Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting: A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2014, Humor)

Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting
A Note By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at on January 9th, 2014, under:
Fringe Thoughts on the Art of Conducting.

Reflecting on a conductor's task, I pondered not only the joys, but the risks and side-effects of the job, starting with the baton, well known for its boosting effects on the ego.

Long ago, it was the French Lully who stabbed himself in the foot while beating for his orchestra with a long staff; and he died shortly afterwards of infection. In one recent concert, pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy had to leave the podium [1] after piercing his hand with the tip of the baton; fortunately, by then rubbing alcohol and antibiotics were in common use. At the climax of a major concert, the audience gave a supporting ovation when the baton flew off of a most excited young conductor, and not to punish any member of his orchestra.

Giuseppe Sinopoli was hardly the first conductor to die of a heart-attack on the podium; indeed, Arthur Rubinstein [2] writes of an old friend of his with a similar fate decades earlier. Thus, not surprisingly is the case of an Iranian conductor, who reportedly complained of developing a gastric ulcer, not just proverbially, due to the inattentive members of his orchestras.

Some conductors always keep the baton in its casing when not in use. Some scratch their heads with it while thinking. A grandfatherly and otherwise graceful Robert Beecham,[3] didn't mind landing his baton hard, like a scepter, on a young fellow's skull to everyone's apparent amusement. When the music called, as in a Berlioz climax,[4] Charles Munch could seize the baton with both hands and bring it down like an ax on each emphatic beat. Furtwängler's hand and baton restlessly flapped and whipped the air.[5] Fritz Reiner barely moved the tip of his very white and long baton.[6] Then came George Prêtre,[7] who put away the baton, closed his eyes, and danced his way through the Offenbach before a smiling Berlin Philharmonic.

No wonder that Pierre Boulez did away with the baton, albeit for more sophisticated musical, pedagogical, symbolic, and almost ideological purposes.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Footnotes:

[1] A reference to the incident may be found here:

[2] See "My Young Years", Autobiography, Part I, by Arthur Rubinstein.

[3] Robert Beecham, Conversation and Rehearsal (1958), including the beating of the baton on the head of a young man in good humor:

[4] Charles Munch in the Finale of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique:

[5], [6], as well as [3], [4]: "Art of Conducting", DVD.

[7] George Prêtre, "dancing" to the Offenbach (1992):

(*) Consulted:
- Google General Search.
- Amcerican classical composer and UCLA Emeritus, Paul Reale, has a short humorous critique on conducting, which might still be available on his website:

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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