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Pianists turned Conductors #2102462
06/14/13 12:25 PM
06/14/13 12:25 PM
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Portland, OR
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antony Offline OP
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Heard a Sibelius piece that had been conducted by Ashkenazy and wondered about the merits of his conducting because I don't know the piece at all. It made me wonder how well pianists do that get into conducting in terms of reaching an equivalent level as a conductor as they were pianists.

I know Pletnev conducts quite a bit but again I can't say how well he conducts because I don't know the orchestral repertoire enough- although he's one of my favorite pianists. Barenboim is the only one I can say conducts well because I've heard him do a lot of standard rep.

Of course most conductors probably started as pianists, but I'm referring to those who earned their fame as pianists first. Who do you think has become a "ranking" conductor and who do you think conducts because their fame has opened those doors to them?

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Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102478
06/14/13 12:55 PM
06/14/13 12:55 PM
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Dmitri Mitropoulos was a great piano player (there's a recording of him playing and conducting Prokofiev's 3rd piano concerto quite well), but I think he was more known as a conductor.

EDIT: Here is the Mitropoulos recording of him both playing the solo part and conducting at the same time... It's absolutely incredible!!
[video:youtube]You know you're a boss when you play Prokofiev's 3rd concerto... AND conduct it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIWIt2ZVu-I[/video]

Bernstein was a good pianist but moreso a conductor (and composer).

Rachmaninoff conducted, but was more known as pianist and composer.

Uchida conducts and plays at the same time, sometimes, but I don't know much of a conductor I would call her.

Doesn't Fleisher conduct sometimes?

Last edited by Orange Soda King; 06/14/13 01:00 PM.
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102502
06/14/13 01:42 PM
06/14/13 01:42 PM
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Westford, MA
the nosy ape Offline
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Andre Previn was a well known jazz pianist before he was a conductor. After that his piano focus seemed to shift to classical.

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102513
06/14/13 02:02 PM
06/14/13 02:02 PM
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gooddog Offline
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Originally Posted by antony
Barenboim is the only one I can say conducts well because I've heard him do a lot of standard rep.

In his book "A Life in Music", Barenboim claims that his teachers told him he had great talent in both conducting and piano and tried to force him to choose between them saying he could not excel at both. He refused to choose and continues to do both. I think his piano playing is quite good but IMO he's not one of the top pianists. BTW. Barenboim's book is a very enjoyable one.

Quote
Of course most conductors probably started as pianists

I really don't know if that's true. The former conductor of the Seattle Symphony played the trumpet. I know of another conductor who played the cello. Source?


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102519
06/14/13 02:16 PM
06/14/13 02:16 PM
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Bay Area, CA
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Barenboim will always be dear to me, because his was the first recital I ever attended (I remember it clearly even though it was 26 years ago: Beethoven op. 14/1, 7, 54, 111) and because I devoured his complete Beethoven sonatas recording. But these days I appreciate him more as a conductor.

I'm sure there are many examples of conductors who didn't start as pianists, but still, pianist -> conductor happens so frequently that I think it qualifies as a "thing".


-Jason


Beethoven op.110, Chopin op.27/2, Liszt Vallée d'Obermann
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: gooddog] #2102523
06/14/13 02:20 PM
06/14/13 02:20 PM
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Originally Posted by gooddog
Originally Posted by antony
Barenboim is the only one I can say conducts well because I've heard him do a lot of standard rep.

In his book "A Life in Music", Barenboim claims that his teachers told him he had great talent in both conducting and piano and tried to force him to choose between them saying he could not excel at both. He refused to choose and continues to do both. I think his piano playing is quite good but IMO he's not one of the top pianists. BTW. Barenboim's book is a very enjoyable one.

Quote
Of course most conductors probably started as pianists

I really don't know if that's true. The former conductor of the Seattle Symphony played the trumpet. I know of another conductor who played the cello. Source?


There are many conductors who also started as orchestral players (e.g. Osmo Vänska and Lorin Maazel are also violinists), but pianist-conductors are probably the most common.

