We are well into the new concert season in Paris and I’ve been thinking about what makes a concert good or bad. There have been concerts when, instead of thinking about the music, my thoughts have wandered, or I just got bored. And I see that other people in the audience feel the same way. We often blame ourselves if we are bored, but is it really our fault?
For me the answer is no. If it is boring, or even just simply bad, the responsibility lies with the conductor. And more than this, from experience I can tell you that it is never the fault of the orchestra.
How can this be? To explain: over the past three seasons I have had the chance to hear the second symphony of Gustav Mahler three times. At only one of those concerts was the audience really interested – and this is music that is not at all short on entertainment!
So what was the difference? Well, we are once again with Myung-Whun Chung and the Orchestre Philharmonique of Radio France, this time in a concert at the Salle Pleyel. Chung had clearly decided what the music should say to us, and he led the orchestra so that they brought this across – they told us the story of the music, if you like.
For example, in the first movement, which is like a funeral or a requiem, he gave the music a powerful sense of inevitability. Right from the start he held the music strictly in time, and brought out the fateful bass line so that it trapped us in its sombre steps. Everyone was spellbound, and completely silent.
By comparison, in the other concerts, the conductors seemed to have no idea what the music was about. They simply did loud bits and soft bits, faster bits and slower bits, but without a coherent conception of what the music was trying to ‘say’ – no wonder everyone lost interest!
Sometimes we do need to work a little to concentrate – if we are tired for example. And for each of us there are pieces of music which require us to put in an effort (more on this in a later post).
However, when I think about my experience at these concerts, it is clear to me that if you do put in some effort, and yet you are still bored, it is definitely not your fault – blame the conductor!
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