Orchestral conducting technique : beating time or conducting? The trick of Ilya Musin

Dirigere-300x200What is the difference between beating time and conducting?

Even Toscanini, with his usual hasty way, refers to the issue. During a conversation with a nephew one day he said in his typical language that mixed English and Italian:

“Any asino (jackass) can conduct … but to make music … eh? Is difficile!”

What he meant is very clear, but what is the difference?

How can we explain it to a student, arrived at a certain stage of his course of study, who must go over this hurdle, which, once surpassed, will allow the metamorphosis from time beating to actively conducting? to a new style seeking the interaction with his instrument.
This is a key step in the life of every student, a leap forward that, once done, will change forever the student’s relationship with conducting an orchestra and the instrument in front of him.
Unfortunately, not everyone can immediately perform this step. There are students who might make it in a few weeks, others who might need years.

The causes are typically related to the difficulty to feel free and uninhibited to express in front of a group of strangers their feelings and passions arising from the interpretation of the score on their music stand.

However, once done, this leap will forever change the relationship of the students with this subject. New perspectives will suddenly open up, widening the boundaries of their own potential, opening the doors to the interaction with their instrument.

We can strongly find these qualities in the great historic conductors: Karajan, Bernstein, Pretre, Muti, Kleiber. Carefully observing them for a few minutes is enough to catch their attempt to communicate, to interact with the instrument they face.

How is it possible to help students to understand and overcome this wall?

That is to switch from static conducting that only includes transmission of time and dynamic, to an active conducting which also brings information about agogic tempo, character, dynamics and construction of the period up to the climax?
Ilya Musin had developed a trick that I often use in my classes when it is time to make students understand this important change: the transmission of information on phrasing, character, dynamics, the construction period.

All you need is to ask the performers to stop playing the passage you are working on and then to conduct it two times without music; the first one only beating time, the second one trying to put all the other information.

It is very important to ask students to be focused at this delicate stage.

Usually I ask them to stand in front of me, in this way they are in the role of orchestra musicians following their conducting, and I silently conduct the passage in the two ways, asking students to inner hear the passage examined which they were working on.

This way the bright students will immediately realize the difference between “taktieren und dirigieren “.

To conduct without and with content.

They will try in the future to apply in their conducting this conceptual difference, i.e. the transmission of information aimed to influence the subconscious of the musicians in an effort to realize an interaction with them.

The passage in the first video is taken from the introduction of Beethoven’s first symphony starting from a measure before the allegro con brio to measure 33. The following video is Brahms IV 1st mov the beginning and then Tchaikovsky V the second mouvement

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