Barenboim is well-regarded for his Wagner, Bruckner, Schönberg and Boulez as a conductor (he even conducted The Ring at Bayreuth). And Ashkenazy's Sibelius symphony cycle is well-regarded (I first heard the complete Sibelius symphonies and tone poems via his recordings); also his Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky symphonies (I was smitten by his 5th, still one of my favorites).

Many pianists of course started by directing Mozart concertos from the piano, including Murray Perahia, who's also conducted Mozart symphonies recently. Pletnev is probably just as well-known as a conductor, having conducted complete Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky symphonies and ballets as well as rarities like Taneyev's 4th. And believe it or not, Pollini has conducted and recorded a complete Rossini opera to much acclaim - not a piano in sight.....


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102539
06/14/13 02:54 PM
06/14/13 02:54 PM
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Germany
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Christoph Eschenbach is good in that respect, in my opinion.
I like his renditions of the concertos for 2 or 3 pianos by Mozart, where he conducts and plays the first piano.


My grand piano is a Yamaha C2 SG.
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102663
06/14/13 09:57 PM
06/14/13 09:57 PM
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Ashkenazy conducts the Sydney Symphony.

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102670
06/14/13 10:23 PM
06/14/13 10:23 PM
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There are more decent pianos around than decent classical orchestras (possibly by a ratio of 100,000 to 1, if not an even more radical disparity) so honing skills as a conductor has always been a challenge simply for lack of opportunity. Conductors spend a lot of time thinking about the works they conduct - rehearsal time is so limited and expensive, and every possible problem needs to be calculated in advance.

I remember Horowitz was asked why he once said that playing the piano was infinitely more difficult than conducting, and he retorted loudly "Because conductors don't hit wrong notes!".

It seems to me that when pianists fail to do well at conducting, it is not for lack of musical talent, but rather a particular mind-set about the social organization of the orchestra and how to motivate fifty to a hundred or more instrumentalists. Many pianists are very good at getting results for themselves, but clueless about how to inspire other musician to achieve their best.

On a separate but related chord: I remember that after Nureyev passed his prime dancing days, he imagined he could become a great conductor, after all, he had worked with many conductors and all Nureyev saw was another from of choreography, mostly from the waist up. Looked easy enough, no? How absurd. He could barely read music at all, and when he did get before an orchestra he spent most of his energy over-conducting and yelling at the better educated orchestra musicians that they didn't understand the music. It was an outlandish failure. Poor fool was out of his calibre in that case and only embarrassed himself.

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102678
06/14/13 10:46 PM
06/14/13 10:46 PM
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Chicago, IL USA
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With regard to Uchida as a conductor: I was sitting in the terrace seats at the Chicago Symphony a year or two ago, right behind the chamber orchestra (pared down from the full CSO) that had been assembled for Uchida to conduct in an early Mozart concerto. She placed her music on the music desk of the piano, flattened it out with the palms of her hands suddenly moving laterally from midline. The orchestra instantly started to play (all of them, absolutely together). Uchida looked very embarrassed, waved her hands at the orchestra to stop them, and then started over.

Certainly there were conductors who were not virtuoso level pianists, or whose main instrument was not keyboard (Koussevitsky was a bass player, I believe, for instance), but I would think a conductor should be able to reduce an orchestral score to a reasonable piano performance at sight.

Rachmaninoff, I've read, did consider becoming a conductor, but didn't want to have to put up with the political machinations involved in running an orchestra. The story is told of how, one time, Toscanini stopped a rehearsal and turned to the (almost empty) dark hall, and asked "Can you hear?" and Rachmaninoff, who was sitting there at Toscanini's request to see if the effect AT was trying for had come across, responded that he indeed could hear the effect.

I know next to nothing about conducting, but I have heard some amazing performances (and a few bad ones). From two concerts I've heard, I'm almost ready to swear that Gustavo Dudamel could walk on water.


There is no end of learning. -Robert Schumann Rules for Young Musicians
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: Jonathan Baker] #2102681
06/14/13 10:58 PM
06/14/13 10:58 PM
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Portland, OR
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antony Offline OP
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Good points. And although it's true the number of pianos to orchestras is huge, some conductors have pursued their path earlier on: as in "I want to be a conductor" and could have been conducting in HS, got their degree from a university/conservatory in conducting, while the pianist turned conductor was focused on piano during that same time.

