Sunday, December 16, 2012

Poll #2

I put up a new poll, which you should find if you scroll a bit down to the bottom of the page.
(It appears that the poll doesn't work on some mobile devices. You can chose the "go to web version" option to help with that).

The poll is related to this article about which qualities make up a great conductor.
As with any survey; the more data I collect, the less variance there will be. So please clicke-ty-click with your vote, and ask your friends or colleagues to do the same.

I've shortened the list of choices, so if there's a specific quality not on the list that you would like to vote for, leave a message and I will add it to the poll.   Unfortunately I can't add choices to the list once someone has voted. So I can't add your suggestions, but will remember to include them in a future conclusion.

( P.S. The first poll I put up yielded some interesting results. )

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Deserted Island Conductors, it's a wrap.

Just a quick wrap-up of a poll I put up on the website a long time ago. About 50 people voted, most of whom I assume are classical music professionals (or afficionados). The results are very clear, and just confirm what I already knew. Carlos Kleiber is the man.

Here's what I find disturbing: only one person voted for Karl Böhm. Has he dissaperead into obscurity at this point?
Another remarcable tendency is that two of the most expensive and high-earning conductors in the world (Dudamel and Gilbert) get only one vote each. Also, no one voted for Lorin Maazel who used to top that list. To go with that surprise, the supposedly busiest conductor in the world (Gergiev) also gets only 2 votes. What gives?

Other results that surprise me:
- Leopold Stokowski apparently still has a fan base, despite being possibly the most out-of-fashion of all these candidates.
- Levine beats both Karajan and Toscanini. Is this because I have a lot of american readers?
- Munch should be higher up. Just sayin'

I'd love to know who you think was unjustly omitted. Or, if you have suggestions for another poll.

The complete list:
Since everyone was free to choose several candidates, the percentages are not of the total number of votes, but rather a percentage how many people included that conductor on their list.

Kleiber, Carlos 23 (46%)
Bernstein, Leonard 16 (32%)
Furtwängler, Wilhelm 9 (18%)
Celibidache, Sergiu 8 (16%)
Levine, James 8 (16%)
Karajan, Herbert von 7 (14%)
Abbado, Claudio 6 (12%)
Toscanini, Arturo 6 (12%)
Stokowski, Leopold 6 (12%)
Muti, Riccardo 5 (10%)
Metha, Zubin 5 (10%)
Rattle, Simon 5 (10%)
Munch, Charles 4 (8%)
Thielemann, Christian 3 (6%)
Strauss, Richard 3 (6%)
Gergiev, Valery 2 (4%)
Dudamel, Gustavo 1 (2%)
Ozawa, Seiji 1 (2%)
Böhm, Karl 1 (2%)
Gilbert, Alan 1 (2%)
Maazel, Lorin 0 (0%)

other... (unspecified) 18 (36%)

A circling of 5th's - comparing Beethoven interpretations

This is not some silly attempt to locate the holy grail of Beethoven's 5th interpretations on youtube.
It was initially meant to be a comparison of beginnings of Beethoven 5th's, because it is a legendary challenge for any conductor to start this symphony, and a constant subject of masterclass anxiety and monday morning hardships in orchestras worldwide.
There's something about the nature of the music at that very spot that just makes is perpetually challenging and interesting. If you are interested in an illustration of that, just watch each clip until the orchestra have played 20-30 bars, then move on the next video. You should learn a lot from it.
Needless to say, these are all great professional orchestras, and unfortunately there are no videos available to illustrate the very first attempts at starting the symphony at the very first rehearsals of any of these constellations. That would have been marvellous for someone like me, and probably right boring to someone not interested in conducting technique.

Let's begin with this fascinating character:

Leonard Bernstein - Wiener Philharmoniker
Look closely at the two first films here, and you'll see how Bernstein - by some considered a spur-of-the-moment unpredictable dandy - knows exactly what he's doing. With a tiny flick of the wrist, he illustrateshis choice of tempo to the orchestra (although it's the smallest of signals, it is easily interpreted by musicians of this caliber) and then gets on the case with his usual expressive personality. He does the exact same thing with both orchestras, years apart.
I never feel like Bernstein is trying to prove something - unlike other colleagues in some of the following examples - but only that he's trying his best to experience the music. That is very sympathetic.

And here is Lenny again, this time with the Bayerische Rundfunk Orchester

And now for something completely different:

Nicolaus Harnoncourt - The Chamber Orchestra of Europe
The only quasi period-instrument recording on this list. The trumpets and timpani are not modern, and that makes a huge impact on the sound along with Harnoncourt's short phrasing style and tight, sharp attacks. It has it's flaws and imprecisions, and the emotional impact on my 'modern' heart is nothing like the Muti or Klemperers, but on the other hand, I'm never bored and I find this version to be a credible attempt at reproducing Beethoven's contemporary reality.

Paavo Järvi - Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie
Another fast interpretation, just to compare with Harnoncourt. This one is played on modern instruments. Järvi looks so businesslike in comparison to for example Bernstein. The delivery is cool and strong, and leaves little respite or room for alternative interpretation on the part of the players. Among the faster interpretations, I much prefer the Harnoncourt.
It's hard to put a finger on, but in Järvi's case, I feel robbed of a certain kind of acceptance of the human condition. Everything is there, but I'm just not sure why it's there.

Kurt Masur - New York Philharmonic
Masur's style of conducting always seemed more intuitive than technical to me. This interpretation is among the heaviest, and to my ears doesn't compare in pure orchestral quality to the Philadelphia/Muti constellation. I do like how Masur seems to breathe in the whole world before the very first note, and that first iteration of the famous three-note motif is very powerful, but then I immediately get dissapointed by the abruptness of the second fermata. Why so short!? Beethoven wrote two full bars with a fermata on the second bar - but apparently Masur was not a big fan of that fact. 

Christian Thielemann - Wiener Philharmoniker
According to people who work closely with Thielemann, he can be a beast most cruel and inhuman. And yet, it is always in an never compromising search for musical truths. He's the current equivalent to the great german giants of yore (like Klemperer, Karajan, Böhm etc.), and having heard him several times in concert, my feeling is that of immense respect but not necessary of any kind of emotional consonance or sympathy.

Riccardo Muti - Philadelphia Orchestra

I do love this. The orchestra playing is so strong, and Muti is so balanced in all aspects of his physicality. I feel the interpretation is coherent and congruent, and always powerful. It's not forced down my throat, it's just there for me to admire. I have just one small problem; similar to Thielemann, Muti decides to interrupt the audience with a 'surprise beginning'. I think it's tacky and unnecessary, and in my mind is doesn't relate to the emotional content of the music.

!! Bonus link: Same conductor, different orchestra: Muti + La Scala Philharmonic

Louis Langrée - Detroit Symphony Orchestra

I have included this to illustrate how some conductors interpret Beethoven's use of fermatas in the beginning of the symphony as if it was only a form of shorthand notation of a simple four bar phrase. To that, the response must be; if Beethoven wanted the sounding result of his notation to be two simple four-bar phrases with upbeats, why didn't he write that? He was a composer in complete and utter control of his creations. Nothing in the notation is random, nothing is approximated. As if to prove my point; at the recapitulation '(at 4 minutes and 17 seconds in) Langrée betrays his own inital thought construct by adding time to the second fermata. Thank you Mr. Langrée, now it sounds the way Beethoven notated it!

