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Author Topic: Piano concerto: Who runs the orchestra? Conductor or pianist?  (Read 2807 times)
mussels_with_nutella
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« on: June 20, 2011, 11:09:16 AM »

As you can see, i am an ignorant in these topics! However, I am referring to romantic orchestras.

In piano concertos from classicism and baroque the person who runs the orchestra is clearly the conductor, who decides the strength, tempo, instruments entry, and so on.

However, in piano concertos from the romantic movement, rubato is used very often, like crescendos, diminuendos and changes in the general tempo. In these piano concertos, pianist is often the "leader" of the orchestra, and violins & co. follow him. But...

...when a conductor runs an orchestra in a piece, he puts his own view (or ear?) of the concert. Does the pianist put his own view (or hear), taking the role of conductor, in romantic concerts?
That's my question. Thanks in advanced
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thalbergmad
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« Reply #1 on: June 20, 2011, 11:58:05 AM »

I am ignorant in these topics as well, but I expect there has beem some interesting disagreements in the past between pianists and conductors as to who is "in charge".

Thal

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Bob
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« Reply #2 on: June 20, 2011, 12:03:56 PM »

The orchestra accompanies the solo pianist.  From what I've heard.  It's all based on the soloist, or is supposed to be. The orchestra follows their interpretation.

If it's an inexperienced pianist, then the conductor might be more in charge.  Pianist just playing along with or even following the orchestra (or getting dragged along by the music).

Assuming there's enough rehearsal time too.  I could see a soloist disagreeing about tempo but getting trapped by a conductor, if the orchestra starts out and the pianist must join in later.  Although the pianist could just force their own tempo and then the group should follow the pianist. 
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mussels_with_nutella
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« Reply #3 on: June 20, 2011, 12:11:40 PM »

hahaha then the
interesting disagreements in the past between pianists and conductors as to who is "in charge"
continue after all! It seems to be that the more temperamental musician, unless one of them was famous, would be who "runs" the orchestra...

I was expecting something like this... what a show, those rehearsals would be hot! Thanks for your answers!
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pianisten1989
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« Reply #4 on: June 20, 2011, 01:32:01 PM »

It's not that simple as "one decides, and the other follows". Most times, the conductor and the soloist compromise about basically everything. If the conductor doesn't like one part, he brings it up with the soloist. (It's ofc different if, for example, Martha Argerich decides to play with some random "everybody can play an instrument orchestra")

In many documentaries about soloists, they say something like "When I play piano concertos, there is always things I don't like, but that the conductor insists on doing, so we have to compromise"
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gep
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« Reply #5 on: June 20, 2011, 01:37:37 PM »

I would say the conductor "runs" the orchestra, for whatever that terrible phrase may mean.

Since the term is "concerto for piano and orchestra" I'd say that it is a single work primarily. Pianist and conductor are the twin motors of the one ship, so to say, and should work towards a common goal. That doesn't rule out clashing ego's, of course (so be glad here it is only the pianist and the conductor; now think about opera....).

Isn't there a story about a pianist and conductor, where the conductor before the performance made an announcement that the "visions" of him and the pianist were so different they "agreed to disagree", so the audience was 'warned'. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was Beethoven 5, as fought between Bernstein en Gould.

An I think George Lloyd didn't like conducting his own piano concerto's because "the soloist and orchestra team up against the conductor". Ah well....

all best,
gep
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pianisten1989
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« Reply #6 on: June 20, 2011, 01:55:56 PM »

And it is ofc not the same if the pianist is in the focus or the orchestra (who's got the melody and so on)
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retrouvailles
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« Reply #7 on: June 20, 2011, 03:55:15 PM »

Ultimately, the pianist runs the show, at least in my experience. When a piano concerto is agreed to be played, the conductor will first meet with the pianist alone, on many occasions, so that the conductor can run through with the pianist just playing his solo part. Here, the pianist can help the conductor prepare for when rehearsals with the orchestra actually start. In the final rehearsals, when the pianist actually joins the conductor and orchestra, the conductor may be conducting, but expect the pianist to still chime in with decisions. In performance, the pianist relies on the conductor to make most decisions for him on the fly, while the pianist worries about his own part. The conductor will always be flexible with any sort of rubato or balance issues that the pianist may present anew, however.
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sordel
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« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2011, 04:47:29 PM »

I'm sure that there is no set answer to this question and every performance will be different, but it is certainly the case that the pianist will be the "star" in most concerto performances and people will tend to speak of it as his or her performance, with the conductor less prominent.