It might seem more of a path to conducting to have been an orchestral musician where one gets the experience of being inside the orchestra and can learn from having been conducted. But it seems the most important aspect is what you had mentioned regarding the personality afpect( as is the rest of life) : the ability to delegate, lead, and inspire others to unite under your vision

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: PassingBy] #2102685
06/14/13 11:02 PM
06/14/13 11:02 PM
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Down Under
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Originally Posted by Rotom
Ashkenazy conducts the Sydney Symphony.
And I thought his Mahler series was outstanding. Such commitment, energy and precision.


Du holde Kunst...
Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: gooddog] #2102686
06/14/13 11:03 PM
06/14/13 11:03 PM
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Here, as opposed to there
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Originally Posted by gooddog
Barenboim's book is a very enjoyable one.


Which one?



"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: patH] #2102698
06/14/13 11:30 PM
06/14/13 11:30 PM
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Urbandale, Iowa
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Originally Posted by patH
Christoph Eschenbach is good in that respect, in my opinion.
I like his renditions of the concertos for 2 or 3 pianos by Mozart, where he conducts and plays the first piano.

I very much enjoy his recording of the late Beethoven sonatas.

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: Jonathan Baker] #2102705
06/14/13 11:45 PM
06/14/13 11:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Jonathan Baker
He could barely read music at all, and when he did get before an orchestra he spent most of his energy over-conducting and yelling at the better educated orchestra musicians that they didn't understand the music. It was an outlandish failure. Poor fool was out of his calibre in that case and only embarrassed himself.


Sounds like the majority of choral conductors! laugh

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: currawong] #2102794
06/15/13 06:29 AM
06/15/13 06:29 AM
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Originally Posted by currawong
Originally Posted by Rotom
Ashkenazy conducts the Sydney Symphony.
And I thought his Mahler series was outstanding. Such commitment, energy and precision.


And, as might be expected, he can be wonderful working with pianists in concertos.

There was a performance of the Rach 3 by Garrick Ohlsson with Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony that's definitely one of my favorites of all time for that piece. It turned up on BBC Radio 3's late night program some years ago, and I feel very lucky indeed for having noticed it. You could sense how Ohlsson knew that Ashkenazy was intimately familiar with the piano part of the score in a way that most conductors are not, and you could tell that Ashkenazy was not just being a dutiful accompanist, but was actively engaged in the music in a way that conductors often are not when they do concertos. The result was a bit like what happens in a chamber music performances by the very best chamber musicians - not only is the music-making fantastic in itself, there is also an added layer of the musicians having a conversation about the music and the performance at the same time that it is happening.


Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: antony] #2102804
06/15/13 07:31 AM
06/15/13 07:31 AM
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Admittedly all the Ashkenazy ilk played “proper” before
grabbing a conductor’s baton ... but how many were comedians?

Andre Previn plays the “straight” guy in the Morecambe and Wise comic rendition of Grieg’s Piano Concerto.

After Morecambe has made a complete hash of the PC theme ... Previn proceeds to show how it’s done ...
playing with aplomb the brisk opening to the Concerto ...
unabashed Morecambe brings the house down
with a North Country “rubbish”.

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: btb] #2102813
06/15/13 08:08 AM
06/15/13 08:08 AM
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Many soloist careers have gone the conducting route in part due to injuries or other health problems. I believe Ashkenazy has reasonably severe arthritis. Leon Fleisher, of course, had focal dystonia as well as Michel Beroff. Peter Ouindjan was a violinist before conducting ( he now conducts the Toronto Symphony Orchestra) and also suffered from focal dystonia. No denying that all of the above excel at the job.

Re: Pianists turned Conductors [Re: jehalliday] #2103067
06/15/13 09:28 PM
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It's always interesting to hear pianist-conductors conducting concertos which they themselves have played (and often are still playing), and seeing how they can adapt to completely different interpretations by their soloists.

I've heard Pletnev conduct Lugansky and Matsuev in Rach 3, which he himself of course has performed (and recorded with Rostropovich). Very different performances, one rather objective, the other going for broke; and playing different cadenzas too - and Pletnev conducts as if totally at one with both pianists respectively.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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