Herbert von Karajan - Berliner Philharmoniker

This video is very characteristic of Karajan: Overproduced and artificial. The doubling of wind parts and lining players up with metal neck-braces to make the orchestra look like a military platoon are just some of his gimmicks. More than anyone, he understood the meaning of multimedia, long before the advent of the internet and home entertainment. By shaping, molding, manipulating the visual aspect of the performance, he was a deciding player in a development that steered classical music towards being a) a much more visual artform and b) a much more removed artform, where the importance of the live performance is greatly reduced. In some respects, this has caused us a great trouble.
With that all said, Karajan's mysterious appeal is undeniable, his skillset is insurmountable, and his hands just seem to force the sound to go deeper and deeper into the earth.

Otto Klemperer - New Philharmonia Orchestra

Klemperer is here at the end of his life and at the end of his health, and the tempo is excruciatingly slow.
But, at the same time, it is so undeniably tied to Klemperer's physicality, that it for me transcends my reservations about the interpretation, and becomes a fascinating study of conductor/orchestra interaction. You can almost smell the respect that the musicians grant this ageing giant.
With any other person conducting the symphony like that, there would be uproar and coffee stains all over the cantina tables from heated discussions in the lunch break, but here I suspect there would have been a quiet hush and a respectful willingness to go whereever the old man wanted to go.

The Dude (Gustavo Dudamel) - Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra
I'm not a big fan of Dudamel's style of conducting, but i feel obliged to include it. It seems so forced, which is probably why some audiences love him. He 'looks' so interesting, with his bobbing hair and spirited personally. And then, the amazing success story of his "Il Sistema" upbringing make him the biggest it's-not-about-the-music conductors of our time. If you listen and compare it to several of the interpretations above, it suddenly becomes bland, and then you find yourself staring at him, searching for something...honest. I can't explain it in any other way.


I've gathered all these videos, and many more Beethoven 5th's (some weird ones too) in this youtube playlist:  

A shocking idea?

Gauging Live Audience Interest

Here's an idea. If you intend to apply this idea to an actual event, please get in touch with me, as I'd love to be a part of it. There are so many interesting things that might happen in this context, and I would die to see it happen.

It's a standard saying in the classical music industry, that you can't measure emotions, but can.
Relatively simple devices can be applied to the human skin to measure conductance (a.k.a. galvanic skin response), which is a measurement of a persons arousal, excitement or tension.
The same technique is used in lie detectors (...and b.t.w. also in an bizarre instrument deviced by the founder of a certain international cult.)

Here's how to do it: Advertise for volunteers among your audience. Before the show starts, you hook them up to a device each. Then, connect the devices to a piece of software that translates and averages the measurements and then outpouts to gauge in form of a a large graphic display, similar to perhaps a gameshow scoreboard.
Alternatively, one could use a programmable lighting setup, in which the light gravitates from blue to orange as the tension rises. Or maybe, you could administer an mild electric shock to the conductor whenever the result fall below a certain threshold. (hehe)

"That! Using Ludwig van like that!
He did no harm to anyone. Beethoven just wrote music"

To be completely serious: with a live measurement and graphic display of the audience's realtime interest in what an orchestra is performing, the bar is immediately raised. Orchestra members and conductors cannot ignore the results (unless they are creationists and used to ignoring scientific facts), and we will be forced to deal the results, much in the same way that professional athletes have been dealing with scientific measurement for decades now.

I want so badly to try this. Even if I might be setting myself up for horrible failure ("Am I really that boring??"), I would most certainly learn something.
As a bonus, we will also learn a lot about the pieces we perform, and how the audience responds the a certain type of programming. It might be very different from what we expect.

It is imperative that as many listeners are hooked up as possible. There will be a natural variance, and to even out the variables, at least 10-20 subjects would be needed. At the moment, I have no realistic idea of what the costs are for this type of experiment, but I bet it's not cheap. Perhaps it would be suitable for a university program?

Any thoughts?

Pros: Percieved innovation beneficial in interaction with legislators and in attracting new audiences, increased performer awareness, focus on the 'payoff' aspect, measurability.

Cons: Performers' inherent fear of scientific measurement of music, dealing with possibly uncomfortable results, unfamiliar logistics, expenses.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Strange days - on perception and ambitions

I'm 37. I left my job as a professional orchestra musician some nine years ago. One of the main reasons for giving up a seemingly perfect job, was that I rarely felt I was spending 'artistic energy'. I wasn't 'spending my emotions' when performing. There was always too many seemingly irrelevant obstacles or circumstances, and all I ever wanted, was to be in that extreme and amazing state of performing in which you focus only on emotion, and not on technique, logistics or anything else.
I was certain that I would much sooner find this in conducting. How little did I know...

Now I occasionally get to conduct assignments in which I have great responsabilities; I'm at the front of big orchestras or expensive productions, conducting music of great beauty or length or complexity. It's amazing.
And yet, too often I'm struggling with that same feeling...

For the production I'm conducting at the moment, I can never really relax, and I can rarely focus on 'music'.
There are several reasons for this:

1) It's a strangely complicated score. Not that the musical elements of the score in themselves are extreme, but I'm constantly spending a large chunk of my total 'bandwidth' checking the ever-changing meters, coordinating repeated bars (of which there are many that have to be timed with action on stage) and giving cues to singers...
The way this specific composer writes, the traditional sense of periodicity is often blurred, so I can't always tell just by instinct where we are in a phrase or a succession of phrases. The structure is more repetitive, and relates to a Stravinskyan use of recurring and shifting cells and constructing tension by longterm juxtaposition of mutually syncopated elements. Coupled with drones and a harmonic treatment that favors repetition over development, and a rather symbolic use of barlines within which the traditional hierarchy of beats does not apply, performing it sometimes feels similar to reading sentences that have no punctuations. All of this is not necessarily bad or problematic, but it makes it harder to perform, simply because you think more than you play.
Spending bandwidth on 'logistic' elements is an absolutely normal and necessary part of conduting, but in the end, you really want to keep that amount of bandwidth as low as possible. This is what mastery is all about, this is what makes the 'maestro'.
As I keep repeating to singers and musicians: Ideally, I want to not have to give a single cue.
Ideally, I don't want to count, decipher, calculate or otherwise intellectualise anything during a performance.
I want to initiate tempo, pulsate, paint phrases and structures and guide the volumes of sound and emotion. In other words, make music.

This is an automated feeder. It is not a conductor, even if it does look a bit like Lorin Maazel.

2) [ the last minute before posting, I decided to delete this paragraph - for now. It quickly became very focused on a specific individual, and just a bit too personal, and I'm not sure that's in the interest of anyone at the moment.]

