The Art of Conducting

'I started playing in orchestras when I was 16. All those years sitting there playing and listening," Gunther Schuller recalls. "I'd look at the music in front of me and listen to what the conductors ­ some of them among the world's most famous ­ were telling us to do. I couldn't understand why the guy's instruction didn't match what I was seeing on the page in front of me."

Schuller believes conductors should follow the composer's directions rather than their own whims. Egos often get out of hand, he says. "In many cases now it turns out to be not just ego but egomania. After all, the most famous conductors have become superstars," he says. "They have become used to the idea they can do anything they want. They can interpret or re-interpret or distort any piece of music.

"These superstar conductors spend their lives flying all over the world conducting first this orchestra, then that one, on two, three, four rehearsals," he says. "That kind of life doesn't encourage the careful study of the music they conduct. So you add ignorance to arrogance and you have a problem."

Schuller doesn't allow his students in the Schwietzer Institute to ape the mannerisms of superstars ­ the jumping-jack bounce of Bernstein or eyes-closed ecstasy of Karajan. "I am very strict," he says. "I do not let them get into extravagant, exhibitionistic behavior. They must have a solid basic conducting technique ­ clear and functional. Once that's firmly in place, they can build their own personal touches."

The Schweitzer classes only last for three weeks. Four or five of the group will conduct the Spokane Symphony in a Festival concert at Memorial Field. The others will try out their batons in front of the class during the 6-hour daily sessions.

"Three weeks is a ridiculously short time," Schuller admits, "but one hopes that within those three weeks, one can make an impression that they can take home and work on their problems themselves."

- Travis Rivers

To Feature on Gunther Schuller

To sidebar on the Festival at Sandpoint

Next Feature

Back to Sandpoint Magazine table of contents