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Date & Time: Date and Time: November 2, 2009 (Mon.) 5:00 to 7:00 PM
Venue: Venue: The Park Hyatt Tokyo, 39th floor, the Venetian Room
Host: Tsuneyoshi Kuchinaka (Secretary General, Tokyo International Music Competition <Conducting>)

Following the Panel of Judges Chairman Toyama's opening remarks, panelists presented theories of conducting formulated from their personal experience. After a break, there was a question-and-answer session.

Opening remarks from the Panel of Judges Chairman
Yuzo Toyama

The fact is that it is nearly impossible to explain or teach composition and conducting. That said, the conductors who have joined us here today are all terrific instructors. I would really have liked to have an orchestra brought in so we could hear what sort of sounds they could draw from it, but at the very least, I want to listen closely to what they have to say.

Theories of Conducting from Personal Experience

I would like to thank you all for joining us here today for this symposium commemorating the 2009 15th annual Tokyo International Music Competition for Conducting: "The global conducting world is "now" - Theories of conducting from personal experience". Although the symposium title may make it seem otherwise, we are not here to perform critical analysis. We will not, for example, say that the greatest conductors of the first half of the 20th century were Toscanini, Furtwängler, and Bruno Walter, or that the last half of the 20th century belonged to Karl Böhm, Karajan, and Bernstein, or discuss whether the great conductor of the first half of the 21st century will be Gergiev, or Sir Simon Rattle, or Myung-whun Chung.
We will simply have each conductor talk about his or her theories of conducting from a personal standpoint.
Gathered here today are competition winners, those who were awarded honorable mention, those who passed the video and document reviews and lasted through the first elimination round, as well as students of the conducting department at colleges of music, those with ties to orchestras, and the media.
To begin, I would like to have each conductor speak for about five minutes. Then we'll take a break, followed by open discussion and a question-and-answer session.

  • Claire Gibault (France)
    The first woman to conduct Milan's La Scala orchestra, Claire Gibault has also made guest appearances with the Berlin Philharmonic, Britain's Royal Opera, and other orchestras. Former Music Director of the Orchestra of the Opéra National de Lyon. She is currently conductor of the Orchestra Mozart Bologna, founded by Claudio Abbado.

    An important part of working as a conductor is, according to my teacher, Claudio Abbado, "having the ears to hear the orchestra properly". A conductor needs to be able to properly judge whether a sound or a person has potential, and to have the power to blend those potentials together. One needs musical expression as well, of course, but I think being able to skillfully moderate the unforeseen developments and sounds that come up during performances is an important requirement in conducting.
    Another important thing is to be observant, to see what's around you. Many young conductors stop looking around them once the performance begins, but you need the concentration to observe the entire orchestra equally even after the performance has started, not just beforehand. Just as there will be people with definite presence in the orchestra, there will also be people whom nobody notices, even though they are marvelously talented. It's important to take good care of people like that, too.
    During this competition, I saw people conducting with left-right symmetry. I would like to have you keep in mind the importance of the intersection between the right and left brains, between reason and emotion. You may or may not hold a baton, depending on the circumstances - for an opera, for example - but personally, I honestly don't think there's much of a difference.
    With regard to words, I do agree with the idea that conductors should not speak much. That said, I don't think it's ideal for them to be completely silent, either.
    I'd like you to understand that orchestra rehearsals are like directing a play. You need to pay attention to how you measure time, for example: the time you let pass, time for rhythm, time for emotion, time you take slowly, relaxed time, time for reading the score. I'm about to leave here to board a plane back to Paris, but conductors mustn't be like the automatic pilot on an airplane. In order to create performances that leave an impression, it's important that you do more than just emphasize order. You need to properly catch the sounds that are audible in the disordered places as well.
    I'm looking forward to seeing all of you again.
    (Gibault departed immediately afterward to catch a direct flight back to Paris.)

  • Peter Gülke (Germany)
    The last great master of Germany's orthodox school, Peter Gülke is a professor in the conducting department of the Freiburg State College of Music. He appeared as guest conductor with the NHK symphony orchestra in 1983, and is former General Music Director of the city of Wuppertal. Also a renowned musicologist, he revised Beethoven's Symphony No. 5, "Fate", in the "Gülke Origin Edition".

    As I mentioned during the press conference, there are several important elements to being a conductor. I've been told that a conductor's actions must have an aura about them; that he must be a good conversationalist. However, conductors' actions can be both learned and controlled.
    In order to improve the quality of the orchestra, I think that it is vital to have a conductor. However, the conductor's personality, his musicality, and the sort of music he envisions are all involved to a great extent in the creation of wonderful music. Recently, you'll sometimes see famous musicians conducting. As conductors, their technique may not be perfect, but quite often these concerts turn out splendidly. Mind you, I'm not saying that conductors don't need technique.
    At present, conductors do not have much time to work at improving the quality of their orchestras. Unfortunate as it may be, many conductors spend much of their time working at things that have nothing to do with music. In such a situation, the really important thing is to exchange ideas with the orchestra. It becomes very important to take the orchestra's performance inside yourself, merging it with your own music.
    Conductors are always confronted with great musicians such as Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Bruckner, and there's always the question of "What should we do?" But when you're standing on the platform in front of the orchestra, there's no time to hesitate. You have to work with your orchestra and bring that music to life.
    As a conductor, you must never forget that music is made by musicians: the conductor himself can't make a sound. If all you think about is technique, you won't be able to convey the music you envision. I think the ability to forget technique and conduct is what makes a good conductor.