3) The printed material is a stupid catalogue of misprints and sloppiness. There are basically no dynamics in the score or parts, and there are a thousand mistakes as well as missing articulations, expressions and otherwise fundamental elements. I imagine not a single hour has been spent on proofreading or editing before we recieved the material.
Now, when you create an opera, there is a natural editing process going on during the rehearsals. You cut some text, some music, repeat some bars, change the turn of a phrase etc. This is done in a running exchange between director, conductor, composer and librettist. No opera has ever been created in which this didn't happen.
But, before we even get to that delightful process of trimming the fat, you have to assume that the composer and publisher sort out most mistakes before handing over their material. Especially in a time in music history, where rehearsal time is such a rare commodity.
I'm baffled and angry, having to spend precious hours of orchestra rehearsal time writing dynamics in the parts, or guessing whether the strings have to play pizzicato or arco. Is it my job to remove chords from an oboe part, or telling the clarinettist what to do when he's asked to play a note that is below the range of the instrument?
No. It is not. But I have to deal with it.

4) Unfortunately, the ensemble appears to have severe internal issues at the moment. I say this with some sadness, for it's a group that I have worked with a lot and that I have always enjoyed visiting. All the musicians are highly skillled players in their own right, but they now seem to have a ton of issues within the group that they for the moment are not able to sort out. Honestly, If this didn't affect their performance, it wouldn't bother me; I firmly believe that anyone is entitled to disagreement. But, when standard musical operations, such as playing a semi-complicated rhythm together, become impossible simply because of some ongoing animosity, it becomes my problem.
If you can't abandon your ego and mentally and emotionally 'reach out' to another musician, how can you even think to play in a chamber ensemble? If you can't talk to the person sitting next to you, how can you hope to solve the hundreds of mini-problems that arise during music making? You can't.
In my experience, what often happens in dysfunctional groups is this: many musical problems that players should solve themselves - or between themselves - they suddenly look to the conductor to solve, and thus we become tools in some mock-up psychology excersize of mediation and conflict resolution. Something for which I have neither the qualifications nor inclinations.
Dear musician, I am very sorry. I can't magically show you how to play a triplet together with your colleagues, if you are not willing to pay attention to what the other musicians are doing. It's just not possible.
Yes, by conducting in a certain way, I can enable the two of you to play together, or I can encourage a certain rhythmical flavor, but it all begins with you.
Yes, I will happily beat the drum all day so you can march in unison, but I will not lift your foot for you.
So, is it my job to solve a group's internal problem for them? No. It is not. But I have to deal with it.

In addition to all this, there are all the normal circumstances that might serve as a distraction: audience presence and reactions, performance excitement, random bloopers (that anyone can make of course), physical limitations, shortcomings in the music or text etc. etc.

My former teacher Giancarlo Andretta said this many times: "It is not our fault, but it becomes our problem" and yet again I can only agree with him: As a conductor, a large part of the job is simply dealing with other peoples mistakes (as if dealing with my own shortcomings wasn't enough to keep me busy!), and when those around us don't prepare with the same diligence as we do, or when they even expect us to do their work for them, it becomes a major issue.
All this might sound arrogant, but please don't misunderstand: It's not about me claiming to be infallible, for I am as much to blame as anyone else. Perhaps I need to force myself to shift my focus, to relinquish my control with some of those other annoying elements, and then let the chips fall where they may.
After all, you cannot say to have been courageous, if you've never been in any real danger.
Also, it's not a lament of the fact that other people make mistakes, it's a lament of the fact that, for the moment, I am being percieved more as a problemsolver than as a musician. This is not the way I want it to be. This is not what I intended.

What I feel I'm struggling with, is very little bandwidth reserved for purely artistic - or expressive - energy.
I have already spent many years trying to learn how to conduct, and have calmly worked my way from assignment to assignment with the same constant goal. And yet all too often, I go home with a sinking feeling of having spent my energy on anything but that which it should be all about: emotions.

I haven't slept well in the last three weeks, and I have the weirdest dreams. Our performance last night was probably the first ever performance in my career as a professional musician, in which I felt completely numb and detached from my surroundings. It was a very unsettling feeling, and it worries me greatly. I don't ever want to experience that feeling again. Earlier in the day, I felt like I might have caught a bug, but mentally I felt worthless and hopeless, and I believe it was simply because external circumstances would not allow me to do that which I wanted the most: to make music.

Instead...for yet another evening, I was just a conductor.

- J

Friday, November 16, 2012

Ok this is a first for me:

The piece is called (.. .. ....) and is by danish composer Simon Løffler. I'm preparing it for a concert next week with the Athelas ensemble (

I regularly see bars or sections repeated in new music, and Simon's pieces have a lot of these, but this one sets the record I think:

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Letters! with an update

UPDATE, October 2012. I have recieved two replies to my letters. One simply stated that "Maestro XXX is from next season not the Music Director of our house, so unfortunately we cannot help you with your request" (My request was a personal meeting or just an initial phone conversation with anyone on the music staff). The other reply was a surprisingly polite but efficient rejection of any kind of interest in my person.

I wrote this blogpost a couple of months ago, but for some reason forgot to publish it, so here it is:

Once in a while I try to send out letters and bulletins to orchestra managers, music directors etc. hoping that I might catch their attention and somehow open up new work possibilities. Usually I do this in conjunction with a recent sucessfull concert or performance. This time, it's more of a general stab at new markets.

I need the work - basically anything I can get - so this is not an excersize I treat lightly. But alas, the resulting feedback is more often than not completely absent. The last time I sent out this type of information to operahouses and orchestras all over Scandinavia, I recieved 2 replies to about 30 letters, and only 1 of those could be considered in any way positive, although I have not since heard from that person. And remember, I'm not a bumbling amateur conductor or a fresh conducting student, I am a professional with quite a lot of experience and achievements to my name already. Why would orchestra managers not benefit from hiring me? (...he said with 100% objectivity...)
I expect my letters or emails just end up in a giant pile of random that those managers have to deal with on a daily basis, but what else can I do? I can't very well show up at their office with a song-and-dance routine, and having had no luck so far in finding an agent that would represent me, I have to do this work myself.

Let me give an example of a bunch of letters I just sent out today.
With this bunch, I'm targeting some top executives in the business; intendants and music directors of *major* european houses. But I do it with some backup, having support from a internationally very well known and respected director that I have worked with on several occasions. He helped me with naming specific targets, and promised to speak positively on my behalf in conjunction with these letters.

This is simply to give you an idea of how I try to market myself, and I will update this blogpost as the replies come in, if any! (without of course naming anyone, that wouldn't be pretty...)

I've made a point of writing each letter individually, printing them on quality paper and mailing them (the oldfashioned way) in quality envelopes. Still, I have no way of knowing if they will even be opened, let alone read with any scrutiny.

With each letter, I have included a short quick-read resume and a business card.. I have not included any other information such as long pages of references or list of concerts. I don't think anyone reads it unless they are already interested in me, and if they wish to know more all that information is easily available on my website. 

Is this all en excersize in futility? Time will tell.
Let me know if you think I'm doing this wrong by the way! I might benefit from it.

- Jesper

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Duelling Conductors!!

This friday I was a guest on the danish "Radio Klassisk", a radiostation devoted to classical music. This particular station operates with a preselected playlist, rather than context-specific music, and was established in a partnership with the 5 regional symphony orchestras of Denmark.

