5 Taking Risks?

As we have touched on in the section  about dress rehearsals, the performance should not feel like another rehearsal. There should be more excitement, drama, commitment, energy, and passion. Some of this should happen automatically: due to the presence of the audience, the fact everyone is dressed differently, and the knowledge in the minds of the players that the conductor won’t stop and talk just as they are getting going! 

What do we do as conductors to take the performance to a higher level? Naturally, this answer depends on a number of factors. The less experience your musicians have, the less likely they are to be able to cope with your spontaneity. 

If the players are first rate, they may appreciate something being different from the rehearsals provided that the music is familiar and not too complex. This will particularly be the case on a long tour where the same programme might be performed several times. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. There are stories of one legendary conductor who, on the coach journey to the next venue, would ask the players which version of the symphony they wanted to do that evening, by reference to recordings of famous colleagues. An extreme example, certainly, and some might cry “Charlatan!”, but you can’t deny the skill involved in being able to do this. Conversely, if you are doing something differently just for the sake of it, and the resulting performance lacks consistency or cohesion, few will welcome it.

Musicians love to complain about conductors who do significantly faster tempi in the concert. Done in the right way, a little bit of added pace can generate excitement, but if it is too much and too often it calls into question whether the conductor is in control of themselves. Think of how elite athletes up their game throughout a competition. In the 100m at the recent Olympics the winner ran a time of 9.94 seconds in the 1st round, 9.84 in the semi-final, and 9.80 to win the gold medal. That’s not a bad way to think of your presto finale from rehearsal to dress rehearsal to concert. The best spontaneity is carefully planned!

Another good thought to take into the concert is the difference in what your mind and your ear has to process as you move from rehearsal mode to concert. In rehearsal, you have to be simultaneously in 3 time zones: processing what has just happened; listening to what’s happening in the moment; and thinking ahead. The luxury of the concert is that you only have to  concentrate on being in the moment and the future. What’s in the past is for the critics to worry about!

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