Given the weight of expectation on the pianist, the conductor should, ideally, attempt to serve the soloist's vision of the piece. Nevertheless, the situation should not arise where, for example, the pianist is pushing the orchestral speed and the conductor is attempting to rein it in. This is just bad performance.

It's always interesting when the pianist is also the conductor, as it is on the Ashkenazy Beethoven. This forces the orchestra to do what they should always be doing: listening to the piano.

That said, not every pianist is an Ashkenazy, Barenboim or Bernstein: most soloists do not have enough experience as conductors to control the audience while performing a concerted part, nor should they need to.

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kevinatcausa
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« Reply #9 on: June 20, 2011, 11:17:55 PM »

Isn't there a story about a pianist and conductor, where the conductor before the performance made an announcement that the "visions" of him and the pianist were so different they "agreed to disagree", so the audience was 'warned'. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was Beethoven 5, as fought between Bernstein en Gould.

It was Bernstein and Glenn Gould, but over the Brahms 1st Concerto.  Bernstein took the unusual step of addressing the audience before the performance on the relationship between soloist and conductor; you can read his remarks here.
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jasontongflute
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« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2011, 12:15:13 PM »

Speaking as an Orchestral Flautist, The conductor absolutely "runs" the show. But the Pianist will convey to the conductor how he would wish to play and then pass it on to the orchestra.
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pianolilly
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« Reply #11 on: July 24, 2011, 03:36:06 AM »

In my humble opinion....The conductor can make or break a performace! He must know the nuances of the score, have the passion and foresight to convey the message to all the musicians and audience. Like a great coach he motivates and  encourages emotional and technical brilliant musicianship. A great pianist is a delight. But, my favorite memorable concert going experiences are when both the conductor and pianist are on the same page! 
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scott13
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« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2011, 02:05:10 AM »

My teacher has told me when he performed concerto's that he used to ask the conductor to read off his 2 piano score that had all his performance directions on it, so the conductor can be in no doubt as to what the soloist wants to do at any given section.

So i would argue that the Soloist should be running the show, not the conductor.
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love_that_tune
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« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2011, 04:06:34 PM »

I once attended a performance of the Warsaw Concerto with orchestra.  I felt the conductor was just a metronome.  I could "feel" the pianist's fatigue in trying to make it work with this conductor.  An inferior conductor - it was a semi-professional orchestra. 

I sometimes wish I didn't know quite so much.  The 9' Steinway that everyone raved about in this performance was rented for a grade school auditorium seated 650.  I was in the sixth row and I swear the entire sound of the piano was going right over our heads, certainly any subtleties ( I know, that's assuming there are any in the Warsaw Concerto). 

How many venues have been built with no one brought in to discuss acoustics!
But I digress. My point is, the quality of the conductor is everything.
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mcdiddy1
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« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2011, 08:37:06 PM »

It would be both. Sometimes the conductor like Beethoven's 3 Piano concerto plays thorough a lengthy exposition before the soloist comes in. The pianist is very limited by the classical constrains of the structure of the music  and the conductor and soloist work (or should work in harmony). Then the soloist will indicated the close of the cadenza with a trill over a V chord of some kind and depending on the writing the pianist or the conductor would cue the orchestra.

In romantic concertos the  orchestra is generally more subservient in my opinion to the soloist. There may be more frequent tempo changes and back and forth play between the orchestra and soloist.

I think generally the conductor "runs" the orchestra, but there is some music where it is "run" by both, or the pianist. Depends on the music, composer, experience of the performer, experience of the conductor, etc.
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avguste
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« Reply #15 on: August 15, 2011, 05:59:22 AM »

This issue occurs with any concertos.
The answer is two fold in my opinion:

- the soloist leads the orchestra. As the soloist, the artist needs to communicate to the conductor what he/she wants (tempi, rubato and so forth). Then the conductor rehearses the orchestra with those indications. During combined rehearsals, the soloist and the conductor communicate to have everything fit.