The show I appeared on is hosted by Uffe Savery, who is the general manager of the Copenhagen Philharmonic Orchestra. Another host on Radio Klassisk is Kasper Holten, former artistic director of the Royal Danish Opera, now operadirector at Covent Garden.

Uffe's orchestra The Copenhagen Philharmonic, (or Cph:Phil as it is now branded) has made a splash recently with some wildly popular flashmob youtube videos, the first of which (Bolero in Copenhagen Central Station) I was lucky enough to conduct. That video has reached over 5 million views.

The second video (Grieg's 'morning mood' in the Metro) has spread even more quickly than the first and should soon overtake the first one in views.
Uffe is a 'classically' trained percussionist, and - by the way -  is one half of the techno/dance group Safriduo, that has produced some major dancechart hits. This has given him some unique experiences and perspectives that he brings to his work with the orchestra. He is very keen on developing new concert formats and he mentioned an idea during our time on the air: How about having two conductors in one concert? 

I think it's a great idea.

Each conductor conducts the same piece of music, but this is not a competition. Nobody gets voted home. The two conductors are professionals, skilled and respectful. The venue is a concerthall. The audience are there out of a genuine interest in music and musicmaking processes, not because they get to be on television with celebreties.

The immediate purpose of this excercise would be something along the lines of:

  1. illustrating the role of the conductor. The idea originated in another show, where Uffe's guest was longing for clarification on the actual role of the conductor. To the layman, it's apparently still somewhat of a mystery what it is we do.
  2. illustrating how the musical elements can vary with different interpretations, and thereby clarifying what those musical elements might be, to someone not necessarily in the know.
It is very likely you will see a manifestation of this concept very soon, and I'm already looking forward to it. In the meantime, I'm open for ideas as to the repetoire. The pieces should be anywhere between 7 and 15 minutes long.

A quick personal brainstorm gave me some suggestions:

Beethoven - Coriolan overture
Tchaikovsky - Capriccion Italien
Weber - Freischütz overture
Sibelius - Finlandia
Gade - Ossian overture
R.Strauss - Til Eulenspiegel
Gerschwin - An american in Paris
Liszt - Mazeppa or Les Preludes
Wagner - Flying Dutchman or other overture
Debussy - L'apres-midi d'un faune
J.Strauss - Fledermaus overture
Verdi - La Forza del Destino overture

..the list goes on and on...any thoughts?

- Jesper

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New Music Director and new Artistic Director announced at the Royal Danish Opera.

 Michael Boder. Photo by Alexander Vasiljev.

New Music Director is Michael Boder. He has conducted both of Alban Berg's two monumental masterpieces "Wozzeck" and "Lulu" in the house and very recently Strauss' "Die Frau Ohne Schatten", and commended a great deal of respect with his confident and naturally authoritative conducting.

New Artistic Director is Sven Müller, and he comes from within the house, having served as Assistant Artistic Director for several years.

Sven Müller
Official announcement is here.

Here's the backstory:
The Royal Danish Opera has been in turmoil since the sudden departure of the former Artistic Director Keith Warner, who left after only 6 months of office, and the simultaneous farewell of the Music Director designate Jakub Hrusa.
The crisis of the Opera department of the Royal Danish Theatre can be linked to both severe problems in dealing with huge budget cuts and what appeared to be a very clear lack of communication and/or understanding between the General Manager of the Theatre - Erik Jakobsen - and Warner. In a thundering burning-all-your-bridges speech, Warner announced his resignation to a gathering of all the opera's employes and made public a large number of issues. His the speech was quickly leaked to the press.

The budget cuts have affected all three departments (Opera, Acting, Ballet) and led to other rather severe internal problems becoming a public matter, including the refueling of an ongoing conflict between several balletdancers and the Ballet's AD Nicolai Hübbe. The dancers protested during an international tour, handing out flyers at Paris' Palace Garnier proclaiming the death of the Ballet, and several were pushing for Hübbe's retirement, following allegations of cocaine abuse and tyrannical management.

The Chorus of the RDO has been reduced to a small size opera chorus (40 members), and the number of operaproductions to 8 (!) in the 12/13 season, with 5 of them being new productions. Several members of the soloist ensemble have simply left as a consequence of the managerial hubbub and there not being suitable parts for them to sing, most notably major names such as tenor Stig Andersen and bass Stephen Miling.

Following the 2005 inauguration of the new 400 mill. € operahouse 'Operaen', the opera invested heavily in the Copenhagen Ring, a complete production of Wagners 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' cycle, and created an awardwinning cycle, carried almost entirely by house singers, directed by then AD Kasper Holten and conducted by then MD Michael Schønwandt. The cycle was a major achievement for the house, and brought with it a massive influx of experience and expertise that can only come with undertaking such a huge project. Unfortunately, Holten decided to scrap the entire set, in an act of either budget savvy (big stagepieces are expensive to store) or incredible vanity. Nonetheless, in the years that followed, the in-house singers that grew immensely from that experience - such as Andersen and Milling and sopranoes Tina Kiberg, Irene Theorin and Susanne Resmark - have gone on to sing other huge parts in works such as Tannhäuser, Tristan and Isolde, Die Frau Ohne Schatten and Parsifal, but now there is simply no budget for the massive pieces they have earlier triumphed in, and most are likely to leave before long.

What about the orchestra? It has floundered without artistic leadership for years now and has still managed amazing performances, testifying to the ability  and potential of the orchestra for world class playing. But, there are signs of potential troubles ahead, with several brilliant members of the orchestra seeking employment elsewhere, and those close to the orchestra might detect the signs of a detrimental kind of hyperdemocracy setting in, where leadership is wanting. As we all know, there is no democracy in art, but it is only natural that a group with no appointed leader will quickly develop internal management. The orchestra needs a music director, and a good one. Fast. Boder might be just what the doctor ordered.

The house has other issues, one major problem being a glaring tendency to let union regulations - rather than artistic needs - dictate proceedings. All regulations need a serious overhaul, but there are many who will defend their luxury conditions like vicious pitbulls.

All in all, there are plenty of challenges for a new boss to deal with, as well as an honest world class potential.

So, today the Royal Opera announced that the new Artistic Director has been found, and his name is Sven Müller. Müller has been 'Assistant Artistic Director' in the house since 2008.  His 'danish' title was that of Ensemblechef, and he was initially hired in an attempt to further the development of the three ensembles in the house (singers/chorus/orchestra) and develop a musical vision, with Kasper Holten having his natural focus on directing, and Schønwandt having openly abandoned any managerial obligations to focus on simply conducting.

With Müller's insider knowledge of the house and somewhat dry, german approach, he might be expected to lead a relatively troublefree and smooth period, which is probably what a General Manager under heavy criticism wants, and also what the politicians have demanded ("stop making fools of yourselves, and start working on becoming a relevant cultural institution" was the message).
What it yet to be seen, is whether he has the support internally from hundreds of passionate artists who hunger for someone with a burning sword to lead the way artistically. How can he compete with the media savvy of Kasper Holten or the creative visions of Keith Warner? He wont. He will lead from a different perspective, but his job will under any circumstance not be an easy one.

- Jesper

Operaen, Copenhagen

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A conductors guide to understanding your musicians.


