Thursday, August 11, 2011

If I can make it here...

So, here I am, working as a professional conductor in Denmark, a country of roughly 5½ million inhabitants, 2½ operahouses and 7½ orchestras (+ some ensembles, 2 military bands, an Opera Academy, 3 Conservatories and miscellaneous project-based orchestras/summeroperas).
My work has so far been limited to between 10-15 different employers, and I am slowly awakening to the fact, that I might very soon run out of potential work, if I don't expand my market very soon. The well might run dry.
A lot of my work in the last 6+ years has been as assistant conductor at the Royal Danish Opera, but I have chosen to end that with our KeithWarner/HartmutHaenchen 'Parsifal' that premieres next March.
Although I'm quite certain I could continue to do a lot more of  that kind of work if I wanted to, I have made a conscious choice to end it now, politely saying 'thanks but no thanks' to offers of that nature. The (invaluable) learning process is long over, and I simply need performances to develop. I think I have earned my due.
Should I end up with not enough work to support me, I will look for another line of work. Simple as that.
Check back in a year or two to see how that has worked out for me! You might find me a very happy taxidriver or coffee-shop owner.

Consequently, I need to expand. But how? Agents, you say?
Yes, I would welcome a serious agent with open arms, but so far it's been rather sporadic (pointless) what agencies have been able to do for me. Putting on my 'introspectacles', I imagine the reason is that I just don't have an attractive enough profile or an interesting story to sell, since...
  • I've yet to have the elusive, powerful step-in-with-short-notice-to-save-the-day concert. At the 25+ opera productions of which I have been assistant conductor, none of the conductors were suddenly ill. The list of conductors who recieved sudden and allimportant international attention from taking over from an older colleague is really very long.
  • I didn't participate in any competitions. The two teachers I have respected the most were unanimous in their critique of competitions, and that factored into my decision. As one professor told me: "Competitions are for horses". I'm starting to doubt the value of their advice, but I'll give them this:  what you demonstrate at a competition is a lot different from the daily work in an opera production for example, and there's a certain amount of mass-suggestion/hype/hysteria in play at competitions. Had I started conducting earlier in my life, and ended up at this junction 10 years ago (at which time I was an orchestra frenchhornplayer and hadn't really considered becoming a conductor yet) I think I might have gone down the competition-road anyway. Now it's too late for me, since competitions only allow for under-35 participants (and I am -alas- turning 36 this September).
  • I'm from Denmark, which traditionally have close to zero reputation/tradition for great conductors. I'm not saying we don't have good conductors, but we're not exactly famous for it. Had I been Finnish though...
  • I didn't go abroad to study (related to the point above). At a very crucial moment of my life, I had the choice between taking a year as an exchange-student at the Vienna Hochschule, or a year as assistant conductor on the complete Wagner 'Ring' cycle in Copenhagen. I chose the Ring, but sometimes I think I would have been better off with the "Studied in Vienna" line on my curriculum.
  • I have no network of wealthy patrons or friends in high places etc. to artificially inflate my career.
  • I'm not related to an already famous conductor.
  • I'm not scandalous. (Yet!)
  • I didn't have an international career as an instrumental soloist, which I can use to convince managers to hire me as a (terrible) conductor, simply by virtue of being a recognisable name, and not because I have a clue about the extremely intricate and specialised art of conducting. I think will be the subject of a future blog, in which I will see how rude I can be to very famous people without being sued or just alienated by the very agents and managers I need to hire me.

If I can't land a good agent, how do I it, then? Good question.
In my naïve world, once I manage to crack that code, tons of work will come pouring in from abroad, while in reality, it will continue to be a constant battle for attention, even if my potential market expands tenfold. There are fewer and fewer orchestras around, there's less money and everyone wants to be a conductor. But, I have no choice, this is what I do.

Here's another thought; Why would a manager in a british orchestra for example, choose me over a young british conductor? Well, I tell myself, danish managers hire plenty of young foreign conductors, so surely that process is reversible? I really don't know.

Actually, I do have a plan. And here it is:

Except that instead of collecting underpants, I'm mailing my curriculum along with a nice letter to gmd's, intendants, agents etc. all over Europe, offering to stop by their neck of the woods for a trial-conducting, but mostly hoping they just might find me interesting based on my actual experience and the many nice words people have said about my conducting over the years. 

I have done Scandinavia so far, and have recieved a few encouraging and positive responses, but mostly no reply's at all, which I find very baffling. I do have some good, solid experience in the business. What's missing? A gimmick? A 'flavor'? I spend a lot of time thinking about this when I have one of those larger gaps in my calendar.
I might catch a break from the wonderful Bolero flashmob I did with the Cph:Phil?`It already has more than 150.000 views, which is not bad for anything related to classical music. It can't compete with "the dude" though, props to the marketing department there, and props to that singlemost famous young conductor of our time. He must have collected a helluva lot of underpants.

Here's am unrelated quote from one of my alltime favorite - very oldfashioned - conductors, Arturo Toscanini (allegedly spoken to a member of the orchestra during a rehearsal...):

“God tells me how the music should sound, but you stand in the way.”

Imagine being able to say that with a straight face! Fascinating.

- Jesper


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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...