Monday, January 29, 2007

Mad Dad, Glad Dad

Yesterday brought back-to-back concerts in which young (or youngish) musicians played under senior conductors, and it made me wonder how far the different typologies of parental style carry over into the orchestral world.

Lorin Maazel, who conducted the Symphonica Toscanini in Berkeley in the afternoon, came off like an embodiment of that scary archetype, the dad who's always mad. He was actually quite gracious to the musicians, who played very well on the whole, but the interaction never felt entirely safe. There was a vibe in the air all afternoon that made you feel as though anyone who flubbed an entrance would be going to bed without any supper.

Then I crossed the Bay for a concert inaugurating the new concert hall at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and heard the finale of Tchaikovsky's Fourth played by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Conservatory Orchestra — and man, did they have a good time! It was as though MTT's goal was not just to elicit a fine performance out of these kids — which he did — but also to jolly them along, and to help them get why it was really worthwhile to do their best. Good parenting, in other words.

I don't want to oversell the contrast — obviously, there's a world of difference between being the music director of an ensemble of fully trained professional musicians, and doing a short one-night stand-in with a group of undergraduates. And I've heard enough stories about life in the New World Symphony — not just from former players, but from MTT himself — to know that you really, really don't want to be the oboist who suddenly forgets how many sharps there are in the passage you're in the middle of.

Still, if I were a young Bratschenspieler, I think I know who I'd rather play under.


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