Musicianish - Conductorish Parleur, 1st Edition

What they say

What they mean

"I can't see your beat in bar XX, could you give me a clear cue on the X-beat in that bar?" (habitually heard after the first or second read-through of a new piece) "I didn't open my part before the rehearsal, and now 'm too busy looking in my music to have even a remote chance of observing what you are doing"
"I really liked that conductor" "That conductor called the rehearsal early"
(Strings) "This is too fast" "This is not in D major"
(Singer) "This is too fast" "I did it slower with another conductor who said I was good"
(Brass) "This is too fast” "I had a big lunch"
"I'd like to keep a flow in bar 41 and 42" "I don't understand the rhythm in bar 41 and 42, so I'm gonna try and ignore it..."
"Yes, he's a major talent" "I wish I had his agent"
"Next season looks a bit boring" "There is a Bruckner symphony on next season"
(Concertmaster) "Are these your bowings?" "Don't do your own bowings, son"
"Oh yeah, It's a great piece..." (at post-concert reception) "I don't like your conducting, but I'm polite and not sure what else to say"
"No one can play this!" "I haven't practised this!"
"This would be a great opportunity for you" "This would be a great opportunity for me"
(Orchestra manager) "I'd love you to take part in our outreach programs. You are an inspiring person, and it's imperative that we attract a younger audience" Alright, we've rented this Teletubbies costume for you to conduct in..."

Of stars and staffs... #1

Lets face it; the classical music business is in dire straits. We are up shit creek without a paddle, and someone keeps stealing the noseplugs.
Taking a somewhat objective look at budgets for large orchestras or operahouses, one might get the feeling that there are a couple of major moneysinks in the business; star conductors and star soloists.
Even when grossly overestimating the importance of a really great conductor or a world class soloist, how long can managers with good conscience pump out 10-15% percent of an annual budget on a single event, as is sometimes the case when smaller orchestras or operahouses have 'exclusive visits' from world famous stars. Is it worth it? There is surely no defending someone getting paid 10, 20 or 50 times more than the standard fee?

In the mindset that perpetuates the pratice, the agents are the astronomers and the managers the astrologers.

The astronomers seek out the stars, name them and put them in their place on the firmament. They sit snugly behind desks, predicting the downfall of this and that star, and govern unscrupulously how these stars affect the lives of classical music listeners by telling the them so in colored pamphlets and media interviews.
When the astronomers have done their deed, the astrologers then try to interpret the deeper meaning behind it. They see the stars shining in the evening sky, follow their trajectories intensely, clutching at the hope that there is a certain mystical insight to be gained by simply associating oneself with these stars.
(The stars themselves, whether they be the flavor-of-the-month or the more longlived type, are only human, so they go where the money takes them. Who are they to tell their manager; "I want to cost less, my fee is unreasonably high"? Or am making frivolous assumptions here?)

The prevailing theory is, that some of the power - the mana - of the gueststar will rub off on the locals, leave a lasting imprint on hearts and minds and somehow magically enhance the capabilities of these 'lesser creatures', whereas the truth of the matter is, it rarely does. What makes someone better is pratice and patience, perseverance and pourage (I meant 'courage', but it had to fit with the other 'p' words...).
What a star-visit can do, on the other hand, is inspire. It can reinvigorate someone who might be stuck in a rut, and it can demonstrate how high standards can be set. And that is all fine and dandy, as long as there is also a culture of excellence present in the establishment, not just a culture of excellence-by-proxy.

So what's my point? My point is, that also in a time of crisis, managers need to maintain a balance between hyped cultism and healthy cultivation. The first is associated with the glamorous stars, the latter with 'boring' people of sustainable skill who are allowed to influence an orchestra or ensemble over a longer period of time. So, Mr. Manager, the next time you hire a chief conductor, forget what the agent says and listen with your own ears to whether or not the guy actually influences your ensemble in a positive way.

Lets stops pissing in our pants to keep ourselves warm. There is no quick-fix in music industry in crisis, there is only a growing responsability for not letting the collective craftsmanship dissapear. The audience finding your product boring? THEN STOP DUMBING IT DOWN!

I feel like I want to elaborate on this subject, so I'll nonchanantly refer to this post as #1 of 2, and lets see when I get around to it...if you get bored waiting...go practice your scales!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Når krybben er tom...

Om musik og penge.

Sideløbende med debatten om det Kgl. Teaters forestående nedskæringer og fyringer, kæmpes der i øjeblikket en mindre skyttegravskrig mellem landets 'rytmiske' og 'klassiske' musikere. Foranlediget af kulturministerens egen kategoriske opdeling, råber musikere rundt omkring i landet nu op om, at deres 'genre' ikke bør fratages bevilgninger på bekostning af den anden.
Når krybben er tom bides hestene, og hvis landets nuværende 'kulturfar' selv puster til ilden, så skal der åbenbart ikke meget til før musiklivet står i flammer.
Problemet er bare, at det - mange års alt for praktisk og letsindig retorik til trods - er absurd at skelne mellem 'rytmisk' og 'klassisk' musik.
Musikgenrer er ikke isolerede øer, men konstant udviklende, kommunikerende, komplementerende og komplekse størrelser.
Den regnskabsmæssigt overskuelige opdeling i rytmisk/klassisk musik ignorerer alle musikhistoriske udviklinger, negerer selvstændig tankevirksomhed og forklejner stort set alle dominerende musikalske genier siden middelalderen; sammenstillingen af kontrasterende musikalske elementer er et smukt, fælles karaktertræk hos alle geniale komponister - fra Adés til Zappa, fra Mozart til Morrisey, fra Bach til Bacharach, fra Purcell til Parker

Der findes i min optik kun 'musik eller ikke-musik' (nogen vil nok bruge begreberne god/dårlig musik), og den opdeling finder sted inde i den enkelte person.
Det er en subjektiv skelnen, som man er berettiget til - og forpligtet til - at foretage.
Jo mere musik man hører, og jo mere forskelligartet musik man hører, jo mere raffineret og kompleks(!) bliver ens personlige skelnen, men fælles for alle diskussioner om musiksmag er, at man i sidste ende kun kan diskutere, om et specifikt stykke musik vækker følelser i én eller ej. Det er den helt vidunderligt simple konklusion på alle disse utroligt komplekse processer.

De fysiske vibrationer der frembringes af akustiske eller elektroniske instrumenter, kan skabe en form for metafysisk resonans hos tilhøreren, og deri opstår musikken.
Det metafysiske opstår, når vores hjerne - over tid - associerer mere eller mindre komplekse klange med mere eller mindre komplekse følelser. En effektiv kombinationen af disse associerende klange kendetegner en god komponist, og et godt stykke musik.
Det er ikke helt så langhåret som det lyder. Vi kender følelsen af at hårene rejser sig i nakken ved store musikalske øjeblikke, og det fænomen (som kaldes 'frisson') kan udløses af lyde der bevæger sig i samme toneleje som angstskrig.
I dette toneleje kulminerer de fleste dramatiske operaarier for eksempel. Forskere mener, at den instinktive angst, efterfulgt af erkendelsen af at vi alligevel ikke er i fare, kan udløse en stor 'musikalsk' oplevelse.
Måske er det ekkoet af mange angstskrig der lige nu resonerer i den danske musikverden, hvor man får et indtryk af, at alle er sig selv nærmest. Når signalet fra kulturministeriet er at vi skal slås om smulerne, så slås vi, og forsøger på livet løs at retfærdiggøre hvorfor den ene eller den anden slags musik fortjener mere støtte. Som regel den slags musik vi selv udøver, sjovt nok.
Men det må stoppe nu. Musik og musikere har kun gavn af én type konflikt, og den står mellem musikeren og hans 'stof'.Den kamp vi skal kæmpe, er med andre ord den kamp vi altid kæmper; med at få skabt de følelser i vores tilhørere som vi er så gode til.

