Book Review: Beyond the Baton (What Every Conductor Needs to Know) by Diane Wittry (2/3)
Here is the second part of my review of Diane Wittry's book Beyond the Baton (the first part can be found here). I will now lead you through the following three chapters, which in my opinion contain the most valuable part of the book:
4 - Artistic Leadership
5 - Artistic Programming
6 - The People Factor
Maestro Thielemann, the last of the old-fashioneds...
Chapter 4 - Artistic Leadership
In this chapter Wittry is basically saying, that the "good old times" when a conductor was feared by the orchestra and was able to fire a musician he did not like on the spot are over, and now the other kind of leader is in demand. The kind who commands respect and trust and wins the orchestra over with his expertise and knowledge.
To me this seems to be the trend at least in the West. I have encountered slightly different attitudes in Eastern Europe, and I must say that both have their good sides! I know some conductors who really miss the old times for the sake of discipline and preparedness of the musicians, and some seemingly refuse to notice the change of the millennium...
Steps to Becoming a Successful Leader
So, after learning that we cannot model our own career after our idols (sigh!), we need to acquire new leadership skills to effectively manage a modern arts organization. Wittry states, that to be a successful leader you need only two things: 1) knowledge of what followers want or need, and 2) spirit of excitement and commitment that energizes people.
Players of the orhestra are humans like you, of course, and they have their individual needs and worries besides playing their instrument. Try to get to know them - it is your orchestra after all! Try to give them the means to work on the highest possible level, only after that you can hold them accountable if that is not the case.
The organization should also commit to a common set of values and set itself goals that are "just out of reach" so that it will need to stretch past its comfort zone. Wittry writes at length about setting goals, coping with change, teamwork etc. usual "business organization stuff" (which I might have passed by just referring to a couple of other sources).
Thoughts about Artistic Vision
The chapter finishes with thoughts from maestros Slatkin, Spano and Falletta. For Slatkin vision is the main thing why the orchestra hires a conductor. He must be able to see where the orchestra will be ten years from now. Slatkin also encourages you to constant self-evaluation to remind you what is needed to achieve your (or your orchestra's) goals. Robert Spano emphasizes teamwork within the orchestra administration and admits that there might be a lot of music that (from the "visionary" point of view) needs to be done but which he himself is not keen to conduct. Maestra Falletta emphasizes gradual change over revolutions in shaping the orchestra's future.
A total concert experience!
Chapter 5 - Artistic Programming
Subscription Concert Programming
For me this chapter was the "main course" of the book - the guidelines were easy to grasp and made me wonder why in most Finnish orchestras the seasonal programming seems to be totally random - at most built around worn-out ideas, like "let's perform all Sibelius symphonies this year"!
Wittry writes, that in order to have the passion in the music making needed to inspire the orchestra, you must first look into your personal strengths in repertoire. The next thing is to be realistic with the orchestra. What kind of repertoire the orchestra needs to develop in stylistic as well as technical sense? How much rehearsal time do you have? And you need to ask also are your programs marketable and interesting to the audience.
Knowing your audience is vital in building good programs. You have the regular subscriber, a single ticket buyer, a student, a family etc. etc. One of your goals is also to look for new concert goers, to reach out to a bigger audience.
The tool Wittry uses in the actual process of the concert programming is categorizing the music according to its intensity, atmosphere, style, length and basic form, and then toying with these alternatives. I know some people dislike simplifying things like this, but I personally find this a brilliant idea to make the overall picture of the whole concert season more understandable. More so, in a context of American orchestras where you need to convince non-musicians to support your concert plans this approach will make your task easier.
You need to take a look at the orchestra's program history, survey the soloists you can use, identify composer anniversaries and other important events and take a look at the new interesting music too, to have maximum information before the actual programming. After that you can decide the "cornerstone" (symphony, concerto, theme) around which you build the whole program. With the categorizing you made before in mind you can now thing what is the overall impact of your concert. Will it start small and end with a big and brilliant symphony, or will you balance a romantic concerto with several smaller baroque works, for example?
Thematic Programming, Pops Programming, Educational and Family Programs
Wittry lists a lot of resources for all special kind of programs and gives good guidelines for preparing Pops and Family concerts. Family concerts especially should be carefully planned, because you actually are cultivating the next generation of your audience! Give the kids a chance to see the instruments up close. Talk to the audience! Keep the concert short and be sure not to bore the listeners!
The Overall Concert Experience
An orchestra concert is not only about music. To give the audience the best possible experience you need to consider many things: the lighting, the outwards appearance of the musicians, the chemistry between audience and performers, the looks of the hall itself. To make the experience richer you can experiment with special lighting, using narrators, actors or dancers, combining music with multimedia etc. The audience does not come only for the music, but is there for the total experience.
Chapter 6 - The People Factor
Working with People
As a music director, you are the boss of a hundred or so people, including musicians, administrative workers and technical staff. Wittry has a lot of commonsense tips to make this part of the job easier - it is again about basic "business skills"! You need to be able to motivate the musicians and the governing board as well - and terminate a musician's contract if needed.
Implementing the Artistic Plan
This chapter for me was the second most important. It gives you examples of the overall season planning, including when to sign contracts with guests and when to have the season program ready for printing, as well as explaining the duties of administrative personnel (librarian, personnel manager, marketing staff etc.) and how to work with them.
There is a lot of good information about rehearsal planning as well. Young conductors often know their scores but don't think of stage set-up before they walk to the rehearsal and see that nothing is set up (Happened to me once! There is no "standard set-up", really!). You of course should make a rehearsal schedule and be aware of the durations of the movements as well as the preferences of the soloist. A nice idea I did not yet try is a "tempo sheet" for the musicians, which would also include rare musical terms and handling of divisi in strings.
The Music Director's Role with the Board, Union and Orchestra Relations
These chapters contain a lot of US-specific information about the different types of orchestra governance and different union rules and principles. I would say, just be aware of the practices in your own country - and if you go to work abroad be quick to learn the new rules!
I think rehearsing an orchestra really would need a book of its own. In this chapter there are a some nice tips for rehearsal work, but some of the recommendations sound counter-effective to me. Maybe the problems of American orchestras are just totally different from European ones? The main points are anyway clear: Keep the talking to the minimum, stick to your rehearsal schedules - that's what the musicians appreciate the most!
Developing Your Network
Appreciate your contacts and never burn your bridges! Wittry's notion that the music industry is small (in US!) is all the more valid in small European countries. So you would be wise to stay in terms even when there are conflicts or when you make the decision to move forward.
One consolation (in my opinion) is, that conducting as a profession is international and not restricted by national borders. If the market in your local area is saturated, you can and should try your hand elsewhere. In many countries an unknown foreigner is harder currency than an unknown native!