Performing with….uh….difficult conductors……

Posted In: Performing

  • Participant
    David Ice on #186221

    I’m just curious about others’ experiences and advice about cranky conductors. There’s only two conductors (out of 35 years) that fit into my category of “life is too short” and I won’t play with them again, if only to preserve my own sanity.

    One of the aforementioned conductors fussed an entire rehearsal session over EVERY note I played on the Bizet Carmen Suite Entracte. I mean, I’ve played it for nearly 35 years and it’s NOT rocket science…..but every single nuance was not to his liking. OK, so it’s his nickel, but after another such experience (fretting over a single glissando for what seemed like hours) I just determined that was it.

    And–after avoiding each other for about a year, he calls me up…..seems they are doing some sort of harpistic overload concert, with Debussy’s FETES, Berlioz’ HAROLD IN ITALY (with all those incredibly specific dynamics!) AND Holst’s THE PLANETS all on one program! It gave me a peculiar sort of schadenfreude to be able to honestly tell him I was unavailable…..I would be out of town.

    And the kicker is….others have too, for the same reasons!

    I certainly don’t like to thwart live orchestral music, but on the other hand, in-patient mental health care is SO expensive…..

    Dave Ice

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #186232

    David, the most ironic thing here is that the conductor asked you back, ha, ha! He must have really thought that you did a tremendous job, but was one of those who cannot let YOU know that. Or, he had already been turned down by the other harpists he asked, maybe before he asked you and you turned him down, and he was down to his last resource! 🙂 Either way, you won, and I would have done the same thing! It is very difficult to work with someone like that.

    I always enjoy reading your posts! Keep them coming.

    All the best,
    Balfour

    Participant
    David Ice on #186234

    Balfour, I think you’re absolutely right on both counts. At first I thought it might be a “man thing”–he would be used to intimidating a female harpist, and here I come and suddenly I am unwittingly involved in some sort of testosterone-fueled one-upmanship. But the female harpist who replaced me said the same thing. She went through the same “glissando hell” on every rehearsal and came away with the same experience. I don’t know if he has a fixation on the harp (or an ancient painful memory about an unrequited love affair with a harpist?) but he certainly has it in for us! I honestly don’t know who he has playing–probably a student. And I truly do wish them all the luck in the world!!!!

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #186236

    Hey, David, I have another conductor story for you. I played last Spring in a local orchestra and was asked then to play harp for the next season’s performance of Pelleas et Melisande. I was contacted by a fellow harpist late summer that the same conductor asked HIM to play the part. He knew I had been asked. I have no idea whether the conductor forgot, wasn’t thinking, or I was fired. The conductor kept insisting the part could be played on two harps and my harpist friend kept saying no. Anyhow, the other harpist is far more experienced in orchestral harp (which I find very stressful: I applaud all orchestral harpists) so I just let it drop. I’ll watch him play my part in two weeks:)

    Member
    Janis Cortese on #186262

    Maybe it’s just due to the fact that harpists are often the only ones in the orchestra on their instrument, so they can single them out if anything’s not to their liking. It’s a little bit like being a goalie. A jerk like that might have a harder time ganging up on a violinist because they come in herds.

    He’s probably a legend among horn players, too. That’s another instrument where (if you play first) your butt’s sort of hanging out all the time. (Lovely instrument, but I have no idea how they handle that sort of pressure.)

    Participant
    Alison on #186295

    I had one like that when I first resumed playing – he was consistently ruthless with all his orchestra’s & his conducting students and so several amateur wind players gave up or left but he was and is still as sweet as pie and very friendly off-stage, oblivious to the effect he had on others, & so I put his behavior down to nervousness and adrenaline in the moment, over anxious to get every note perfectly maybe but all the same it made rehearsals and performances terrifying and unpleasant. For harp that’s a no go – if the part is terrifying why compound the problem.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #186321

    Faure’s Pelleas et Melisande does have two harp parts, if that’s the one you’re talking about.

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #186327

    Really?! Both of us harpists looked and never found another part for P & M. The conductor never came up with it, either. The version the orchestra is using is from islmp. Well,too late now. Performance is next week. If you can tell me where to find Harp II, I’ll play it in my head while I watch:)

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #186331

    Debussy’s opera Pelléas et Mélisande does have two harp parts, but not the Fauré suite based on the same story. From Wikipedia:
    The plot concerns a love triangle. Prince Golaud finds a mysterious young woman, Mélisande, lost in a forest. He marries her and brings her back to the castle of his grandfather, King Arkel of Allemonde. Here Mélisande becomes increasingly attached to Golaud’s younger half-brother Pelléas, arousing Golaud’s jealousy. Golaud goes to excessive lengths to find out the truth about Pelléas and Mélisande’s relationship, even forcing his own child, Yniold, to spy on the couple. Pelléas decides to leave the castle but arranges to meet Mélisande one last time and the two finally confess their love for one another. Golaud, who has been eavesdropping, rushes out and kills Pelléas. Mélisande dies shortly after, having given birth to a daughter, with Golaud still begging her to tell him “the truth”.

    Participant
    balfour-knight on #186381

    David,

    There is one particular conductor in this area of the country that I have worked with on several different occasions. The last time I played for him, about a year ago, I told my sweet wife, who is my agent and manager, that I never intended to work with the man again.

    So, guess what, he called about three months ago, needing a harpist. My wife checked our schedule and politely told him that we had another commitment, out of town. He did not intend to take “No” for an answer, and proceeded to tell her why I should be so “Honored” to get to work with him again!

    My wife finally convinced him that I really could not do the concert, and we learned later that the conductor hired a student harpist to do the job. He reportedly picked on her so much that he drove her to tears and she could not do the performance! I definitely never intend to work with him again, and other harpists should not, either.

    It is good to hear from you. I have enjoyed this forum!

    Thanks, and best wishes,
    Balfour

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