  • Rainer Küchl (Austria)
    Rainer Küchl has supported one of the finest orchestras in the world, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, as Principal Concertmaster for 39 years, since he first took up the post as a 21-year-old music university student. He is a professor at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna.

    Professor Gülke spoke in detail about conducting, and I don't think there's much for me to add. As that's the case, today I'll speak about what I've picked up in my 39 years as Concertmaster for the Vienna Philharmonic.
    I was just 21 when I first took up my post as concertmaster, so at the time I felt I had no choice but to do as the conductor said. I thought that was "the truth". However, later, as I gained more experience, I learned that the conductor is the orchestra's partner, not its commander. In the beginning, I sometimes thought that it would be possible to make music even without a conductor. I thought anybody could wave a baton around. I thought that if each member of the orchestra had the score fixed firmly in his head, we could perform, for example, a Mahler symphony without a conductor. But one day, it happened that we had to perform without a conductor, and I learned just how hard it was. That convinced me that conductors were absolutely necessary. During opera performances in particular, the role they play in coordinating the orchestra and the stage is huge.
    Professor Gülke mentioned this as well, but the intervals between concerts are short for modern conductors, and it's difficult to find the time to rehearse. When an orchestra has performed the same piece for many years, there are sometimes conflicts between the orchestra and the conductor over things the orchestra has grown used to, but this goes against the intent of the composer. I think the most important thing for a conductor is personality. To me, it's very important that the conductor have the composer's intent within him.
    Orchestras can't exist unless they perform many concerts, so, as with sports, once one "match" has ended, they have to move right into the next one. However, if you think, "We play Beethoven and Mozart all the time, so I don't have to do anything anymore," you're completely wrong. It's the same way with operas: when the theater works on a repertoire system, they'll go straight into performances without rehearsing, but I think it would be better to have more time for the music.
    I hope that all the young conductors here will be able to take their time working with their orchestras. It takes time to create something with an orchestra. I would like for conductors and orchestras not to be in opposition with each other, but to be able to have the time to give expression to music together.

  • Jorma PANULA (Finland)
    A legendary professor at the Sibelius Academy, Jorma Panula has trained a dazzling array of star conductors, including Salonen, Saraste, Oramo, Vänskä, Mikko Franck, and Paavo Järvi.

    I would like the young conductors here to study the printouts I've made. Without an orchestra, conductors can express nothing. We are given large salaries, but I think the orchestra should be paid more than the conductor. We conductors exist only to convey the composer's message. Forget trying to put your own interpretation on what the composer wrote. Ravel said, "Don't try to interpret my music! Play it!" Conductors tend to be extraordinarily egotistical, self-centered people: trust your orchestra. Trust your orchestra instead of desperately conducting.
    When conducting, body language is the most important thing. Music is a language that the whole world shares, so there's no need for more words on top of it. My motto is "Help the orchestra, but don't get in their way!" It's terribly unfortunate that famous masters tend not to teach very much. I think they should teach more. I think the most important thing in teaching is to pass on all the information you know. I teach my students absolutely everything I know. However, the pay for teaching is low as compared to conducting, so there are many people who don't want to teach all that much.

  • Hubert Soudant (Netherlands)
    Hubert Soudant has won first or second prizes in the Karajan, Besançon and Cantelli conducting competitions. Former Music Director of the Salzburg Mozarteum symphony orchestra, he is a central figure in the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra's rise to national prominence.

    When I participated in the Karajan competition, Karajan said this to a contestant: "Today, you are conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. I hope very strongly that, when you're as old as I am, you will still be conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. I also hope that you will not be afraid to make many mistakes." The danger among today's young conductors is that they don't even have the time to make mistakes.
    Mr. Küchl also spoke of having no time to rehearse, and it's a serious problem. If I conduct the Vienna Philharmonic without rehearsing, I will learn many things from the orchestra, but it will be difficult for me to build on those things and grow. For example, the most important thing when performing a Berg violin concerto is style, adding the scent of Vienna to it. You can try to communicate that quickly, but it won't work very well. In my case, beginning with the Salzburg Mozarteum symphony, I learned many things through rehearsals with great musicians.
    Conductors and musicians must have a mutual respect for each another. Even if today's performance doesn't go well, the conductor must not blame the musicians. In one of his letters, Carlos Kleiber wrote, "I want you to have more freedom when making music." I think I'd like to close with those words.

Question and Answer Session
  • Keita Matsui (winner)

    Mr. Rainer Küchl, is there any particular conductor who's made the greatest lasting impression on you?

