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Is John Williams a tough Conductor?


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I've heard horror stories about nazi like conductors who were demanding, often harsh, even cruel.

I've not really ever heard anything about how John Williams the conductor is perceived by his orchestra mates.

So those in the know discuss and enlighten me.

Btw I believe I've started a thread about a topic that I don't ever recall actually discussed here.

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The one concert I've been too one of the brass players flubbed a note or came in early or something. As soon as the piece was over, Williams just stared at him for a good 5-10 seconds before moving on. A stare I would not want to be on the recieving end of.

But sometimes you have to be hard to get results, and it's hard to deny that a Williams conducted orchestra is almost always a quality performance.

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I remember hearing that Williams once walked out on the Boston Pops during a rehearsal of "America - The Dream Goes On" because some of the players were being immature or laughing or something. He actually tendered his resignation, but they issued an apology and all was eventualy forgiven.

~Sturgis - ;)

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When I went to the Barbican Centre to hear the LSO the order day, I read a few excerpts of a book about the history of the LSO. There was this passage about Williams, where it read the orchestra was having so much fun recording Star Wars, that later in the day they just couldn´t cope with Claudio Abado´s harshness.

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Im a Classical musician - and have a moto concering not looking at conductors "Use the force, your eyes will decieve you". Most conductors are pure evil on an ego trip. They wave their sicks about and think we are spose to understand what they are doing.... Ive been in orchestra's where the conductor has sacked players for playing a wrong note in the first rehearsal!

On John Williams he is a good conductor as he's very clear - he just gets on with job in hand - a 4/4 beat is a 4/4 beat, he keeps things simple and to the point!

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Im a Classical musician - and have a moto concering not looking at conductors "Use the force, your eyes will decieve you". Most conductors are pure evil on an ego trip. They wave their sicks about and think we are spose to understand what they are doing.... Ive been in orchestra's where the conductor has sacked players for playing a wrong note in the first rehearsal!

I think you'll find that your impression of Conductor's is based on the few, rather than the many......Yes, I've worked with a few conductors who are on permanent power-trips, but I've also worked with many who are just normal people. Ever conductor hastheir own methods of getting things right - in the end, if there's a cock-up, the blame will always be aimed at the conductor, so they HAVE to get it right somehow.....The method mentioned earlier of just standing and staring at someone for 10 seconds is actually a very good one (one I have used on occasions).....

As for the thing about not looking at conductors - that is a conductors worst nightmare - change your ways!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Williams - as far as appearances go - seems to demand the very best (unsurprising), and has a style that is clear, no-nonsense, and ultimately easy to follow/interpret for the musicians sat in front of him. Yes, I can imagine that he can get his hair off on occasion, but then all conductors do at some point - it brings the orchestra back to earth with a bump and USUALLY results in a vast improvement. I say USUALLLY, because for those that are indeed on a power-trip (one or two spring to mind) it just results in complete resentment, remonstration, and resignation.

It is a fine line to tread - whether to laugh it off or have a rant - but the first person I would rant at is the one who is not looking at me!! Beware, Veggiemusician!

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Reminds me of Jerry Goldsmith constantly looking at his watch and going "SHH!" to the orchestra every ten seconds during The River Wild sessions.

During some of the recording session takes for Star Trek The Motion Picture there was one point where Goldsmith yelled, "Quiet!" to one of the players.

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I've heard mostly very positive things about Williams' conductor-personality from musicians who have worked with him. After his last concerts with the N.Y. Phil., several players pointed out that it was so refreshing to work with a man who was simply a musician, not a "maestro". I can recall him being very humble and soft-spoken (but clear) at rehearsals of his I've attended. He does address the orchestra as "people", which can sound a little amusing, as it is very indicative of a down-to-earth, blue collar approach. He might perhaps come across more as a "pit-conductor" than a "podium-conductor"; he doesn't seem to have much ego. But he is a very dedicated professional, and he is extremely efficient in terms of rehearsal-technique, and seems

to want to waste as little time as possible, so I can imagine him having little patience with counter-productive remarks,etc.

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I've heard mostly very positive things about Williams' conductor-personality from musicians who have worked with him. After his last concerts with the N.Y. Phil., several players pointed out that it was so refreshing to work with a man who was simply a musician, not a "maestro".

