Friday, July 22, 2011


Time to start scribbling down the "adventures" of this (semi)young orchestra Conductor, struggling to make a living from his dying artform in a small city in a small country in a small world.

This blog wil take shape slowly and will most likely just linger in solitude in some dark crevasse of the internet. If you happen by it, try to appreciate it and feed it some water and a few small insects perhaps.

As for the contents of the blog, I will try to journal my way through the classical music business of today. I will attempt to describe the frustrations and hardships that comes from having chosen Conducting as my metier. They are seemingly endless, and since the positive and wonderful moments are...very powerful few and far between, i regularly question both my sanity and ability to stay on this course.

I learned the basics of conducting at a young age (14), but it wasn't until 7 years later, when I found myself playing the french horn in one of Denmark's better professional orchestras, that the cursed desire to be the man with the plan invaded my mind.

As I played my horn, I watched many wonderful, creative and skillful conductors at work, but also cringed at the futile attempts of many of the 'lesser gods'. Had I known at the time how difficult it is to be merely a decent conductor, I would have shown them much more sympathy. I will have much more on this - on how I now try to stay humble, and how I have also sorely regretted my own behaviour at times - in a later blogpost. I promise!
Since I was at the time apparently vulnerable to the advances of insanity - on account of a bad loveaffair with a quite 'troubled' girl - I decided to quit my wellpaid, steady, comfy, (dare-i-say-easy?) job as an orchestra musician in favor of what should later turn out to be a difficult, ever-agonizing search for mostly underpaid, humiliating work. 
Well ok, it's not only that of course, but for the sake of the entertainment value and storyline-intergrity of this blog I'll let that description stand.

Mind you, I don't regret it for a second, but I bite my knuckles and often wonder what would have happened had I stayed in the orchestra. I am quite convinced I would not still be there, in case you're wondering.

The conducting studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Music were initially less fruitful than I had hoped, but eventually I found a fantastic teacher and real maestro in Giancarlo Andretta; a strict tutor and a technically brilliant conductor who almost singlehandedly pushed things in the right direction for me. (Props also go out to this very smart man, and also - I must admit - this crazy specimen). 
Unfortunately, many of the secondary subjects that the program offered us on paper received only a minimum of attention, were directly scrapped or suffered from such incompetent teaching that any conducting student that meant serious business basically had to learn it himself somehow. This included important subjects to our metier such as playing from a score, vocal accompagnement, choral conducting etc. etc.
How the program fares now I dare not think of, since funding have dwindled even more since then.

The program at the RDAM had us conduct the country's professional regional orchestras (like the one I had just left) up to 4-5 times a year, which is something every conducting student can only dream of. While this seems like a unequivocally positive thing, I have since learned that it is not. On the contrary, I think it has so far kept me from working with some of those orchestras (there are 4 orchestras in this country I have still not conducted professionally); work which my curriculum by now difinetely merits. Why? Because they saw us conduct at our worst; as clueless students and they resented it.
I usually like to say that orchestras are like elephants; they have a very thick skin and they never forget, so, I don't blame the orchestras that won't hire me anno 2005, but...hopefully, I'm a very different kind of conductor now...

On a sidenote it still worries me that, at the time, the academy could - and gladly would - claim they had the worlds best conducting program on account of this setup with the regional orchestras. In reality it meant that the more frequent conducting sessions with the student orchestra was a complete joke, simply because there was absolutely no pressure on the students to take it seriously, and the strings especially were notoriously unprepared and unaware. You could compare it to teaching someone how to drive using a soapbox car.
Also, these claims completely fall apart if any sort of scrutiny is applied when looking at what some of the conducting students from that time are now doing. With one possible exception (and I know it's definetely not been easy for him either), none of my fellow students from that time can claim to make a living from conducting.

This is not solely their fault or any testament to talent or lack thereof. It's a testament to the harsh reality of this business, to the incompetence and fiscal impotence of the educational system, and to the many misconceptions of our role as conductors.

Although I can personally now claim to be one of 10-15 people in this country making a living from conducting alone, the reality is I made more money as 'just' an orchestra musician, and I often want to scream to high heavens with anger and frustration at this business, at the work and - of course - at myself (!!).

Having written these lines, I realise there's much more to say. This is not a boring life to say the least, even if it is a frustrating one at times. So, stay tuned for more insights on what life can be like for a professional bread-and-butter conductor such as myself.

In two days I take off for New York as assistant conductor on this mini-tour with the Royal Danish Opera and I will try to blog on from over there, but in the meantime I leave you with this quote:
"Try everything once, except folkdancing and incest." - Sir Thomas Beecham.

- Jesper


Sasha said...

Hi Jesper! I read through your blog and remembered my brief student exchange in Copenhagen six or seven years ago, where I met you and most of the students you mention in this post. Has it really been that long? Love your style and sense of humor in writing, and especially your honesty. I am writing my own blog at and the topics are not unlike yours. Greetings from Cleveland & all the best!

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If you could magically create your dream conductor, but he/she could only posess one quality, he/she should preferably be...