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How good is John Williams as a conductor?

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As far as film music conductor go, Alfred Newman was pretty much the undisputed king, am I wrong? I've even heard it said he was a better conductor than composer

When the piece he composed isn't very good, then the best conducting won't help, either now, would it? :P

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Well the idea was Alfred Newman was an excellent composer as well, really very good. But he didn't just conduct his own work, but a lot of different scores written at 20th Century Fox and elsewhere. He was indeed the undisputed king of conducting in film music, hemay still be as well.

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When judging conductors, the imporant thing is not how they wave their baton or how they move around on the podium, but how well they can control the orchestra and coax the best performance out of the players.

That's a relief. If it was only about moving around on the podium, then it'd just be about putting on a show for the audience.

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When judging conductors, the imporant thing is not how they wave their baton or how they move around on the podium, but how well they can control the orchestra and coax the best performance out of the players.

That's a relief. If it was only about moving around on the podium, then it'd just be about putting on a show for the audience.

Yes, and surprisingly many conductors seem to be doing just that! You know what I am talking about, these conductors with long, wild, crazy-scientist hairdo that go all crazy on the podium... :lol:

But with JW you never get that feeling!

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He has said he that "conducts out of self defense," or fear that others will misinterpret his compositions.

That quote is wrong. He started conducting out of self defense, as he felt that some of the studio conductors weren't that good.

That won't apply to concert performances -- if it did, no one would be conducting his music besides himself.

Back to topic, and while I've no music training, I would say is a very good conductor (either of his music or others). He is one of the few musicians, coming from Hollywood, able to have a conducting career outside L.A. Granted, that back in 1979, when he was offered the Boston Pops post, the recent success of his blockbuster scores had surely some weight on the BSO management choice. They needed someone to bring public notoriety to the orchestra, as with Fiedler, on his later years, the orchestra seemed to loose some of it.

But the Boston Symphony being one of the top orchestras in the US, I wouldn't believe they would go with someone just for being famous.

Also, I would argue that one a few occasions, Williams performances out do those of others, sometime by career conductors. Back in 1987 he recorded the premiere of Maxwell Davies' "And Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise" (released on "Pops Britannia"), which Williams premiered during the Boston Pops centennial celebration, and he himself commissioned. I always felt this performance to be superior to the composer conducting this very same piece (sadly long out of print, as Colins Classics closed its doors...). The same applies to Michael Torke's "Javelin" (released on "Summon the Heroes"). In that same year, was released the premiere recording, with the Atlanta Symphony under Yoel Levi, and I also find Williams' rendition superior.

Finally, his recordings of Hovhaness' "Symphony No. 2" and Takemitsu's "TreeLine" (both released on "The Five Sacred Trees") were welcomed by a Gramophone reviewer as top contenders for best performances of this pieces available on CD (and on the case of the Hovhaness, another conductor listed was no one else but the great Fritz Reiner).

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When judging conductors, the imporant thing is not how they wave their baton or how they move around on the podium, but how well they can control the orchestra and coax the best performance out of the players.

That's a relief. If it was only about moving around on the podium, then it'd just be about putting on a show for the audience.

Yes, and surprisingly many conductors seem to be doing just that! You know what I am talking about, these conductors with long, wild, crazy-scientist hairdo that go all crazy on the podium... :lol:

But with JW you never get that feeling!

You mean that conductor who visited the Tintin sessions?

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He has said he that "conducts out of self defense," or fear that others will misinterpret his compositions.

That quote is wrong. He started conducting out of self defense, as he felt that some of the studio conductors weren't that good.

That won't apply to concert performances -- if it did, no one would be conducting his music besides himself.

I'm talking about original recordings, stuff that's never been heard before (like new film scores). Obviously his music is going to be botched a little at concerts. I mean, I played a medley of JW music in 8th grade, and our band was awful compared to the musicians he's used to working with. You can't prevent that. Occasionally a premiere recording of a piece won't be conducted by JW (i.e. horn concerto), but then it's usually a well respected conductor, like Leonard Slatkin.

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Ah - glad someone posted a passage of Leonard Bernstein conducting....one of the few conductors I've seen who could be absolutely authoritative whilst either standing completely still, or conducting down by his waste where hardly anyone could see his baton...THAT takes some doing...

Hehe.

I will always love him for this :

And the man was a fantastic lecturer too.

Yeah - love that whole concert...but the section from 2.20 in the Overture you posted is a great example....just the next 15 seconds or so...brilliant!!

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Actually , I never heard a track thinking, "it's too fast", "too slow" or "too sloppy" from Williams, conducting his own music or otherwise.

I think he has a unique way of bringing at least his own music to life and always seems to be getting the best out of the orchestra.

To me these are attributes of a great conductor.

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He has said he that "conducts out of self defense," or fear that others will misinterpret his compositions.

That quote is wrong. He started conducting out of self defense, as he felt that some of the studio conductors weren't that good.

