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Conductors: March 2008 Archives

World's Bravest Orchestra

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Iraq National Symphony Orchestra

In Iraq, the Symphony Orchestra Plays On

By Melik Kaylan
Wall Street Journal

Karim Wasfi, age 36, arrives driving a white Range Rover and dressed in a blazer, vest and ascot. Sporting aviator shades, his ample form topped by lush black hair, he could be one of the Three Tenors – or a staunchly civilized orchestra director, which is, in fact, what he is. When orchestra directors go around the streets of Baghdad looking exactly as they should, you know that things are bucking up. Except that Mr. Wasfi has held that post at the Iraq National Symphony Orchestra since 2004, through the darkest of times, and he has always looked like this. We set off at speed out of Mansour toward downtown Baghdad listening to Wagner. "The Ride of the Valkyries" to be precise.

"In the car, I also listen to the Saint-Saëns requiem and the Mozart requiem – that's usually the right mood for Baghdad," says Mr. Wasfi, in his cultivated English, as the checkpoint militias gape incredulously and wave us on. He has lost count of the times he has just missed being caught in a bomb blast or a firefight. "I vary my route to work – which I think may be more dangerous. In '06 I had to leave town and disappear for six months for my safety, but we still kept going – I organized two concerts from afar. . . . At one point, I had to tactfully get a formal religious proclamation from a top cleric that music was not profane. That took care of one group only. Still, these days, it's certainly better than it was – I'm trying to up the concerts to twice a month, but that includes a lot of chamber performances which I initiated some months ago," he says.

"At the very least, the audience must know for sure that somewhere in the city there will be a concert on the last Saturday of every month," says Mr. Wasfi, who is also co-conductor with Mohammed Amin Ezzat. "Then we give out the location in the last moment, for security. We do it by email, word-of-mouth, phone calls – I tell everyone I know. Even then, many hundreds turn up, depending on the place. That's our problem: We don't have a regular home. Well . . . one of our problems."

Read more about this at the Wall Street Journal website:

   http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120658471242267747.html

Symphony Orchestra of India

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Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI)

Sound of a hundred violins

By Warren D'Mello
The Hindu

Marat Bisengaliev, from Kazakhstan, is putting together India's first symphonic orchestra, in collaboration with the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. He talks about the challenges…

Besides creating a new orchestra from scratch, Bisengaliev's biggest challenge is to create an audience for Western classical music.

"The people of Mumbai love the opera," declares Marat Bisengaliev. "The storyline is something like Bollywood." The virtuoso Kazakh violinist is the founding music director of the Symphony Orchestra of India (SOI), the first professional orchestra in India. He has been assigned the mammoth task of building a symphony orchestra from the ground up, in a city where Western classical music is confined to a tiny section of the elite who frequent the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) at Nariman Point, the uptown part of Mumbai. It is, seemingly, quite a formidable task for anyone to pull off, but Bisengaliev brims with optimism. This is not the first orchestra he's put together – he is the founder of the Kazakh Chamber Orchestra and the West Kazakhstan Philharmonic Orchestra (WKPO). Besides, judging from the sold-out performances of the Puccini opera "Madama Butterfly", Mumbai's audience certainly looks hungry for more song and dance.

There is no escaping from music at the NCPA. The rooms at the guest house are all occupied by the SOI's musicians, deep into their daily riyaaz. As we sit in a dark, empty corridor of one the NCPA theatres, low notes from a tuba reverberate in the distance, creating an evocative backdrop for the interview.

So how did the SOI come together? Bisengaliev points out that the orchestra is still in the process of coming together. The SOI was born in 2006, the result of a collaboration between the NCPA and Marat Bisengaliev, and now in its fourth season, is in a dynamic phase of growth. Bisengaliev's job is by no means easy, with sections of the orchestra to be perfected, new players to be auditioned and groomed, and the orchestral repertoire to be worked on. "We are discussing which direction to go. Should we go with operas which people love or should we have more symphony or chamber music or should we have the ballet? I think we should be diverse and do it all," says Bisengaliev.

