By James Hogan
The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra’s performances this weekend came under the direction of Christopher Warren-Green, one of eight guest conductors who could replace departing music director Christof Perick. Given that my last post focused on a visiting conductor accused of poor conducting, I decided to watch Warren-Green during Friday night’s CSO show.
Prior to the concert I asked my good friend Austin Greene, a conductor and teacher who lives in Durham, just what good conducting is. Can you qualify good conducting? Or is good conducting somewhat mystical, easily able to escape black and white terms?
Yes,” Austin said, “there is a mystical energy behind conducting music. [Good] conducting is not about leading the musicians, it is about revealing the music. The conductor is the medium who summons spirits of thoughts past and encourages them to live again in the moment.”
Director Christopher Warren-Green certainly summoned things to live in the moment. Throughout the first selection, a Rimsky-Korsakov arrangement of “Night on Bald Mountain,” there were times Warren-Green seemed to reach out with his open hand and grab the music from the players. Like the witches characterized through the music, he appeared to be conjuring the musicians, at times galloping with the tempo, at times relaxing as the cauldron boiled back down.
That isn’t to say Warren-Green lacked reserve, something accentuated during Haydn’s Cello Concerto in D. Featuring the immaculate cellist Julie Albers (who, I must sheepishly admit, drew my attention from the podium a time or two), the orchestra was reduced to 20 players, and Warren-Green treated the piece as if it were a formal dance.
He cued musicians with his hand held outward, palm up, inviting them to the floor. At times, he seemed to bow stiffly to the score, as if he was greeting a courtly lady. And even with the whole ensemble playing, on at least two occasions he stepped back and stopped conducting, lowering his arms to watch for a moment, only to jump back in with a downbeat a few measures later.
“[Conducting] is the most priveledged position anyone could have,” Mr. Warren-Green said in an interview last week with WDAV’s Jennifer Foster. “It’s the easiest thing in the world to do badly, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to do well. But it certainly is the best job.”
He certainly seems to have accomplished the hardest thing in the world.
For further information, I encourage you to check out Jennifer Foster’s interview with Christopher Warren-Green.. Also, you might be interested to hear this interview with Gustavo Dudamel about good conducting. (about 3:15 into the interview) Were you at either of the CSO performances this weekend? Be sure to post your thoughts about the concert or the conducting in the comments section.