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KEITH BRAMICH ponders on the art of the conductor,
and attends the 2002 Donatella Flick Conducting Competition


One can try to analyse the craft of the conductor. As the only silent performer in music, his or her exact contribution to any interpretation is necessarily indirect, a combination of many factors and not easily measurable.

The basis is a technique for beating time clearly and for communicating musical information by gesture. Given suitable experience and training, this can be learnt in a few months. To be meaningful, though, it must be combined with a solid musicianship including ear training, an aptitude for scholarship and study (including a composer's view of the music), the practical ability to work with and relate to one's fellow musicians, rehearsing effectively and quickly, and, most elusive of all, a certain special kind of personality. In addition, many successful conductors have a private source of income, and have had the luck to be in the right place at the right time.

Paradoxically, many of the necessary attributes come more easily to the humble craftsperson than the all-dominating 'maestro'. An orchestra is very capable of playing music on its own -- something every budding conductor should keep in mind -- and may tear apart (or more likely simply ignore) any would-be conductor who isn't sure of (or can't effectively communicate) his or her interpretation, for whatever reason. Some would-be conductors find it difficult not to try too hard, and for some, the ability not to hinder the other musicians in their music-making proves too elusive.

Recent winners (left to right): Ivan Meylemans, Bundit Ungrangsee and Xian Zhang
Recent winners (left to right): Ivan Meylemans, Bundit Ungrangsee and Xian Zhang

Not surprisingly, for such an intangible art, conducting competitions can be rather contentious beasts, and this September/October has been a good time to observe some of the more recent additions to the genre. The second Vakhtang Jordania International Conducting Competition ran 9-15 September 2002 in Kharkov, Ukraine, and was won jointly by Belgian Ivan Meylemans and Ukrainian Yuri Yanko. The first Maazel/Vilar Conductors' Competition was held in Carnegie Hall, New York, USA, at the end of September -- again with joint winners -- Bundit Ungrangsee from Thailand and Xian Zhang from China.

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Copyright © 10 October 2002 Keith Bramich, Arthog, Wales, UK


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