That won't apply to concert performances -- if it did, no one would be conducting his music besides himself.

I'm talking about original recordings, stuff that's never been heard before (like new film scores). Obviously his music is going to be botched a little at concerts. I mean, I played a medley of JW music in 8th grade, and our band was awful compared to the musicians he's used to working with. You can't prevent that. Occasionally a premiere recording of a piece won't be conducted by JW (i.e. horn concerto), but then it's usually a well respected conductor, like Leonard Slatkin.

Again, what he said is that HE STARTED CONDUCTING OUT OF SELF DEFENSE. The key word is start. I never read him pointing anyone as a bad conductor on the studio system, as he only implied that some people there weren't that gifted at the podium. Occasions like the "Jurassic Park", with Artie Kane taking up conducting duties just shows how he's comfortable with others doing that job when he can't.

Also, your comparison is, at least in my mind, weird. Of course a 8th grade band, whatever good the conductor is, won't deliver as the BSO does.

And finally, on numerous occasions, his works have been premiered by others. Here's the ones that come up by heart:

Prelude and Fugue (Stan Kenton)

Sinfonnietta; Nostalgic Jazz Odyssey (Donald Hunsberger)

Essay for Strings; Symphony No 1 (André Previn)

Flute Concerto; Violin Concerto (Leonard Slatkin)

Trumpet Concerto (Christoph von Dohnányi)

Bassoon Concerto (Kurt Mazur)

Song for World Peace; Tributes (Seiji Ozawa)

Fanfare for a Festive Ocasion (Max Hobart)

Celebration Fanfare (Sergiu Comissiona)

Fanfare for Michael Dukakis (Harry Ellis Dickinson)

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He has said he that "conducts out of self defense," or fear that others will misinterpret his compositions.

That quote is wrong. He started conducting out of self defense, as he felt that some of the studio conductors weren't that good.

That won't apply to concert performances -- if it did, no one would be conducting his music besides himself.

I'm talking about original recordings, stuff that's never been heard before (like new film scores). Obviously his music is going to be botched a little at concerts. I mean, I played a medley of JW music in 8th grade, and our band was awful compared to the musicians he's used to working with. You can't prevent that. Occasionally a premiere recording of a piece won't be conducted by JW (i.e. horn concerto), but then it's usually a well respected conductor, like Leonard Slatkin.

Again, what he said is that HE STARTED CONDUCTING OUT OF SELF DEFENSE. The key word is start.

Actually, he started conducting because the person who would usually conduct his scores was sick, so he had to.

I never read him pointing anyone as a bad conductor on the studio system, as he only implied that some people there weren't that gifted at the podium.

It's not necessarily that there might be a bad conductor, but plenty of good conductors could interpret Williams' score in a way that he never intended them to. Particularly something like War Horse where there's a lot of rubato.

Occasions like the "Jurassic Park", with Artie Kane taking up conducting duties just shows how he's comfortable with others doing that job when he can't.

That's different. Obviously if he is physically incapable of conducting a score (he hurt his back at the time) he's going to get somebody else, even if it risks his interpretation. Same thing with William Ross on Chamber of Secrets.

Also, your comparison is, at least in my mind, weird. Of course a 8th grade band, whatever good the conductor is, won't deliver as the BSO does.

My point is, there's no way to prevent botched interpretations of his works in concert halls. You're going to get bad bands and bad conductors performing his work, and there's nothing he can do about it. There's no point in trying to prevent his work from being performed by subpar conductors.

And finally, on numerous occasions, his works have been premiered by others. Here's the ones that come up by heart:

Prelude and Fugue (Stan Kenton)

Sinfonnietta; Nostalgic Jazz Odyssey (Donald Hunsberger)

Essay for Strings; Symphony No 1 (André Previn)

Flute Concerto; Violin Concerto (Leonard Slatkin)

Trumpet Concerto (Christoph von Dohnányi)

Bassoon Concerto (Kurt Mazur)

Song for World Peace; Tributes (Seiji Ozawa)

Fanfare for a Festive Ocasion (Max Hobart)

Celebration Fanfare (Sergiu Comissiona)

Fanfare for Michael Dukakis (Harry Ellis Dickinson)

I think there's a few important differences here.

1) A lot of these are commissioned for a specific event where a conductor has already been established. That means that Williams' options are to either allow another conductor to premiere his works or to not have it performed at all. In these instances I'm sure he would rather have the piece be heard, even if it means risking some interpretational disparities.

2) A lot of these conductors are known to have a very good professional and personal relationship with JW. Andre Previn, Leonard Slatkin, Seiji Ozawa...I'm sure most of these conductors are people Williams knows and trusts to interpret his works intelligently.

I think the fact that at 80 years old he is still conducting his own works as often as possible says something about who he trusts best to interpret his scores. The fact that he says he started conducting out of self defense doesn't mean that he's no longer doing the same.

