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Conducting Without Notes


Genius_Gone_Insane
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I witnessed the SF Symphony play Shostakovich last night. It was wonderful. I noticed that MTT conducted the 5th symphony with his notes closed. I cannot recall seeing a conductor do that before, definitely not JW, even on his own music. Is it unusual?

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John Williams did conduct Call of the Champions without sheet music.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=ibm_Nj--DDE

It is unusal, but can be done, especially with pieces that are rythmically simple and don't change tempo too much.

Conducting a whole symphony from memory is intense, though I am not familiar with Shostakovich's 5th Symphony, shame on me.

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It's not unusual to conduct without a score. If I remember right, Karajan was the first to conduct

"from the brain" and some other conductor then said, that now because of Karajan everyone has

to do so, but I don't remember who it said, maybe Bernstein. I recently attended a concert

conducted by Roger Norrington. He also conducted Beethoven's 2nd Piano Concerto and Brahms'

second Serenade without a Score.

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Karajan was well-known for conducting with his eyes closed. Not the best thing for the musicians, for lack of eye contact, but yes, he obviously memorised pretty much everything he conducted.

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It probably happens more frequently with some of the "great" works - Shostakovich 5, Tchaik 5, etc. - because everyone is really familiar with them.

I saw the entire cycle of Brahms Symphonies conducted without a score once, and it was fantastic!

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Conducting without a score is really nothing special and - at least in Europe, IMHO - at least as usual as conducting with it. The conductor of the wind and symphony orchestras I play in actually prefers conducting the concerts without a score, so he can focus on the performance and on his own vision of the music he is conducting. I guess it's also kind of a "liberating" feeling for him. He has enough time to study a score during performances and on his own, but on the concerts, he usually conducts without a score (and I've seen many other conductors do it).

I guess there's no rule per se, a lot also depends on a personal preference, so I'm sure there are conductors, who'd never conduct withput a score, as well as those, who'd never conduct with it. ;)

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I'm pretty sure that on Sunday's Chicago concert, Williams did not use sheet music while conducting his second encore ("The Imperial March"...sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone). I could be wrong, but I didn't notice him grab the folder from the lower stand like he did for just about every other piece, including the other encores. I would imagine, having conducted the same arrangement of the piece for 27 years now, he's probably rather familiar with it. :)

Cheers!

--Kevin

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And keep in mind that the conductor doesn't need to know the full score during the actual performance. The interpretation pretty much stands as far as details regarding the instrument groups are concerned, so what's of more importance is the overall architecture of the piece and certain standout moments, which are easy to memorise.

Sometimes conductors to have the score in front of them, but then forget to turn the pages and have a hard time finding the right passage later on.

A year after our performance of Mozart's Requiem, I can still sing it by heart (with perhaps two or three moments where I'm not certain). Once you really know a piece of music, you don't easily forget it.

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