Are you referring to the NY April 2006 concert? But at that concert a section came in to early in A Prayer for Peace from Munich. It was after the big dramatic pause, well half of them came in a half a second to early while the other half came in on time (or so it sounded like) well end result, not pretty noise effect and one of John Williams stares that make me want to go into a nice corner. I was sitting far from the stage and I still saw it. Not pretty.

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Last year at the Iowa All-State concert, the orchestra, AND the choir (which I was part of) had horrible conductors; their actions were completely incoherent to the music. It was really disappointing. This year the choir's conductor was fantastic... He was IN the music. We could do everything he wanted us to just by watching his arms and hands. It was great.

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Last year at the Iowa All-State concert, the orchestra, AND the choir (which I was part of) had horrible conductors; their actions were completely incoherent to the music. It was really disappointing. This year the choir's conductor was fantastic... He was IN the music. We could do everything he wanted us to just by watching his arms and hands. It was great.

Who were the conductors, if I may ask?

~Conor

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I thought that John Williams' issues with the Boston Popos were because some musicians felt that his music selections were too"light" and included too much film music and not enough "serious" music.  Anyone know anything about this?

To much film music? John Williams...who would EVER think that? *sarcasm*

And his pieces being to "light"...were these people on crack??

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I've seen him rehearse 4 times, and each time, I thought he was pretty soft on the players. I think he is used to working with the best players, so he doesn't have to give much direction. But with the Pops or BSO, they are not as great as LSO or LA players, and he let a lot of things slide, even when he had told them once to play it differently and they didn't seem to follow his input. He tells people once and then if they don't do it, he just seems to shrug it off. Example, the strings were playing too quiet in "Heartwood", and he said "come in hotter, that is a forte". When they played it again, it was exactly the same. On WOTW suite, he told the Marimba to "color" the strings instead of soloing. After the tip, he did not decrease his volume and Williams said no more. In Geisha he said to keep increasing the accents more and more, and sang it how he intended. The orchestra did not increase the accents afterward. The ones who seem to listen are the brass. Whenever he tells them directions, they definitely do what he says. He said "bell tones" on that year 2000 piece, and they played bell tones right after he said to.

So in all, I thought he let a lot go by that he didn't really approve of.

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I think John Williams is a very tough and demanding conductor -- but not in a bad way. He's not self-centered or on a ego trip or something, he just wants to bring out the best of every performance. And the result certainly shows. On the other hand, I think he can also be witty and gentle -- when the players behave.

:P

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I've seen him rehearse 4 times, and each time, I thought he was pretty soft on the players. I think he is used to working with the best players, so he doesn't have to give much direction. But with the Pops or BSO, they are not as great as LSO or LA players, and he let a lot of things slide, even when he had told them once to play it differently and they didn't seem to follow his input. He tells people once and then if they don't do it, he just seems to shrug it off. Example, the strings were playing too quiet in "Heartwood", and he said "come in hotter, that is a forte". When they played it again, it was exactly the same. On WOTW suite, he told the Marimba to "color" the strings instead of soloing. After the tip, he did not decrease his volume and Williams said no more. In Geisha he said to keep increasing the accents more and more, and sang it how he intended. The orchestra did not increase the accents afterward. The ones who seem to listen are the brass. Whenever he tells them directions, they definitely do what he says. He said "bell tones" on that year 2000 piece, and they played bell tones right after he said to.

So in all, I thought he let a lot go by that he didn't really approve of.

Was the WOTW Suite at Los Angeles Philharmonic? Was it the Two Pieces? And the "Heartwood"...when has he done that in concerts? Btw, I love this thread.

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I've never had the pleasure of watching him reherse. Maybe I can come to Film Night again next year and watch it. From what I understand, the attitude varies. I think when he is recording, he's much more demanding. I remember watching some clips from the recording session for NBC by Man Made Music to re-record everything, and he was getting a little snippy with the trombones at the beginning of the clip. I've heard of people calling him egotistical, which I find hard to belive. Honestly, he probably has many different moods depending on the group. He's obviously going to be a little more picky with a hand chosen scoring group than with the Pops.

This brings up a semi-off topic question that I have. I notice in some older clips with the Pops when he is conducting live scores (the montages and scene score demonstrations) he seems to be holding something in his left hand. Now I assume it's a pocket watch since I didn't see a large clock that he usually has, but my question is more about why does he have a clock anyway? Is it a special clock that is in sync with the film and he has the hit points written down, or is it for tempos between cue points? I know they have the capability of using auricle or something to get the streamers and punches, so why don't they just do that?