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I'm sorry, maybe it's my fault, and I'm dumber than a rock, but I can't see the logic on your statements.

By definition, any performing art is subject to different interpretations, and any given performance isn't bad just because it wasn't conducted by the composer -- rather it's different. You might prefer one to another... for instance, I do not like Williams recorded performance of "Liberty Fanfare". Any of the other available recordings is superior to Williams own -- Kunzel and Lockhart come to mind.

Also, any composer, given the chance would love to coach a premiere performance, even with another conductor in the podium. I'm sure that was the case in some of the premieres I mentioned earlier. Not the case of the Sinfonietta, though, as it was a surprise to Williams, when he discovered Hunsberger had recorded it.

The fact that he is 80 and performing is works means nothing regarding trust or lack of it. It means that orchestras wants him for his music composing, and having the actual composer conducting is a marketing strategy. And again, if it still was the self defense thing, he wouldn't allow the publishing of his own music.

Also could you provide further information on this:

Actually, he started conducting because the person who would usually conduct his scores was sick, so he had to.

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My personal favourite will always be Leopold Stokowski, a true maverick. He broke most of the rules, not only in his extremely expressive baton (or rather hand) technique, but in how he reconfigured the symphony orchestra depending on the concert hall and the kind of sound he wanted to achieve. He recognised that the standard orchestra seating was out of date, and didn't take advantage of the improvements to instruments and modern technology. He also encouraged free bowing in the strings, free breathing for the winds, and sometimes had resonators beyond the orchestra, reflecting the sound back to the audience.

Isn't Stokowski blame for the now usual seating with non-stereophonic string sections? I still can't see the reasoning behind it, especially considering that some classical/romantic works seem to be written with precisely that stereo effect in mind.

Stokowski never intended for any one seating to become standard for all pieces. He always had the individual music and concert hall in mind when when planning those things.

If you want to read more on his various arrangements and accounts of his career, I recommend picking up 'The mystery of Leopold Stokowsky' by William Ander Smith.

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I'm sorry, maybe it's my fault, and I'm dumber than a rock, but I can't see the logic on your statements.

By definition, any performing art is subject to different interpretations, and any given performance isn't bad just because it wasn't conducted by the composer -- rather it's different. You might prefer one to another... for instance, I do not like Williams recorded performance of "Liberty Fanfare". Any of the other available recordings is superior to Williams own -- Kunzel and Lockhart come to mind.

I agree. I don't think that Williams thinks that every other conductor is a bad one, but I'd imagine that when you compose a piece of music it's a very personal matter, and you would want its premiere recording to reflect your interpretation, and not somebody else's (if possible).

The fact that he is 80 and performing is works means nothing regarding trust or lack of it. It means that orchestras wants him for his music composing, and having the actual composer conducting is a marketing strategy. And again, if it still was the self defense thing, he wouldn't allow the publishing of his own music.

Possibly, but if John Williams demanded that studios supply an extra conductor they'd probably jump to get him one. From what I understand he has a good amount of influence in the industry.

Most of the sheet music that has been published has already been recorded, and all of it has already been premiered. Usually Williams is involved with these recordings/premieres, even if he isn't the one conducting. One those are established he probably cares less about maintaining his interpretation. Of course I don't know any of this, but that's what I would imagine.

Also could you provide further information on this:

Actually, he started conducting because the person who would usually conduct his scores was sick, so he had to.

In an interview with Richard Kaye, Williams mentions that he was given his first opportunity to score a film for a major studio by Morris Stoloff, the conductor of the studio orchestra Williams was performing in (Williams claims that this film was Because They're Young from 1958, but I would imagine he meant to say Daddy-O from 1959). JW mentions that unless there was a visiting all star (i.e. Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, etc.), Stoloff would conduct every score. But Stoloff had to go to the hospital the week of the recording for Williams' score, so Williams got to conduct for the first time, without any training (beyond observations made during his time in the orchestra).

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I'm sorry, maybe it's my fault, and I'm dumber than a rock, but I can't see the logic on your statements.

By definition, any performing art is subject to different interpretations, and any given performance isn't bad just because it wasn't conducted by the composer -- rather it's different. You might prefer one to another... for instance, I do not like Williams recorded performance of "Liberty Fanfare". Any of the other available recordings is superior to Williams own -- Kunzel and Lockhart come to mind.

*Any* of the others? Even the one by Richard Hayman (?) and the Philharmonic Rock Orchestra? ;) I agree with the point you're making though - but I like Williams' own Liberty Fanfare recording.

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Ok, I forgot about Richard Hayman... Something that I've spent years trying to forget, and now, you bring it back to my memory... Damn you :P

Seriously enough now, I do enjoy the Williams conducted recording, but I find the two others better. As for the Hayman, he misses the point in most every track of those two CDs. I know he was highly revered as a conductor of light music in the 50s and 60s, and of course, was one of the chief arrangers for the Boston Pops during the Fiedler tenure. At the time (early 90's) he did a number of CDs for Naxos, which I never heard, but from the sampling of the Williams ones, I really don't want to listen to anything more from him.