  • Rainer Küchl

    To me, the best conductor is a conductor who gives us ultimate freedom. There are many conductors like that.

  • Mayana Ishizaki (Contestant in second elimination round)

    Mr. Panula, you've trained many students. What sort of conductors would you like to see trained around the world today?

  • Jorma PANULA

    Capable ones! (laughs) Conductors who don't get in the orchestra's way; that's the most important thing there is.

  • Julien Leroy (winner)

    Tell us what you think of the attitudes of conductors from various countries.

  • Hubert Soudant

    In the Netherlands, if you make a slip of the tongue when you're young, they'll still be bringing it up when you're sixty or seventy, so it's best commit yourself to music and not say any more than you have to.
    On the other hand, in France, you can succeed today and they'll have forgotten about it by the day after tomorrow. People's powers of concentration are limited, so you'll have to compensate for that somehow.
    In Salzburg, you should keep in mind that music is a part of everyday life, not an event or a show.
    In Japan, there are many people who think too formally. When a rehearsal is set to start at 10:30, I'll go to the hall at 9:30 and talk about music or practice bow changes. I'll prepare for the music before rehearsal starts and head into rehearsals or performances that way.

  • Daisuke Mogi

    Let's hear about issues with notation and modern instruments when performing music from the 18th and 19th centuries.

  • Peter Gülke

    There are two viewpoints here. One is that we've learned a variety of things from prior customs and research. From what I've seen, I think the actual developments in instrumental performances in the past 30 or 35 years have been the result of research. However, what we mustn't forget is that we don't know how Bach actually had violins or cellos or viols perform in his day.
    Music is recreated in the instant it's performed, so it doesn't matter whether music is from the 15th century or the 18th century or the early 20th century: I can perform it any way I choose. Also, performing a piece with antique instruments doesn't guarantee that that's the original, as it was when it was composed.
    Then, too, even if I myself have a performance of "Die Walküre" on the weekend, I may be performing a Bach symphony on Thursday of that week, so you can't ask people, particularly those who play stringed instruments, to perform on antique instruments. Music must be performed on instruments you identify with, so I don't think performances that use old instruments are anything more than attempts to get closer to the original. I think it's also possible to strike a compromise between the real original and the present piece. The most important thing is that both you and the orchestra members feel the same way about playing on instruments you identify with.

  • Daisuke Mogi

    New editions come out one after another, becoming more complicated, and sometimes a new one is issued every couple of years. How should conductors handle these new scores? Is it always necessary to go all the way back to the source? Or is it more realistic to trust a specific edition and perform from that one?

  • Peter Gülke

    Everyone - including myself - worries about scores. That's why, when I'm working with a new orchestra for the first time, we spend the first twenty minutes talking exclusively about the meaning of notations in the score. There are many wonderful pieces being composed at present, but when I look at the scores, I tend to think they could stand to have been written a bit more simply. I have conducted the premiers of many works, and every time I do, I've worried about what these young composers meant.
    There were two terrific composers in the 20th century who wrote simple scores. One was Alban Berg. When you look at Berg's scores, even though the music itself is quite complex, the score is written very simply. However, Alban Berg passed away in 1935; if he seems like an older composer, then let's talk about Lutosławski, who wrote brilliant scores later on, in the last half of the 20th century. Musicians must first internalize the music, then perform that complicated music as simply as they possibly can.
    About editions ... There are a lot of them in general, but there are comparatively few editions for Haydn and Mozart. When actually using them with an orchestra, it's especially tough for the strings, because they have to change their bowing. One of my fellow musicologists' bad points is incorporating everything new, thinking, "This is the best, it isn't like anything that's come before." I think that's a very silly way of doing things.
    Returning to classical music, there are many things that were customarily used at the time that are not customary today. For Mozart in particular, I think it's incredibly foolish that they publish editions in which the long phrases are read and performed in a completely different way than they would have been at the time.
    By the way, I researched Beethoven, and he was the first composer to be able to personally check the score for his own pieces one more time. What you have to remember is that, until 1821, the scores for Beethoven's symphonies had never been published. They'd printed only the parts, so the concertmaster would transcribe the wind instruments' parts while he was on break. So you see, at the time, it wasn't possible to check whether each part was accurate in the score.
    An English publisher subsequently started to print scores, and Beethoven was the very first composer to be able to edit his own scores. The only one he actually managed to check was his Ninth. He'd composed many pieces, and once they were printed that was considered good enough, so he wasn't in any position to ask that those be checked as well. In that sense, paradoxically, Beethoven is often performed in more editions than the composers who preceded him.
    I think good conductors have found and corrected printed mistakes. They're still doing it today. There are Breitkopf and Bärenreiter editions of Beethoven's scores, and the Bärenreiter edition isn't perfect either. That said, I think these two are particularly good editions of Beethoven.

  • Host

    This has been a wonderfully rewarding symposium, and I think we'll wrap it up now. I would like to thank all the panelists, and all those who came to listen, for giving us their time today.