Read the interview at The Hindu website:

   http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/03/23/stories/2008032350210700.htm

Does Hate Inspire Great Performance?

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Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Bad blood, great art

In CSO's search for director, history shows despised conductors can inspire best performances

By Alan G. Artner
Chicago Tribune

As the procession of guest conductors has crossed the podium of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and speculation has centered on this or that visitor as a possible candidate for music director, a consideration has appeared that largely was absent from past searches.

Reviews of concerts not only have described what has been heard by the audience but also have drawn upon backstage reports on how well the musicians enjoyed working with the conductor, in some cases characterizing the interactions as "love fests."

Such regard for player opinion is inevitable at a time when orchestras have more to say about their destinies than ever before. But the theory that musicians' liking a conductor personally or musically will foreshadow a distinguished partnership is false. Some of the conductors most admired today were, in fact, hated by their musicians.

The greatest musical partnership in Chicago, confirmed by recordings that for 50 years have continuously been available, was between the CSO and Fritz Reiner, an artist described as a precisionist, perfectionist, conductor's conductor, martinet, tyrant and sadist. Critic Paul Griffiths delicately wrote, Reiner's "insistence on rhythmic precision and clarity from his players was unmoderated by any wish to be loved." Critic Harold C. Schonberg bluntly wrote, Reiner "would probably have run at the bottom in any kind of popularity poll taken among orchestral musicians." Yet Reiner raised a good provincial orchestra to one of North America's "Big Five," and had he not been averse to touring, would have gotten it recognized in Russia and Western Europe 20 years before Georg Solti did. It is no exaggeration to say the outstanding CSO began with Reiner, that is, not with love but with fear.

Read more about this at the Chicago Tribune website:

   http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/chi-0316_hatedmar16,1,5650169.story

A Vote for Modern Music

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The energetic Berg Orchestra gets into the spirit

Berg Chamber Orchestra

By Frank Kuznik
Prague Post

The Berg Orchestra is opening its spring season with a great musical marketing gimmick: a contest to decide the best new work that the group premiered last year. Seven pieces by young Czech composers were chosen for the competition, which was decided by popular public vote and a professional jury of eight foreign composers.

The contest attracted more than 250 voters – a good number for any modern music event in Prague – and was close, according to Berg artistic director and conductor Peter Vrábel. "There was no single runaway winner," he says. "With the jury alone, there were three first-place winners."

No matter. Through a complicated vote weighting system that was a bit difficult to sort out in translation from Czech to English, a clear winner was determined, and will be performed at the group's concert Thursday night, along with modern music works by Glass, Martinů and Honegger.

This is not the way an orchestra usually operates. But there's little that's typical about Berg, from the music it plays to the venues that it plays in, which have included the Svetozor cinema, Museum Kampa and the city's old sewage treatment plant (now the Ekotechnické museum). "We always try to discover something new for the audience," Vrábel says in a classic bit of understatement.

Read more about this at the Prague Post website:

   http://www.praguepost.com/articles/2008/03/12/a-vote-for-modern-music.php

Is Conducting An Art Form?

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Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy criticises "egocentric" conductors

By Robyn Powell and agencies
Telegraph

Violinist Nigel Kennedy has criticised star conductors for their egocentric behaviour, for being more interested in promoting their image, than spending time with an orchestra.

Kennedy said some conductors spent only a few weeks with an orchestra. He told The Times: "How many will develop an orchestra rather than feeding off its achievements? They're straight off for the dollar. Round the corner to get a better job. All they're interested in is strutting about, wielding a bit of power.

Nigel Kennedy denounced conducting as an art form

"A conductor can galvanise the troops and evolve an artistic programme and identity of style. If they only give five or ten weeks a year [to an orchestra], how can they do that?" However, he declined to name any specific conductors. But denounced conducting as a form of art for his preference for playing music. "Why would you want to stand there waving a stick when you could be playing an instrument?" he said.

Read more about this at the Telegraph website:

   http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/03/12/nkennedy112.xml

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