Also could you provide further information on this:

Actually, he started conducting because the person who would usually conduct his scores was sick, so he had to.

In an interview with Richard Kaye, Williams mentions that he was given his first opportunity to score a film for a major studio by Morris Stoloff, the conductor of the studio orchestra Williams was performing in (Williams claims that this film was Because They're Young from 1958, but I would imagine he meant to say Daddy-O from 1959). JW mentions that unless there was a visiting all star (i.e. Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, etc.), Stoloff would conduct every score. But Stoloff had to go to the hospital the week of the recording for Williams' score, so Williams got to conduct for the first time, without any training (beyond observations made during his time in the orchestra).

Interesting. I don't recall reading that (nor I recall the interviewer's name), but with such a large amount of interviews on my archives... I'll search for it then. Do you know if it is archived on-line?

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Ok, I forgot about Richard Hayman... Something that I've spent years trying to forget, and now, you bring it back to my memory... Damn you :P

Seriously enough now, I do enjoy the Williams conducted recording, but I find the two others better. As for the Hayman, he misses the point in most every track of those two CDs. I know he was highly revered as a conductor of light music in the 50s and 60s, and of course, was one of the chief arrangers for the Boston Pops during the Fiedler tenure. At the time (early 90's) he did a number of CDs for Naxos, which I never heard, but from the sampling of the Williams ones, I really don't want to listen to anything more from him.

Also could you provide further information on this:

Actually, he started conducting because the person who would usually conduct his scores was sick, so he had to.

In an interview with Richard Kaye, Williams mentions that he was given his first opportunity to score a film for a major studio by Morris Stoloff, the conductor of the studio orchestra Williams was performing in (Williams claims that this film was Because They're Young from 1958, but I would imagine he meant to say Daddy-O from 1959). JW mentions that unless there was a visiting all star (i.e. Alfred Newman, Franz Waxman, etc.), Stoloff would conduct every score. But Stoloff had to go to the hospital the week of the recording for Williams' score, so Williams got to conduct for the first time, without any training (beyond observations made during his time in the orchestra).

Interesting. I don't recall reading that (nor I recall the interviewer's name), but with such a large amount of interviews on my archives... I'll search for it then. Do you know if it is archived on-line?

I'm not sure if it's archived online, but it is available on a CD called John Williams on Radio (bootleg). It's an audio interview that took place at a Tanglewood concert. I think it's from the 1994, because Williams talks about "last year's" film scores being Schindler's List and JP.

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Miguel, you are not dumber than a rock, you are as well if not more informed and insightful as anyone here, that is why I wanted your opinion. You may not be musical instructed but your opinion's on John's works and your likes and dislikes are valid and extremely well stated.

Personally I like watching John conduct. He's quite entertaining. Of course being my idol going on 47 years you would expect me too.

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I already mentioned here that Leonard Bernstein is my absolute favourite conductor, but I completely forgot to share this funny story. Theres been a lot of great discussion here about the stick technique and rehearsal technique. Bernstein is unquestionably a master of the stick technique (as seen in performances) and I believe the same applies to the rehearsal technique (understandably).

So here's my story. The conductor of the concert band I play in is actually close friends with the principal trumpet player of the New York Phillharmonic. Apparently, he once told my conductor that there would be these intense warm-up sessions (especially for the trumpets) during rehearsal, and if any player were to stop and take a break during this time (or technically slack off), Bernstein would come to him/her and sit on his/her lap, while hugging them and would humourously toy with that person with a great deal of sarcasm. So all the trumpet players would blow their faces off during warm-up just to avoid that. It just goes to show the fantastic personality of Bernstein. The image my conductor put in our heads was hilarious (I may not be crossing it over to the web correctly).

- KK

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Yup. I've never met the guy, although I love his playing. My conductor was close family friends (or something like that) with him, so he's met with him on occaison and shared stories.

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Speaking about Bernstein and his conducting style, watch this excerpt from a rehearsal of Stravinsky's Le sacre du printemps with a young people orchestra. It's really fascinating.

There used to be the full documentary at YouTube, but I can't find it anymore.

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The guy can't be perfect at everything. He's already a masterful melodist, harmonist, orchestrator, arranger, pianist, Boston Pops music director, Olympic theme writer, Oscar-nom nabber, and who knows what else I'm forgetting. So what if he's merely a great conductor who earns the adulation of everyone who performs or works with him, amirite??

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Williams is a very good conductor, peaking sometime between '82-'02, but not necessarily a "great" conductor.

Nevertheless, I enjoy his approach on the podium.  He seems to conduct with a care and restraint that brings out the best the rather extroverted nature of film music.

(curious how Williams, at his best, manages to write music that is at once extroverted and introverted.)  