-it is also a collaboration. A good soloist works with the orchestra and understands when he/she needs to back off to let the orchestra take over. A good soloist also understands that it is much easier for him/her to modify something on the go than it is for a conductor to get 50+ musicians to modify something.
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liordavid
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« Reply #16 on: August 24, 2011, 12:04:49 AM »

I find that the pianist has a level of dominance in his playing that the conductor needs to suit
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pianoplayjl
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« Reply #17 on: October 31, 2011, 04:07:06 AM »

For a concerto I don't know but I probably think it is the pianist because he/she is the soloist and main focus.
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michael_langlois
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« Reply #18 on: October 31, 2011, 10:49:05 AM »

An analogous relationship should help you answer the question: Who runs the piano in a violin show-piece (e.g., Kreisler)? 

Mike
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kellyc
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« Reply #19 on: November 01, 2011, 03:58:28 AM »

There are really two areas to be talked about here. The first is rehearsal. My experience has been that within bounds the Conductor will attempt to mold the Orchestra to the artistic interpretation that the pianist brings to the concerto. There are limits to this. If Martha Agerich decides to play at a tempo that would leave the Orchestra in the dust, then accommodations  have to be made. Other things like volume as a balance between Orchestra and Soloist are generally worked out in rehearsal. The other area is where things get tricky, and that is of course the actual performance.  What happens when things go wrong, and trust me things go wrong. If briefly the pianist and orchestra get off time and a piece like  in the  Rachmoninoff  Variations on a theme by paganini, a decision has to be made who will adjust to who. In this case , more often than not the Better artist needs to make the adjustment.  Usually , but not always the conductor will just keep the Orchestra going as is , and hope the pianist has the skill to get back to the right point in the music.

Bottom line , its really more of a collaborative effort than one or the other being in charge.

Kelly
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49410enrique
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« Reply #20 on: November 01, 2011, 12:51:09 PM »

depends on what the score says. who's got the melody, what's the music trying to convey.  kind of like with chamber music, the lead should be passed back and forth depending on who has the dominant, that is more musically important part, vs. say a standard ensemble piece where one (i.e. conductor) controls all the parameters.
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kippler
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« Reply #21 on: November 02, 2011, 03:46:40 AM »

An analogous relationship should help you answer the question: Who runs the piano in a violin show-piece (e.g., Kreisler)? 

Mike

Mike's answer here points in the right direction.

I am a conductor. To respond directly to the OP's actual question, "Who runs the orchestra?", the answer is that the conductor directs the orchestra with his conducting, whether or not there is a soloist. When there is a soloist, whether voice, violin, piano, trumpet, or any other musical performer, the conductor directs the accompanying ensemble. Period.

When there is no soloist, the conductor is responsible for the finished piece of performance art. When there is a soloist, the conductor has to be made aware of the soloist's vision of the piece, of how the soloist wants to translate the notes on the page into a lived art experience. Mention has been made of this in previous posts. But that conversation is between the soloist and the conductor.

When as the conductor, I am accompanying a soloist, I do so as the person under whose direction the orchestra is playing. The soloist is not that person. For the performance to be carried off as it should, there are elements in the music sometimes of dialogue, sometimes of duet, and more often than not, of the accompaniment accompanying and supporting the soloist. For these aspects of the music to be translated into artistic performance, both soloist and conductor have to respect the requirements of the music, and as the music requires, initiate their own dialogue/duet/accompaniment in their preparatory meetings. Is it possible for disagreements to arise? — Certainly! But that is the challenge to be faced (and not feared) in each individual situation.

To be avoided by both conductor and soloist is letting members of the accompanying ensemble make their own 'artistic' decision(s) based on what they hear themselves. The focal point for the musicians in the orchestra must be the direction given by the conductor, not their own individual relationship with the soloist based on what they hear in the soloist's performance. Thus, the relationship between the soloist and the conductor is crucial, and it is no secret that the ego of either or of both can get in the way of the music and of the performance.

As an orchestral musician, I have played under many different conductors, and enjoyed or suffered through interpretations that were or were not as I thought they should be. Life gets really interesting when conducting a piece that the ensemble already knows and has performed many times before. When I am on the podium, my interpretation has to prevail, regardless of who did it which way before, and that's just the way it has to be. If my interpretation is different from what the musicians expect or want, they have to adjust because my responsibility is to direct them so as to rehearse and perform my sense or vision of the piece.

To my mind, this same rule has to apply between the soloist and the conductor, such that the accompanist/conductor should defer to the soloist's presentation of the music, unless of course something quite outlandish is under consideration.
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