Kulturministerens udtalelser har stor signalværdi, og derfor er det på tide han opfordrer til konsonans og ikke til dissonans. Det samme gælder for Alex Ahrendtsen fra DF, som i en artikel i Jyllandposten d. 3./1. gør alle musikere en bjørnetjeneste, ved yderligere at skabe splid gennem alt for sort/hvide opdelinger mellem 'rytmisk' og 'åndelig' musik, vås!, og iøvrigt også i sin iver får umynddiggjort de sidste godt hundrede års kompositionsmusik.

Uffe Elbæk må i gang med at snakker om kunst og ikke om kontanter, for ellers ender vi med at tro at de to ting er hinandens modsætninger, og det er ligeså absurd som at stille 'rytmisk' og 'klassisk' musik op imod hinanden.
Ligesåvel som det Kgl. Teaters medarbejdere i disse dage har brug for ,at deres chefer med deres lungers fulde kraft råber ud til omverdenen: ”I kan ikke undvære vores kunst”, således har det samlede danske musikliv brug for en kulturminister der ikke taler de økonomiske realiteter efter munden (vi ved altså godt at der er økonomisk krise, vi er jo ikke totalt idioter), men taler om musikkens indhold og styrke. Så kunne det være der var andre der også begyndte at tro på, at dét er det væsentlige.

København, 5. Januar 2011

Monday, January 02, 2012

Support for the Royal Theatre

This post is simply to document the voices of support for the Royal Danish Theatre since massive budget cuts and layoffs were announced just before christmas.

If you would like to voice your support, anything is appreciated greatly! Please email me at or leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Thank you :)

William Spaulding. 1. Chordirektor - Deutsche Oper Berlin
To the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Danish Government who favor drastic budget cuts for the Royal Danish Theatre at Copenhagen:

Culture is not optional; it is not a luxury. It is a necessity of life. Like our bodies, our minds and souls need nourishment.

Imagine the general effect on our health if all the salads, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other healthful foods disappeared from the supermarkets. You'd be left with nothing but junk food. Want to raise your kids on that? Reduce that which is beneficial and wholesome, and there remains only that which is harmful.

It is the same with consumption on the spiritual and mental level: take away what is good, and you are left with what is bad. The great works of musical theater were created because there was a need for them. They survive today for the same reason.

Many argue that a lavishly funded opera house has no use. But what is use? Any ape can take a rock and crack open a nutshell to eat what's inside; that's useful. Any dog can bark to get his meal; fish have gills instead of lungs to survive under water; and the modern man turns on his computer to read the news or tell his friends what he's having for breakfast.

All of this is useful. But we must not confuse usefulness with meaning. Meaning and significance are what we are after in life. We need it. It is healthy. We thrive on it. Without it, we have only junk food.

An opera is not a fat lady screaming some wobbly gibberish that nobody understands. It is history, literature, visual art, acting, dance, theater, singing and instrumental artistry rolled into one. It teaches our young about good and bad. It grapples with questions of contemporary life.

Concerned about the economy? A singer in the opera chorus goes to your restaurants, brings her friends and relatives to leave money at your hotels, drives your cars, and buys your iPhones. She pays her rent reliably, providing you with steady income. Or she buys a house and pays interest to you for the next thirty years.

Her children are not criminals and drug addicts, but they buy your books and go to your movies. Brought up in a house full of culture, they might even become successful businessmen and politicians, like you.

Take my country, the US. Impressed with the level of public discourse in a modern American presidential election? Well, that’s what you get when you cut arts funding, entertain people with stupid TV, and classify ketchup as a vegetable in school lunches. In New York, Chicago, and San Fransisco, they have opera houses, and people were against the Iraq war.

I live in Berlin. Berlin, as you know, used to be not one city, but two. So when the Berlin Wall fell, there were two complete sets of cultural institutions. It was the operas, orchestras, theatres, picture-galleries, museums, and libraries of, say, Vienna and Brussels, all in the same place!

Some people said, "What a waste of money! We don't NEED so much culture!" And much damage was done. But in time, the business and political community came to realize that even from a purely practical standpoint, maintaining the cultural landscape made financial sense.

In Berlin, 57% of all culture is consumed by tourists! That's money for the airline companies, money for the taxi drivers. Money spent on buses and subways. Tourists are having a good time. People having a good time are in a good mood. They give the waiter a bigger tip; they get tired from sightseeing and ride two blocks to their hotel by taxi. And part of every single transaction ends up as tax revenue in your government treasury.

Look at the numbers of the opera choruses in other capitals: Barcelona 72, Berlin 84, Vienna 80, Milan 104. My chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin had 120 members in 1989.

I have conducted opera choruses in 7 different countries. Your opera chorus is one of the finest I have ever known. Do you really want to throw that away? Throwing it away is what you are doing when you cut an opera chorus to 40 members. The present level of 56 is too low for the work that I had the pleasure of performing at Det Kongelige Teater, Puccini’s Turandot. I have performed the same opera in Berlin, Barcelona, and Mannheim, each time with about 100 singers. Your chorus needs to be augmented, not diminished.

Cutting culture is tremendously destructive. What we need in life is not destruction, but creativity. And we need more of it, not less.

So let us not evaluate things solely on the basis of their usefulness. Let us keep meaning in our lives, and enhance it, and at the same time give people a reason to come to Copenhagen, and spend their money in your beautiful city.

Sincerely yours,

William Spaulding

People waiting in line to get in to our protest-concert this saturday. Hundreds came in vain.

Erwin Schrott & Anna Netrebko

In this global difficult situation, hardship hits everyone. Some of us are more affected, other less, but we all have to face financial restrictions, as individuals and as nations. Cutting funds to culture, though, is not the best way to deal with the problem. Culture, including music, and, of course, opera, is one of the few things that keep a community together in hard times, it’s a way to remember one’s own roots and to hold on to hope for the future.
Opera isn’t just entertainment, opera is part of the European culture and we need to preserve it, passing it on to future generations. Copenhagen Opera have done their best so far to transmit to audiences their love for culture, for music, and have done so wonderfully. What we need to do, now, is to make sure they can continue doing so.
The financial situation is hard, but we need to stand together, close to the opera chorus. Eighteen people of the chorus, twenty technicians and twelve among the administrative staff have already lost their jobs and the opera will have to do without one title in its programme every year due to government cuts. A benefit concert, therefore, is not just to show our support to those people and their colleagues, but also to raise funds to try and save at least a few of those jobs.
This crisis wasn’t caused by us — artists, technicians, staff of opera houses are normal people just like people in the audience, just genuine and enthusiastic music lovers, and unfortunately also victims of the collapse of global markets. But, as John Donne wrote, «No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main»: we’re in this together, we will come out of this together, hopefully soon. But for the moment all we can do is stand together, helping each other, and work to try and improve things, one step after another, having culture as our only weapon and each other as our only allies.