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Watching him conduct in Chicago, especially so up-close in the choir stalls and being able to watch him face-on, I have never been so captivated by a conductor. Part of that is associated with the man himself and the presence he gives off, but mostly it was due to his passion for every note. Every wave of his hands was precise and with a purpose. He added many beautiful little touches as well, like making a plucking motion with his left hand, directed towards the harp player as she plucked the final notes to end Marion's Theme.

 

So, concerning his technical abilities, I am not an expert in the studies of conducting, and wouldn't know, but in passion and feeling, he is at the top for me.

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On 9/20/2018 at 8:31 AM, Fabulin said:

His take on the Festive Overture by Shostakovich (😍) blows all the others out of the water. That at least is certain.

 

This was a very fine interpretation indeed.  Clearly JW has serious conducting chops.  He also premiered Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' "An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise".  I'm not a fan of his recording of Holst's Planets but the competition is fierce.  I would agree with the consensus of this thread that JW is a very competent and respectable conductor, but not a great one.  The great ones really elevate the music even more than the composer might have intended and are quite rare. 

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In my very humble (and fairly ignorant) opinion, I've come to revere his conducting style such that I compare every other conductor I see to him.

 

I know very little about conducting besides what I observe at concerts. But I've come to like JW's style because it looks so effortless, functional, unpretentious, and not so flamboyant that it makes a mockery or steals attention from the musicians. 

 

Three of my favourite examples:

 

Soundings (especially the last two notes!).

 

See 4:08 in this!

 

And him loving the choir at 2:40 here:

 

I would say in polar opposite is Keith Lockhart, whom I don't hate, but he really exemplifies how different one can be to JW. He doesn't use a baton, and he feels the need to almost 'dance' to get the message across.

 

It's unfortunate, that since his pace-maker operation a few years ago, his shoulder movement seems to have become somewhat inhibited, and he seems to have become less animated in his public conducting. I look forward to seeing (if, indeed, it gets video-taped) how he gets on at the LSO concert next month.

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Most people who don't think he's a good conductor are ignorant and would never know the difference in their life. For every good conductor, there's a great many more who are posers. A good conductor, in whatever way, get's the orchestra to play well, corrects mistakes, balances, and adds their interpretation to the music (which is always the hardest part as orchestras sometimes fight the conductor).

 

John Williams is an excellent conductor, with a meticulous ear for just about everything, especially for knowing what to attack in a rehearsal when and how and even perhaps more important when to leave things alone (such as James Levine who would pick over the same details forever or tediously rehearse the last three mozart symphonies, stopping and starting constantly and never really playing through any of it 100%, which really just accomplishes nothing more than irritate the orchestra). 

 

A great many conductors live on this mythic reputation, which when asked for evidence to support such a reputation, there's usually nill to go on. Especially true in the case of his recordings of "The Rite of Spring"which Stravinsky absolutely hated and said it was the antithesis of what he envisioned (If you don't believe me, mainly because it's widely reported Stravinsky loved the recording, just look up his autobiography he goes off on a big rant about it. Ligeti, Boulez and Stockhausen were also displeased with his recordings of their pieces saying he ignored their wishes and did whatever he wanted). Bernstein was a legend but he could be all over the place, inconsistent. Claudio Abaddo has more hideous recordings ( meaning just terrible sounding and full of mistakes) than any other conductor, Andris Nelsons I think is also difficult to follow as it seems he conducts some pieces differently from each rehearsal to concert (from what I have observed, I could be wrong) although his interpretations can be pretty nice, Leonard Slatkin (also in my opinion) was never anything special and has in the last ten years gotten so lazy and uninspired that that kind of sound is 100% reflected in the orchestra (having heard him conduct several orchestras within the same few years in the US and Europe), Gergiev's performances always sound terrible because he's extremely spontaneous and doesn't even rehearse the orchestras most of the time he has other people do it. Daniel Barenboim mostly screams at the orchestra (usually calling them stupid), throws things, and in any case every time i've heard him conduct live and even on many recordings it sounds very half assed and sloppy and comes across as very lazy (although the times I've heard him perform as a pianist have been wonderful). Copland, Stravinsky, and Pendereki were (are) absolutely terrible conductors.

 

I could keep going but that's really boring. Basically what makes a good conductor, at least one who is respected by all, is a person who's a good go between who acts like they are one of the ensemble, respects their wishes, but also can be commanding when needed. Deals with balancing, mistakes, and gives their interpretation when they can, or at the very least, what they believe the composers wishes were. Most importantly are excellent communicators. I think a lot of names are usually left out; Simon Rattle, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, Andre Previn, John Elliot Gardiner and John Williams certainly fall into a category of the finest conductors who embody all the above, but could conduct various types of music well ranging from the avante-garde to the contemporary.