Just something that I've always wondered.

~JW

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Im a Classical musician - and have a moto concering not looking at conductors "Use the force, your eyes will decieve you". Most conductors are pure evil on an ego trip. They wave their sicks about and think we are spose to understand what they are doing.... Ive been in orchestra's where the conductor has sacked players for playing a wrong note in the first rehearsal!

I think you'll find that your impression of Conductor's is based on the few, rather than the many......Yes, I've worked with a few conductors who are on permanent power-trips, but I've also worked with many who are just normal people. Ever conductor hastheir own methods of getting things right - in the end, if there's a cock-up, the blame will always be aimed at the conductor, so they HAVE to get it right somehow.....The method mentioned earlier of just standing and staring at someone for 10 seconds is actually a very good one (one I have used on occasions).....

As for the thing about not looking at conductors - that is a conductors worst nightmare - change your ways!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Williams - as far as appearances go - seems to demand the very best (unsurprising), and has a style that is clear, no-nonsense, and ultimately easy to follow/interpret for the musicians sat in front of him. Yes, I can imagine that he can get his hair off on occasion, but then all conductors do at some point - it brings the orchestra back to earth with a bump and USUALLY results in a vast improvement. I say USUALLLY, because for those that are indeed on a power-trip (one or two spring to mind) it just results in complete resentment, remonstration, and resignation.

It is a fine line to tread - whether to laugh it off or have a rant - but the first person I would rant at is the one who is not looking at me!! Beware, Veggiemusician!

Dont worry if you are a good conductor I will look and learn - but they are few :P hehe - and Ive worked with some of the best - last one I played for was Lorin Mazel... he treated me well (even told me I was a superb player yay). I work freelance with orchestra's like Halle and BBC orchestra's so played for many conductor's in my time.

I find the leader a far better person to look at - u know the exsact point the bow hits the string - much more accurate than watching a batton sometimes. Oh and using your ears ;) Ive not gone wrong so far - and conductors dont normally moan at me - if you do ur job well - does not matter how you do it!

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This brings up a semi-off topic question that I have. I notice in some older clips with the Pops when he is conducting live scores (the montages and scene score demonstrations) he seems to be holding something in his left hand. Now I assume it's a pocket watch since I didn't see a large clock that he usually has, but my question is more about why does he have a clock anyway? Is it a special clock that is in sync with the film and he has the hit points written down, or is it for tempos between cue points? I know they have the capability of using auricle or something to get the streamers and punches, so why don't they just do that?

Just something that I've always wondered.

~JW

Perhaps it's a pocketwatch used for tempo. Not to say that he might not be able to count off quarter note = 60 off the top of his head, but I've seen some conductors that check their watches before beginning a movement.

Anyway, the last conductor I played under (Sonheim's "Into the Woods") missed a cue because he fell asleep during the dialogue. LOL

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Last year at the Iowa All-State concert, the orchestra, AND the choir (which I was part of) had horrible conductors; their actions were completely incoherent to the music. It was really disappointing. This year the choir's conductor was fantastic... He was IN the music. We could do everything he wanted us to just by watching his arms and hands. It was great.

Who were the conductors, if I may ask?

~Conor

Jo-Michael Scheibe (choir) of U of Miami and Steven Amundson (orchestra) of St. Olaf were 2005's directors. Both produced acceptable products (both choir and orchestra sounded decent). Having Dr. James Rodde this year as a choir director produced perhaps the best All-state choir Iowa's had in a very long time. It showed me how more efficient conducting styles affect the product.

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Anyway, the last conductor I played under (Sonheim's "Into the Woods") missed a cue because he fell asleep during the dialogue.  LOL

:thumbup:

Not good!!! I've never seen that happen personally, but I did have one miss a cue once (In a theatre show) - when questioned afterwards what the problem was, turned out that the poor soul was wondering how his 9-and-a-half month pregnant partner was doing!!!

PS - Veggie musician's presence has once again started me thinking about a UK JWFan meet....

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This is quite interesting. The few things I've read about his conducting are always positive. Like how the LSO applauded him after they played, well, just about every cue in "Revenge of the Sith" (don't know what drug they were on at the time).

And I've always seen clips of him being so gentle and accommodating. But those clips were usually of sessions with experienced players.