Alexander Polyanitchko, Conductor - Mariinsky Theatre
 It is extremely painful for me to discover that financial problems have led to the need for The Royal Danish Opera to make cuts in its artistic team. This is particularly painful, since I have on many occasions had the chance to work with the company at The Royal Danish Opera, and have always been extremely impressed by the professional skill of the singers, guest artists, chorus, orchestra musicians and stage director's team - I am proud of what we produced and the resulting performances of operas by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Janacek.

It is highly regrettable that it is the artists who have to pay for someone else's mistakes. I have to ask whether it is the financial crisis that forces us to consider the need for cuts, or whether this comes from a political decision based on quite different things? I worry about that question as the former principal conductor of one of the oldest chamber orchestras in England, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, which was disbanded in 1999 purely on political grounds.

It takes many years, an enormous expense and the effort of hundreds of people to gain a high reputation and create a team like the one at The Royal Danish Opera, but unfortunately it is too easy to destroy it. Please do not forget this and make every possible effort to save it.


Alexander Polyanichko

Poul Ruders, Composer

The whole sorry mess can be boiled down to one thing: national pride – or more precise: lack of same. Sadly enough.
Sadly because it´s the same old story; in times of financial trouble, what´s first in the line of fire? The Arts. Again and again – it´s nothing new, because it´s so easy to say “…who needs it, when unemployment is rampant, hospitals suffer huge cut-backs, general well-fare is going down the tubes, etc.etc.”
Even more sadly, bearing in mind, that The Royal Danish Theatre - unique in its capacity of juggling under the same umbrella the four major performing Arts, opera, ballet, plays and symphony concerts - possesses such huge potential and talent for all and sundry to enjoy - and for the world to respect. Not only our world, but the world beyond our national boarders.
The Royal Theatre is so close to becoming a major player on the international stage. Our National Ballet has been world famous for decades, admired and talked about, the Opera is not far behind, with a world class ensemble of soloists , a superb orchestra and chorus in daring productions attracting visitors from far away and with ecstatic reviews in the international press.
THAT we can be proud of.
It´s so close. It´s all there, right under our noses, but now – apparently – it´s also close to being whittled down to “back-water” status.
And THAT we cannot be proud of.
Poul Ruders

Michael Boder, Dirigent und Director Musical del Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona.

Die „Kongelige Danske Opera“ wurde in den letzten 10 Jahren, auch durch den wunderbaren Neubau, zum bedeutendsten Opernhaus Skandinaviens. Das künstlerische Niveau des Chores, des Orchesters und der Solisten hat sich in dieser Zeit enorm gesteigert und wird international bewundert. Dies wird durch die angekündigten Sparmaßnahmen massiv und nachhaltig gefährdet.

Ein Opernhaus dieser Bedeutung ist kein Industriebetrieb, der Dinge herstellt, die man mal braucht, mal nicht. Es ist ein Organismus aus hochqualifizierten Musikern, die uns Allen etwas sehr Bedeutendes erzählen : Die Geschichte unserer Kultur und Gesellschaft.
Einen solchen Organismus zu zerstören geht rasch, ihn aufzubauen dauert sehr lange.

Wenn eine Privatperson sparen muss, wird sie doch nicht als erstes ihre Bibliothek versetzen ! Genauso darf eine Gesellschaft nicht ihre Kultur opfern – es sei denn, man will auf die eigene Identität verzichten...... Und das wäre ein kaum wieder gut zu machender Schaden auf lange Sicht.

Sparen heißt doch : genauer und schlanker werden. Und nicht einfach den Baum absägen, auf dessen Ästen wir letztendlich alle sitzen.

Ich protestiere ausdrücklich gegen die Dezimierung des großartigen Opernchores.

Michael Boder

Graeme Jenkins, Conductor
Graeme Jenkins, Conductor

Any cuts in the Opera Chorus would be a disaster for a House of this standing. What is the point of having a great Opera House without Orchestra, Singers, Technical staff and a GREAT CHORUS.
You cannot do most of the major Italian repertoire without a standard chorus of 56.
Even in Traviata the mens chorus is divided into 4 parts.
Celebrate the two houses in Copenhagen, market them MORE and bring in the tourists (as they do in Vienna) and keep Opera IMPORTANT to the culture of this wonderful city.
Graeme Jenkins

Giancarlo Andretta, Principal Conductor at the Gothenburg Opera House & Chief Conductor of the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra

To whom it may concern,

Several years I have had the honour and the joy to collaborate with the Royal Opera House of Copenhagen. An Opera House of such the highest recognized international reputation cannot suffer that its incredible artistic profile, power and professionality gets diminished. I want with all my hearth and knowledge and experience to shout SAFE ALL THE ARTISTS OF YOUR WONDERFUL OPERA! Danemark has been for me Italian these years through an example for really a lot. A lot I have learned from You as artist and a lot as human been and more times I have shown You in Italy as an example to follow. Also Your attention to the true Culture and to the true Music can still remain to us European an example to follow.
To the member of the Royal Danish Opera House again I say from the hearth's depth thanks for so much You gave to us, thanks for so much you always gave to me.
We need all of You, the life needs all of You, the Culture and the Art needs all of You.

With respect. Sincerely Yours.
Giancarlo Andretta

Jeremy Bines, Chorus Master, Royal Danish Opera 2007-9.Chorus Master, Glyndebourne 2009-
(This pertains specifically to the chorus)

Dear Choristers of the Royal Danish Opera and other friends,

My heart has been bleeding since I heard the news of what they are planning to do to you, to the artistic life of Denmark, and to the world of opera. There's not much I can say that hasn't been articulated more neatly already, but the Royal Danish Opera simply won't survive without a full-time, full-sized chorus. By cutting the numbers of administrative jobs, and yes, reluctantly, production budgets, the company can soldier on; but getting rid of artists is suicide.

That is all.

Jeremy Bines

Michael Melbye, danish Stage Director and former opera singer. 
(This pertains specifically to the chorus)
To whom it may, nay...must concern,

Dear Keith and the rest of the group of directors of The Royal Danish Theatre,

My connection with the Royal Theatre's Chorus span more than 40 years. And so I feel that I know this group extremely well ( albeit be it with their changing members over this vast period.)

As a 16 year old singing student, I got my first input from professional singers being employed as a dresser for this colourful group. The four years until I became a soloist with the company, I absorbed a huge amount of knowledge and experience observing and learning from these people during the many productions I followed them in.