 

PS- judging a conductor who only conducts classics is silly because for example, the last three mozart symponies, the orchestra will usually play them the way they usually play them and will sometimes completely ignore the conductor, which I have seen time and again, however a great recording of the vienna phil, all teh credit goes to the conductor who may have little to do with the performance besides stand there and look nice.

 

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5 hours ago, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

Bernstein was a legend but he could be all over the place, inconsistent. Claudio Abaddo has more hideous recordings ( meaning just terrible sounding and full of mistakes) than any other conductor, Andris Nelsons I think is also difficult to follow as it seems he conducts some pieces differently from each rehearsal to concert (from what I have observed, I could be wrong) although his interpretations can be pretty nice, Leonard Slatkin (also in my opinion) was never anything special and has in the last ten years gotten so lazy and uninspired that that kind of sound is 100% reflected in the orchestra (having heard him conduct several orchestras within the same few years in the US and Europe), Gergiev's performances always sound terrible because he's extremely spontaneous and doesn't even rehearse the orchestras most of the time he has other people do it. Daniel Barenboim mostly screams at the orchestra (usually calling them stupid), throws things, and in any case every time i've heard him conduct live and even on many recordings it sounds very half assed and sloppy and comes across as very lazy (although the times I've heard him perform as a pianist have been wonderful). Copland, Stravinsky, and Pendereki were (are) absolutely terrible conductors.

 

I could keep going but that's really boring. Basically what makes a good conductor, at least one who is respected by all, is a person who's a good go between who acts like they are one of the ensemble, respects their wishes, but also can be commanding when needed. Deals with balancing, mistakes, and gives their interpretation when they can, or at the very least, what they believe the composers wishes were. Most importantly are excellent communicators. I think a lot of names are usually left out; Simon Rattle, Pierre Boulez, Bernard Haitink, Andre Previn, John Elliot Gardiner and John Williams certainly fall into a category of the finest conductors who embody all the above, but could conduct various types of music well ranging from the avante-garde to the contemporary.

 

I mean...isn't Williams more a Pops type of conductor? 

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2 hours ago, publicist said:

I mean...isn't Williams more a Pops type of conductor? 

 

True, but it's still a major exercise in crafting an art in itself (i.e. conducting). It's also about studying and shaping a personal perspective on how you conduct things. Here's some interesting thoughts about this from Keith Lockhart, excerpted from the recent book John Williams: Music for Film, Television and the Concert Stage

 

Quote

One of the first things that changed the viewpoint of the way film music was perceived in the broader world of orchestral music was John's appointment here in Boston. That's not his music specifically; it's taking a Hollywood composer seriously enough to give him a position in the world of orchestral music, which is the starchiest and most rigid of all performing arts. And I'm sure – I wasn't around here in 1980 – but I'm sure that there were people going, «Well, I wonder what he is just playing... Just that stuff?» And without question the answer was to some extent “not just that stuff”, but that's the stuff John knows, not just his own music but Korngold, Waxman, Rózsa... All that stuff entered the repertoire, stuff that Fiedler had probably never touched. What Fiedler knew, in terms of the body of work, was Von Suppés overtures and Rossini, and movements from major symphonic works. What I always tell people is that it would have been nice to be a fly on the wall in 1980... For John this job must have been a huge challenge and a huge responsibility, because parts of this job that I don't have to think about are the symphonic warhorses. When we have violinists coming and they're doing Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, or pianists coming and they're doing the last movement of the “Rach 2”, this is my bread and butter, this is the stuff I have been studying since I was twenty-one. By the time I came here I had fifteen years of that sort of work under my belt. The reason I can concentrate on all the new things, the commissions and things like that, is because I already know all that standard repertoire. But imagine if that stuff had been new to learn, which was the case with John! All John had conducted was his own work in the studio, basically. And like a lot of the studio composers, he conducted his own recording sessions. But it's a different thing when you have to start interpreting everybody else's work too.

 

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All good and well, but still apples and oranges in ragrds to the poster i cited because it's a major difference between 'classical' conductors working for years, sometimes decades on i. e. Shostakovich or Ring cycle interpretations with the goal of producing their own defintive take on that body of work or a Pops conductor occasionally conducting the 1812 overture or a Haydn piece.

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10 hours ago, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

For every good conductor, there's a great many more who are posers. A good conductor, in whatever way, get's the orchestra to play well, corrects mistakes, balances, and adds their interpretation to the music (which is always the hardest part as orchestras sometimes fight the conductor).

 

I agree with this.

 

10 hours ago, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

John Williams is an excellent conductor, with a meticulous ear for just about everything, especially for knowing what to attack in a rehearsal when and how and even perhaps more important when to leave things alone 

 

Also with this.

 

10 hours ago, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

Bernstein was a legend but he could be all over the place, inconsistent.

 

And with this as well.

 

10 hours ago, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

Claudio Abaddo has more hideous recordings ( meaning just terrible sounding and full of mistakes) than any other conductor,

 

Could you make examples about this one? Especially about his recordings being "full of mistakes". Speaking of which: it's Abbado, not "Abaddo"!

