About technique

The technique of conductorship has been for several years the subject of innumerable discussions. Lots of schools deal with this matter, some of them give more importance to the study and interpretation of the score, unavoidable elements of this art, without analysing the technical aspect. These schools don’t consider the hypothesis that the student could, by a correct use of his arms, interact with the orchestra, and even maintain that the technical component doesn’t affect the performance; they consider that the student, through practise and experience , has to elaborate a personal technique. Other schools even deny the existence of a technique, confining the personal ability only to his personal charisma, to the empathy he can obtain with an orchestra, to the professionalism of the orchestrals themselves. This difference of opinion constitutes the basis of the formation of the so called “National Schools” . Actually the technique must be studied particularly carefully. But after all , what is Technique? Examining the technique of the musical instruments we realize that it consists in learning to performe a series of movements to which corresponds a specific sound reaction. When the musician had mastered it , he uses it appropriately in order to show, through the instrument , his musical thought. During the performance, he doesn’t take care of the technique, in the same way as we, when talking, don’t think of the movements that the tongue the lips and the mouth have to do. The director makes use of specific gestures , that can be performed in different ways and in general , to each of them corresponds a different reaction from the orchestra and this aspect is very important. Nowadays a student who gets ready to study the conductorship has to deal with a vague subject, and often doesn’t know which model he can follow. Frequently students, since they don’t have point of reference from the technical point of view, model themselves on famous directors and try to make the same gestures they do, and unfortunately even their errors and imperfections. Actually it’s a sort of universal language which must be deeply analysed, and the genius of Mussin consists in having codified the rules that form the basis of it. (Some people will find it interesting to learn that Musin’s way of thinking has also German roots, being, in fact, the result of acute obeservation of the great conductors of the German school, who performed in the Soviet Union until 1937). The first and most important aim of the course lies in the definition, development and improvement of the directorial technique, through a detailed and exhaustive exercise with a piano laboratory and afterwards in the moment of verification with his instrument: the orchestra. The course has the purpose of showing how a correct gestural expressiveness could affect the final performance. The “technique of conductorship”, like all the other form of art, has its rules which must be studied, assimilated and applied in order to reach the top fusion of an inner impulse and an outer clarity, to raise the performance to the highest top, and thus involving and gratifying not only the audience but even the orchestrals themselves. The gesture of the director is the primary and essential element for conducting the orchestrals in order to make the sound of several instruments as it was the sound of one instrument: the orchestra. Young students have to think over the fact that their arms are the only intermediary between them and the orchestra during the performance and that they must be aware of this mean in order to make full use of it. They must understand how the gesture is understood by the orchestrals and how interacts with them, and how it can be a useful guide for them during the performance and how the director can profit from it depending on his expressive needs. In brief the director has to know which sound reaction he will obtain from the orchestra as a consequence of his gestures. This is essential for affecting the conscience of the musicians, thus obtaining a greater control of the orchestra making them feel at ease and free. Ennio Nicotra

Preface to the bestseller Book/DVD “ Introduction to the orchestral conducting technique” Edizioni Curci Milano:
Many years ago when I was a pupil at the Nikolaj Rimskij-Korsakov Academy of Music of Leningrad (nowadays St. Petersburg), and following the course for piano accompaniment, we had to do much practical work. Thanks to this it so happened that I first played for Professor Vera Sopina’s class for solo singing and then in Professor Izay Sherman’s class for orchestral conducting. Ever since I was little, I had been taught to be a good sight-reader, something my mother, Ludmila Umanskaja who also taught at the Academy, maintained was essential for any musical career. Because of this in my third year I began to play the piano accompaniments in professor Ilya Musin’s class for orchestral conducting. Many years later when I myself was teaching at the Academy, it happened that half way through the academic year, Ilya Musin found himself without accompanists and he came in person to ask me to play in what he used to call his “ class orchestra”. I accepted and worked there until he died in 1999. The fact that I worked for so long in Ilya Musin’s class meant that I was able to watch his teaching as it were from the inside (sitting at the piano as if I were the orchestra) and to learn myself, because I consider Ilya Musin as one of the musicians who more than any other influenced my musical formation and enriched my teaching experience and precisely because I was able to follow the lessons of so many different and gifted pupils. I think that Ilya Musin tried to teach all his students two things: how to understand the music dramaturgy of the piece they were conducting from the construction of each phrase to that of much larger sections, and how to express with the movement of the arms not only the dynamics and the time, but also the character, rhythm and structure of each phrase, how the instruments should be played and many other things which are essential to enable an orchestra and his conductor to work together; in other words how to “ speak with one’s hands”. When he wrote about conducting, he always brought out this point and when he would say: “ I don’t teach my pupils to interpret this or that symphony, but I merely use it as a means through which to teach my pupils how to communicate their own musical thought”. Ilya Musin was firmly convinced that any one who really wanted to, could learn the basics of this profession. With all his students, those from the Academy or those he met during his master classes abroad, without taking into account their individual capacity, he would give his all, generously sharing all his knowledge and adapting himself to the level of the pupil he had in front of him and giving him exactly what that pupil needed at that moment. As there were always dozens of people present in the classroom, the lessons were “open” and by learning when there were mistakes or concrete imperfections, general rules were drawn up. After every lesson when Ilya Musin returned home he would take notes on what had happened in class, thoughts that had come to him during the lesson, ideas and all this he later reproduced in his books. Throughout all his teaching career Musin wrote not only autobiographical works (Uroki zhisnij-St.Petersburg 1995) but also important works on the methodological research into the art of orchestral conducting ( Technika dirizhirovanja- St.Petersburg 1967, Jazik dirizherskogo zhesta- St.Petersburg 2006). Ilya Musin had a vast number of pupils. He calculated that more than a hundred Russian pupils graduated from his classes and then you have to take into account all those from the master classes he held abroad, and then there were foreign pupils who came to San Petersburg from all over the world to attend “stages”. Some of these infected by the same passionate desire of their teacher to share experience and knowledge, are devoting themselves to teaching. Ennio Nicotra, one of his old pupils, highly talented and devoted to music and orchestral conducting, is carrying on the work of his teacher not only with regard to the formation and teaching of the younger generation but also by making Musin’s system known in Italy, Russia and other countries. His idea of using modern technology to create an interactive manual of orchestral conducting is an important contribution towards the development of teaching orchestral conducting all over the world. There is no doubt that this video is valuable and precious because it is directly based on all Maestro Nicotra learnt during his years of study with Ilya Musin. The existing manuals of orchestral conducting, for example, the book of Nikolay Malko, who was Musin’s teacher (The conductor and his baton – Copenhagen, 1950) and Musin’s own books, cannot take advantage of what nowadays technology allows one to do and that is to show us this phenomenon that is orchestral conducting from the inside. The patterns which you find in any manual, here seem to come to life, to move. You can hear them. In this manual the hundreds of examples taken from every age , styles, genres, are played for us by the celebrated piano duo Canino-Ballista. The manual shows how the young conductor progresses from the very early stages and helps the aspiring musician to become a young specialist able to master anything from the classical or contemporary repertoire.
Nadezhda M.Eismont Piano teacher of the Nikokaj Rimskij-Korsakov Academy of music of St. Petersburg, piano accompanist in the Ilya Musin’s class for 30 years


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