I’ve just read this wonderful article on LSO principal violist Paul Silverthorne on Ariane Todes’ blog, and if you’re an orchestral player, conductor, or soloist, I’d encourage you to read it. It’s a goldmine of practical information from a top player in a top orchestra who has just about seen it all. Here are a couple of my favorite bits:
‘It’s hard to analyse how great conductors make a difference. It’s much easier to explain what the bad ones are doing that doesn’t help. Bad conductors conduct everything they don’t need to conduct but don’t give the things they do need to. They have self-conscious gestures they use to look good, or they’re not quite convinced of their own ideas.
The problem for conductors is that until they’re famous they don’t get a good instrument to practise on. It takes a different technique to conduct a bad orchestra. You’ll get a young conductor coming in and they’ve probably worked with orchestras that aren’t as good as the LSO and they don’t know how much they can trust the orchestra just to do it.’
‘In my position I can see everything, particularly bow arms, which are so individual and make such a difference to someone’s voice. Rostropovich was amazing – he’d always have yards left at the end of his bow to open out the sound. Even with a diminuendo there was no loss of power. It’s a particularly Russian thing: Yuri Bashmet does it, too. You can learn from the bow arms of all the great players.
‘Turning around and saying things as section leader has to be done with a light touch and as little as necessary. If you do say something, it has to be very simple and clear. I’ve got really good players in the section so I’m not going to be say anything patronising. You have to trust them. You have to give them clear leadership without going over the top, and a strong rhythmic leadership, otherwise they can’t come in together. It doesn’t have to be a big lead but it has to be very clear what you’re going to do, with no hesitation. When you’ve got a good section you can send back clues about what you’re going to do with the phrasing, in how you’re moving, with simple body language. It’s the same as with conductors – if your movements are contrived or self-conscious it doesn’t send the right message. It’s got to come naturally from your playing and then it will work.