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, Score said:

 

Could you make examples about this one? Especially about his recordings being "full of mistakes". Speaking of which: it's Abbado, not "Abaddo"!

---sorry auto correct. It's not that I have anything against him, it's just my experience in listening.
His recording of Schonberg's Gurre-lieder is absolutely hideous, by far the worst (although there are several bad recordings by famous conductors) but it's pretty unpleasant. Also his recording of Le Sacre with the London Symphony has some issue. (His recording of Gruppen is excellent but thats with three conductors and really contemporary, I don't know if thats a good example)

 

Actually, one of my good friends is a a huge fan of Karajan. So many conductors said he was the greatest, but a lot of his recordings are not so great as well, like both the Rite of Spring recordings are really weird, and his Debussy and Ravel are off. But of course there are a great many that are pure gold.

 

Also which was not mentioned is that just because a conductor does some genres better than others (I consider different periods of music almost like different genres) does not make them a bad conductor. The difference between Debussy and Bach is enormous, and Mozart is very different to perform than Brahms (although there are many bad conductors that perform everything the same way, which is boring as hell). So to respond to publicist, to call someone a "pops" conductor is a huge compliment to be able to handle a bunch of random repertoire all in one evening with minimal rehearsal (since a lot of orchestras just use these concert to make a quick buck). Additionally, I remember a quote from Seiji Ozawa saying he could never conduct to a film like Williams does, it was too difficult for him.

 

I think the same can be said about Arthur Feidler, who did endless concerts outside the Boston Pops, and they were mostly of the classical repertoire, and he was labeled "kind of pops"or something like that. Don't forget also all these people are trained at conservatories just as "the greats"but are not necessarily repeating or playing the same music over again (like the Mahler symphonies for example, I think conductors were considered incompetent for a while if they didn't record the whole Mahler cycle). I think Alexandre Desplat is probably the best example of this (although he doesn't really concertize outside his own music). He graduated as a flute major from the conservatoire Nationale de Lyon, which has extremely high standards, especially in composition. Now his music is very simple, but by choice and style. If you ask him to write a fugue in the style of Bach, I can guarantee he can do it because he would have had to in order to graduate, and additionally I believe he performed "Explosante-Fixe"by Pierre Boulez, which is for three flutes and is extremely difficult contemporary music. So just because they do not perform Mahler or Wagner, does not mean they could not.

 

PS- In all honest reality, without any bias, musicians who claim to work on things for decades either exaggerate wildly or they are honestly not the brightest person around. I know it's pretty difficult for classical people to understand because it's very high-brow and elitist, but there are a great many classical artists who are dumb as rocks, and I can tell you from experience. Certainly not all of them, but I've noticed that sometimes they take forever to learn a score because they're just not too swift (or from their training also, which lacked any sort of training in analysis). Also they are people who fundamental perform and put on a show, and they love to exaggerate and dress things up. I love Andre Previn and he's pretty intelligent for sure and a very find musician, but sometimes he repeated stories in interviews and every time the story is very different from the other versions, but always dramatized sounding. Also, does " I studied it on the airplane before arriving for the first rehearsal" sound particularly attractive? More often than not that's what conductors do when they've performed the piece a lot or it's something that does require special attention

 

ALSO for example John Williams has written some rock tunes, funk and a lot of jazz (and performed a lot of jazz too) as well as Haydn and some other piano concerti at Tanglewood. He can swing and groove just as well as play classical. HOWEVER most classical trained people cannot do anything besides make modest interpretations, but for most part play the music very literally. See here, Anne-Sophie tries to play some kind of Tango and it's all over the place.

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, WilliamsStarShip2282 said:

Also which was not mentioned is that just because a conductor does some genres better than others (I consider different periods of music almost like different genres) does not make them a bad conductor. The difference between Debussy and Bach is enormous, and Mozart is very different to perform than Brahms (although there are many bad conductors that perform everything the same way, which is boring as hell). So to respond to publicist, to call someone a "pops" conductor is a huge compliment to be able to handle a bunch of random repertoire all in one evening with minimal rehearsal (since a lot of orchestras just use these concert to make a quick buck). Additionally, I remember a quote from Seiji Ozawa saying he could never conduct to a film like Williams does, it was too difficult for him.

 

I think the same can be said about Arthur Feidler, who did endless concerts outside the Boston Pops, and they were mostly of the classical repertoire, and he was labeled "kind of pops"or something like that. Don't forget also all these people are trained at conservatories just as "the greats"but are not necessarily repeating or playing the same music over again (like the Mahler symphonies for example, I think conductors were considered incompetent for a while if they didn't record the whole Mahler cycle). I think Alexandre Desplat is probably the best example of this (although he doesn't really concertize outside his own music). He graduated as a flute major from the conservatoire Nationale de Lyon, which has extremely high standards, especially in composition. Now his music is very simple, but by choice and style. If you ask him to write a fugue in the style of Bach, I can guarantee he can do it because he would have had to in order to graduate, and additionally I believe he performed "Explosante-Fixe"by Pierre Boulez, which is for three flutes and is extremely difficult contemporary music. So just because they do not perform Mahler or Wagner, does not mean they could not.