As a soloist I have performed literally hundreds of evenings with them, and always enjoyed the collaboration. It is difficult to explain they way one feel as a soloist, standing in front of the wave of glorious sound coming from a well singing chorus. This spanned over 25 years and have always been a complete pleasure to experience. Here however the line should not be drawn.... as an international singer, I have performed with the choruses from a vast number of the most prestigious opera houses all over the globe, and I can say with the cleanest of consciences, that the Royal Opera Chorus has never seemed of lesser quality then any of these other great choruses. On the contrary In fact, I was always very proud to be part of the The Royal Danish Opera who could muster such eminent singers in this extremely important part of our business.

To underline this I would like also like to remark, that my collaboration with this marvellous group of individual artists was deepened infinitely when 17 years ago started to direct them in my many productions at The Royal Danish Opera. As a singer/musician based director who have worked with many choruses all over the world, this specific group never seized to amaze me. And this not only with their wonderful sound, but certainly also with their outstanding ability to perform and act. Their enthusiasm never fails, and contrary to most other choruses I have worked with, they beg to be individually directed, and throw themselves at the job with great concentration. And this far beyond a hundred times a year!!!!

On a technical note I would like to state that the cropping this extremely well "sung-in" chorus, and then supplement them "ad hoc" would be a huge crime. I know this is being done at different opera houses in order to cut expenses, but always with great artistic loss as a consequence. One should never underestimate the effect of years of working together in a group, listening to one another and fine-tuning the different groups of voices to establish the most balanced sound. The more experienced teaching the younger. And taking into account that The Royal Danish Opera's main asset is it's romantic repertoire, which now has been given a fantastic platform in the shape of our New Opera, the number of choristers should not be diminished but rather (as the politicians promised back when the "gift" was a reality) enlarged. This to be able to populate this much larger stage, and honour the demand of volume and brilliance without straining the voices to their physical limit. The plan of performing smaller opera productions like Mozart, Donizetti and so on, on the Old Stage, where one might contemplate a slightly reduced chorus, seems to be abandoned all together, and thus we are left with the larger stage that certainly does not lend itself to reduced choruses.

On a human note one should, and must also consider that the alternative possibilities of work within the field of music in this country is extremely limited, and thus the planned reduction of the Royal Opera's Chorus will result in many highly (and expensively) educated musicians to be lost to music world.

I therefore cannot stress enough the need to reconsider this step, which according to me, will inflict irreparable damage the The Royal Danish Opera, and in deed to Danish music life as a whole.

Most sincerely,

Mikael Melbye

Henrik Thorngaard, Musikchef - Prinsens Musikkorps
Det er med stor beklagelse, jeg har erfaret, at Det Kongelige Teater skal reducere antallet af ansatte med 100 personer. Det er naturligvis katastrofalt for de mennesker, der nu kommer til at stå uden arbejde, men det er også katastrofalt for Det Kongelige Teater, der nu mister 100 dedikerede og velkvalificerede personer, som kommer til at mangle i de daglige produktioner.

Nedskæringerne kommer uden tvivl til at betyde et reduceret repertoire, og det er beklageligt. Det Kongelige Teater er et af fyrtårnene i det danske musik- og kulturliv, og Danmark bliver – på alle måder - fattigere, hvis vi ikke har råd til at formidle og præsentere musik og teater på højeste niveau.

Jeg vil derfor stærkt opfordre til, at det politiske Danmark – i samarbejde med ledelsen på Det Kongelige Teater – igen kigger på mulighederne for at bevare de 100 stillinger. Kunst og kultur koster penge, det ved alle, men det er også kunsten og kulturen, der, mere end noget andet, beriger os i vort menneskeliv. Den skal vi have råd til. Ellers bliver både Danmark – og menneskelivet – for fattigt!

Godt Nytår!

Tommi Hakala, Baritone - 2003 BBC Singer of the World, Cardiff

I'm shocked to read these news, which unfortunately are not surprising, but the amount and the size of the cuts is awful!!!

This is a short minded way of thinking, tearing down culture institutes, which have taken so much time, effort and good will to stand there, where it now is. 

To bring the quality of making theatre; drama, ballet and opera to the people, and not only for those, who are able to pay the tickets themselves, but also for everyman and -woman, who are able to reach the unique atmosphere of live act of the greatest drama's, music and movement, the highest theatre masterpieces of our western culture...

And now the danish government wants to risk this, the existence of it, the theatre for everyone - but also the job, the work of many people, to throw certainly many of them to the line of the social offices, to the unemployment and to force some of them to move out of Denmark after the daily living and salary - this is a start of the endless cuts and who is coming next: hospitals, education, pensioners... And when comes the politicians with their salaries, officials of state with their secured and linked positions and power???

Sad, sad, sad - and this all will be also a soon-coming-situation in Finland, since the budget of the Finnish National Opera shall be recounted und cut in the year 2013, as far as I know.

And this all because of the egoistic, opportunistic, eager and selfish financial-power-politics of the E.U., Brussels, Strasbourg; and also the international "Wall-Street", long ago away of the original location, located away of the open critics and controls in the hidden meetings - who have let the unqualified states and economies to keep running, like no responsibilities, no needs of taking care of tomorrow, no ethics or moral - sad, sad, sad!!!

I haven't ever understand, how the big-business-makers and states, especially their so-good-leaders are let to walk away with their debts unpaid, without forced to face the facts, that their acts have created - and the same time an individual persons, like myself, are making the best of ours, working as much as our capacities are flexible, to get our families a possibility to have this wonderful life in the Europe, home, education, healthsystem, nations, culture - how come!?!

I do hope this spin, the depression and the decadence of our western existence, which is facing the sunset of it's own, is still to be stopped and the direction of our future meets the concrete and realistic and honest possibilities, stopping that "the only way to make success is to lie and steal"-mentality, and the way of act and react shall find the other possibilities and values until now.

Tommi, Helsinki

Alan Green, Zemlinsky/Green management:
To whom it may concern,

I have just been informed about the projected drastic cuts in the budget for the Royal Theatre. As an artists' manager who is privileged to work with many famous international opera singers,
I have worked with the Royal Opera in Copenhagen. The new theatre is one of the most beautiful in Europe.  To think that the artistic quality of this great opera house should be compromised in such a way ,
is a terrible way to end 2011. I am not a Danish citizen, but art is international . Therefore let me add my voice here to those who will fight against these measures.

Sincerely yours,

Alan Green

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Making fun of conductors #1

Since conducting is such an arcane business, with no one - including most conductors - really knowing what is going on, making fun of us is a popular sport. So I've decided that my first blogpost of 2012 shall be a variety show featuring various comedians making fun of the art of conducting.

Some guys are funnier than others, and I personally find these first two attemps at 'humor' slightly embarrasing, but since others will disagree, lets get things started with Rowan Atkinson and Weird Al Yankovic:

Displaying a more profound comic talent is the eternally brilliant Victor Borge here demonstrating firstly the importance of chosing the right baton:

...and secondly unveiling the mystery:

To end this  first installlment of "Making fun of conductors", here's the very funny "HOW TO CONDUCT Lesson 1", poking fun of a specific breed of conductors; the aging, selfabsorbed charlatans that give masterclasses as if they were God's gift to music. If you've ever encountered someone like that, you're gonna enjoy "Lesson 1" a lot:

P.S. If you know of any videos that you think I should feature in the second installment, leave a comment

Happy Newyear!

- Jesper

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