It does raise the question of how much rehearsal is given on film score sessions before the first take is recorded? If they just record it on first reading, i could imagine lots of mistakes and short tempers. Some of his string stuff isn't easy!

Jeff -- who would be so nervous performing in a JW score that he'd throw up a lot the night before

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Williams incident with the Pops had to do with the general lack of atetion during rehearsal. The last drop was eventually while rehearsing "America The Dream Goes On". Williams is said to have left the stage in anger.

But during the whole process he never had an hard word toward the musicians, and when asked a few years later, he called the whole thing as a laboural issue.

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Jeff -- who would be so nervous performing in a JW score that he'd throw up a lot the night before

Same here! I always think about how amazing it would be to play for JW, and then I immediately realize that I'd probably have an aneurism everytime he looked in my general direction.

Ray Barnsbury

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I've heard mostly very positive things about Williams' conductor-personality from musicians who have worked with him. After his last concerts with the N.Y. Phil., several players pointed out that it was so refreshing to work with a man who was simply a musician, not a "maestro".

Are you referring to the NY April 2006 concert? But at that concert a section came in to early in A Prayer for Peace from Munich. It was after the big dramatic pause, well half of them came in a half a second to early while the other half came in on time (or so it sounded like) well end result, not pretty noise effect and one of John Williams stares that make me want to go into a nice corner. I was sitting far from the stage and I still saw it. Not pretty.

I remember that. From what I recall, the whole violins section didn't play the big climax after the pause (2:35 on the track). He instantly turned to them, was damn near hanging over the podium and rigorously conducted them. I was on the right side, so I couldn't see his face, but I was imagining how mean that stare must have been.

Also, from what I've heard, Williams is something of a perfectionist and that recording sessions are usually pretty tedious. The end credits suite on the Far and Away vol. 2 soundtrack is pretty interesting to listen to. Williams isn't mean, just very direct whenever he stops them to give direction.

Ted

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JOhn Williams was swimming off of Martha's Vineyard during the making of Jaws and was actually attacked by a small Tiger Shark back in 1975. What most people don't know is that Williams was blessed with an extra tough skin and an irregular bone density that makes him virtually unbreakable. Word has it that the Shyamalan film of the same name was roughly based on this event and Shyamlan just spun out a different story. So, to answer this question, yes, Williams is tough. Poor shark broke all of his teeth on him! :thumbup:

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JOhn Williams was swimming off of Martha's Vineyard during the making of Jaws and was actually attacked by a small Tiger Shark back in 1975.  What most people don't know is that Williams was blessed with an extra tough skin and an irregular bone density that makes him virtually unbreakable.  Word has it that the Shyamalan film of the same name was roughly based on this event and Shyamlan just spun out a different story.  So, to answer this question, yes, Williams is tough.  Poor shark broke all of his teeth on him! ;)

Taxidermy man had a heart attack when he seen what Williams brung 'im!

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Jeff -- who would be so nervous performing in a JW score that he'd throw up a lot the night before

Same here! I always think about how amazing it would be to play for JW, and then I immediately realize that I'd probably have an aneurism everytime he looked in my general direction.

Ray Barnsbury

Same here. He could be very intimidating.

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JOhn Williams was swimming off of Martha's Vineyard during the making of Jaws and was actually attacked by a small Tiger Shark back in 1975.  What most people don't know is that Williams was blessed with an extra tough skin and an irregular bone density that makes him virtually unbreakable.  Word has it that the Shyamalan film of the same name was roughly based on this event and Shyamlan just spun out a different story.  So, to answer this question, yes, Williams is tough.  Poor shark broke all of his teeth on him! ;)

;)

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At the 4th of July celebration a few years ago,when they played Olympic Fanfare someone messed up and got "the stare of death"

K.M.

Yeah, I remember that. I thought it was the trombones forgetting to take a repeat section. I thought I remembered him kinda laughing it off after a few seconds, but the look on his face right when it happend was evil.

~JW

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Jeff -- who would be so nervous performing in a JW score that he'd throw up a lot the night before

Same here! I always think about how amazing it would be to play for JW, and then I immediately realize that I'd probably have an aneurism everytime he looked in my general direction.

Ray Barnsbury

I would never get to play for John Williams because if I was ever told that I would play for him I'd pass out and have to be taken to the hospital. :music:

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