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Clueless Artist and Quirky Conductor

A young piano student friend of mine recently advised me of the following that I will post in large part. This young man is not a prude nor does he walk around in a tux all day. You may find what he has to say – interesting…

“Tonight, I attended what can only be described a a bizarre concert. The program itself would not have suggested this result; it consisted of Brahm’s Academic Festival Overture, Mozart’s “Bassoon Concerto” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3.

The Brahms began the program normally. It was, at best, an unimaginative interpretation on the part of the conductor. The Mendelssohn, on the other hand, was much too imaginative. For this, the conductor overconducted. One of the things I have learned from my semester of instrumental conducting is to always conduct the music. Apparently, nobody ever passed on this tip to the maestro. Not only was his four pattern demented to the point that it was almost unrecognizable, at several points he employed what I can only describe as a “3rd base coach move.” It appeared he was instructing the orchestra to go for home! (If you’re not a baseball fan, just imagine someone windmilling their baton arm.) You may imagine that I am exaggerating, but I am convinced that if the musicians had not been so familiar with the music, they would not have been able to follow 90% of what was going on at the podium.

Strange as all of this may have been, it was not the strangest part of the concert. You may be puzzling at my choice of subject. (NOTE: This was -”Mozart Was Not a Gigolo”)

The bassoonist who played the Mozart concerto was a young accomplished player. When one thinks of a Mozart concerto, one does not generally picture a soloist walking on stage with a bright purple button-up shirt with the collar popped up and a black fedora hat tilted across his head. However, this is precisely what the bassoonist wore. I have noticed that the “too-cool-for-school” look has become popular among younger musicians, but I have never seen it taken to such extremes.

The first impression a musician makes does not come from the first note that is played. It comes from the first time the audience catches a glimpse of him. When you pop your collar and don a hat, not even bothering to put on a tie or button the collar, it suggests to me that you don’t take the event seriously. I believe that playing as a soloist with an orchestra is a significant event. Even playing as a member of the orchestra is significant enough to merit the wearing of a tuxedo. This is a formal event, and a special event for the winning soloist of a competition – which this young man was.

I can’t take someone seriously as a musician if he doesn’t bother to dress appropriately. Mozart may have been a flirt, but he certainly was not a gigolo. I have been fortunate enough to se many tremendous musicians perform, and they all take their art seriously enough to dress formally and professionally. This was not a professional choice, and it negatively colored my opinion of the bassoonist. Perhaps if he had bothered to wear a tie, I would not have assumed that the smile on his face was a cocky smirk. Perhaps I would not have assumed that he was a smug, self-inflated blowhard. Perhaps I would not have assumed that his movements to the music were indulgent, staged movements. But because he did not display any respect for music, an art form which I hold particularly sacred, these were exactly the impressions I got. Perhaps that is too judgmental for some, but it’s the image that he projected. It doesn’t matter to me how skilled you may be; if you cannot treat the music with its appropriate decorum, you will never be a serious artist.

We’re not going clubbing. Classical music needs to have elegance, gracefulness, respect, and decorum. What the bassoonist showed me was that this performance was all about drawing attention to himself in the most outlandish fashion possible. That’s backwards. The performer should be a vehicle for expressing the music; when the music is used to served the performer, it becomes empty.”

NOTE from the poster: I thoroughly enjoyed the passion by which this young man expressed his views. Youth must ‘say its say’. It it encouraging to see that one who is serious in his schooling and about his profession-to-be speaks out for the traditional stand. However, are purple shirts, white shoes and top hats soon to take over the classical stage? What are your views..?

Al Williams,
Classical Pianists of the Future