 

PS- In all honest reality, without any bias, musicians who claim to work on things for decades either exaggerate wildly or they are honestly not the brightest person around. I know it's pretty difficult for classical people to understand because it's very high-brow and elitist, but there are a great many classical artists who are dumb as rocks, and I can tell you from experience. Certainly not all of them, but I've noticed that sometimes they take forever to learn a score because they're just not too swift (or from their training also, which lacked any sort of training in analysis). Also they are people who fundamental perform and put on a show, and they love to exaggerate and dress things up. I love Andre Previn and he's pretty intelligent for sure and a very find musician, but sometimes he repeated stories in interviews and every time the story is very different from the other versions, but always dramatized sounding. Also, does " I studied it on the airplane before arriving for the first rehearsal" sound particularly attractive? More often than not that's what conductors do when they've performed the piece a lot or it's something that does require special attention

 

 

Well, i have no big emotional investment in this but it boils down to one guy saying the whole canonized opinions on famous conductors, their approach to material and their achievements are wrong and John Williams can conduct rings around any of them.

 

Which makes one wonder why over all those years hardly anyone besides film music fans lists the JW recording repertoire - which is easily available and widely distributed - as the best interpretation of piece X or Y. And i don't mean just the classical repertoire, neither Gershwin, Broadway and what have you i have ever seen or heard someone cite a Boston Pops recording as the definitive interpretation.

 

That's no dissing, just a curiosity how such a wide gulf of difference in perception can be possible.

 

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I didn't say conduct rings around them, it would totally depend on the conductor your putting him up against and the repertoire.

 

And who lists who, what, where and how? I will re-state the point about Bernstein's recording of the Rite of Spring, which is considered by most as the definitive, even though Stravinsky hated it and was a contributing factor to him recording all of his music himself with Columbia. So in terms of original contemporary music by living people during the lifetime of acceptable recording, a definitive record, if considered so by the composer, is the one done by the composer (even if the performance may be sloppy and have mistakes, like when Stravinsky or Copland conducted).

 

Additionally, Boston pops recordings usually don't get considered because they are a mixed basket of pieces and also certain movements rarely and entire work, and most specifically American classical purist look down on anything that is considered popular. So the "Boston Pops"who is the exact same orchestra as the Boston Symphony with the first chairs removed, suddenly a Pops recording of Strauss and Ravel is garbage compared to the Boston Symphony.

 

Aside from Pops compilation albums, Williams other recordings are mostly of original music or arrangements, his own or others.

 

What is so common as well as that people will just say this or that was great, just in order to not sound ignorant. Which happens ALL THE TIME. Lang Lang is a great example also. Many people think is a piano got, but he completely isn't. True, he can move his fingers very fast, however quite often he's very very slop, completely plays on his own and ignores the orchestra and generally speaking is unpredictable. However, he plays the classical repertoire wonderfully, and he did do a wonderful recording with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil of Bartok and Prokofiev.

 

I would like to also mention Seiji Ozawa, who is now considered a living legend. Almost his entire tenure with the Boston Symphony was a nightmare, with the orchestra pretty much belittling him, there's even a book called "In Concert" about his recording of Mahler Symphony 2 with the BSO and Jesse Norman, written by a Boston Globe music critic who basically spends an entire book ripping Ozawa a new asshole and making it seem like he is an incompetent buffoon. But then he left and suddenly was beloved, and the recording is well respected.

 

So just because Williams doesn't have his name on some list of "Greatest recordings"of a certain work, doesn't make him not worth his salt as a conductor. So the wide gulf I would describe as salesmanship, ignorance, jealousy, and this snobby purist, elitist attitude which is a combination of all those things. And that's really a shame, because just about every other genre of music doesn't have this problem, nor pretty much any other realm of art or creative areas. You don't see people knocking Frank Gehry for his buildings not being in a traditional vain, or that his buildings are not acceptable because he had never designed something like the Roman Colosseum.

 

Again, not that he's the greatest on earth in terms as a conductor, there are many and realistically once you reach a certain level it becomes a matter of taste rather than competence. There are a lot of great conductors, there are a lot more crappy ones, and there the most who do a certain type of repertoire well and others not. As one last note, I think what gives him merit is all the very classical musicians who do hold the mark for the greatest recordings (Yo-Yo Ma, Jessye Norman, Emmanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Joshua Bell, Gil Shaham, and the list goes on) have all said that he's an excellent conductor, and sometimes even give supporting evidence. Although, I think the JW archivists would know where to find all that.

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