expenditure of energy. And they are unlikely to demand successfully the fees of a Bernstein, Tennstedt, Mehta or Previn for battling the commercial, establishment and orchestral personnel to produce performances of something new or unfamiliar. Such an idealistic musical British conductor is extremely rare, and unlikely to be taken on by an agent; without an agent a conductor is unlikely to get a job anywhere, let alone Britain.

Perhaps it is the onset of a growing disillusionment with the entire business (the word is chosen deliberately) of orchestral manoeuvring, of agency control over what have become coveted appointments. It must surely be suspected that many such appointments are not made on musical grounds, for discerning observers can tell the difference between efficient podium government, dynamic charm, and the real ability to serve a real composer's vision and interests.

And the physical antics of conductors dancing to Vivaldi or making Beethoven stressful or unnecessarily brandishing and perspiring to Brahms or Stravinsky or even Ravel's Bolero (usually directed by the first snare drum) where only tempo and an alert ear need stimulate a few economical gestures -- all this needless display can be embarrassing. Maybe our disappointment over lack of British conductors in Britain can be relieved by knowing that we are not being a party to embarrassing or bankrupting our musical stage.

Copyright © 17 October 2002 Patric Standford, West Yorkshire, UK


From: Marco Romano, USA

Patric Stanford is understandably mistaken when he says that there is a dearth of good British conductors.

I am a British conductor. I have significant insights into works which I see churned out by many inferior conductors who are seemingly unaware of what lies behind the notes.

However, I am invisible because I am not 'in the loop', which is where Patric Standford's point is perfectly understandable. I have no reason to believe that I am the only one. There must be many talented conductors out there, but with the routes on to decent podia monopolised by a tiny minority of agents and managements who look only to competition winners or particular proteges for new blood, this will continue to be the case and the greater part of our own conducting talent will simply wither away and die or, as many of my colleagues have done, go abroad and stay abroad.

The situation is doubly distructive since the monopoly which currently exists shows every sign of becoming narrower and narrower. I am aware of the fact that a response of this nature could be construed as 'sour grapes'- indeed I would have every justification in feeling bitter -- but I say simply this to anyone who thinks I or any of the other voicless souls who are suffering in the wilderness might not have as much to offer as we think ; Ask me. I'll show you.




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