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Included are passages of interviews with Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano and JoAnn Falletta; not surprisingly what they have to say backs up the author's points, and what comes through very clearly is the need these days for the music director to be very good at public speaking -- not something the old warriors had to worry about. But now is now, and Wittry is right up with what the present-day scene constitutes -- what orchestra now can get away without having educational and outreach programs, for example, and they are now part of the director's brief as much as the Mahler nights.
Some might bridle at things like Slatkin's airy statement that 'There is plenty of work for a good conductor', and to be fair, Wittry herself includes sections about dealing with rejection and the odds against even getting auditions let alone a job. The overall tone of the book however, is relentlessly positive (in a somewhat American self-help book kind of way), which may grate a bit with more cynical Euro types who have been banging on doors for years without getting an answer. Every book has its boundaries, and Wittry's does not cross into areas that are too messy.
While pointing out the obvious, that it is a good idea to study with people who can open doors for you, she does not tackle the peculiar mixture of nepotism, favouritism, out-and-out brown-nosing and misogyny which attends the rise of conductors through the ranks, and partly explains why so few are actually any good. Perhaps things are more open in the supposedly meritocratic USA rather than closed-shop Europe, but I doubt the difference is vast. Koussevitsky's favouritism of Bernstein was notorious, and anyone who has read Norman Lebrecht's book The Maestro Myth will have had a view of the scene at the 'star' end -- but it applies at all levels. The would-be conductor needs to be a dirty-dealing politician too. Every orchestra has its own politics and the director is in the middle of that stew, and this is what Wittry most misses.
Copyright © 27 May 2007
Paul Sarcich, London UK