Have baton, will travel: Presenting workshops on conducting takes ASO Music Director around the world
I remember when I was a student in school and when we would return in the fall, everyone would always ask, “What did you do this summer?”
Summer is always a time for growth, learning, exploring new things and having fun. This summer, I did all of those things.
What some people might not know about me is that in addition to being a symphony music director and conductor, I am the author of two conducting books that have become standards in the industry, “Beyond the Baton - What Every Conductor Needs to Know” and “Baton Basics - Communicating Music Through Gestures,” both published by Oxford University Press. Because of this, I am often asked to teach conducting workshops, nationally and internationally.
This summer, I was invited to teach at three conducting workshop, which happened to be back to back, so I spent about four weeks on the road, working with conducting students and conducting professionals from all over the world.
My first stop was Hancock, Me., where I was a guest speaker at the famous Monteux School and Music Festival for Conductors and Instrumental Musicians. It was founded in 1943 by Pierre Monteux, the conductor who conducted the premiere of Igor Stravinsky’s “The “Rite of Spring” in Paris in 1913. This summer conducting school has been going on for an amazing 76 years.
Each year, 15 to 20 conductors are selected to participate and learn the major pieces of the orchestral repertoire with master teacher Michael Jinbo, who has been music director at the Monteux School and Festival for 25 years. The unique thing about this program is that the conductors also perform as members of the orchestra during this six-week orchestra festival where concerts are presented Sunday afternoons and Wednesday nights.
As a special guest at the festival, I attended rehearsals and spent some individual mentoring time with each of the conductors there. I also presented a lecture-discussion for all of the conductors, and gave a public talk on artistic programming and trends in the field.
Set in rustic, idyllic Maine, the conducting festival has charm, an amazing history and tradition and I was honored to be a part of keeping those traditions alive.
After six days in Maine, with just one day home to unpack and pack again, I caught a flight to Prague in the Czech Republic to teach at the International Czech Republic Conducting Workshop with the Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic Orchestra.
This conducting workshop has been going on for 29 years. The intensive, 11-day workshop took place in the charming town of Kromeriž and culminated with a concert in the Archbishop’s Palace, a venue that was used for many of the scenes in the movie “Amadeus” (1984) about the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The 17 conducting participants varied in age and experience from students still in undergraduate programs, to conductors who already have their own orchestra and perform concerts regularly. The participating conductors came from all over the world, from countries including Panama, Columbia, New Zealand, China, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and of course, the United States of America.
Co-teaching the conducting workshop was the founding teacher, Kirk Trevor, who has taught the course for 28 years. In the past, Kirk Trevor has been music director of the Knoxville Symphony and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra. He was Chief Conductor for the Martinu Philharmonic in the Czech Republic from 1995-1999. He is now music director of the Missouri Symphony and Festival.
Kirk and I were wonderful teaching partners and enjoyed working with the conductors on pieces like Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” and Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 6,” as well as Mozart’s “Symphony No. 41,” Beethoven’s “Coriolan Overture,” and Weber’s “Oberon Overture.”
On our day off, we went bowling and enjoyed ice cream and beer (not at the same time) in the town square.
Following a wonderful concert in the beautiful Archbishop’s Palace at the end of the workshop, and of course, post-concert after party, I traveled at 3 a.m. back to Prague to catch a flight back to the United States, so that I could unpack and pack yet again for a one-day turn-around to catch another flight, this time to Seattle, Wash.
Once in Seattle, I took the shuttle and the ferry to beautiful Whidbey Island where I was a conducting teacher for the Pacific Northwest Conducting Institute.
I have taught at this workshop for three summers with co-teacher Anna Edwards. The conducting workshop is hosted by the Saratoga Orchestra, based on Whidbey Island, where Anna is the music director. She is a wonderful colleague and so committed to the encouragement and education of other conductors.
Ten talented Conducting Fellows, and Six Conducting Associates were selected to participate in the workshop this year. We experienced intense 12-hour days as we worked through the repertoire, first with a string quartet and piano, and then with full orchestra. Evening sessions were spent talking about programming, presenting pre-concert talks, and giving career advice.
Anna Edwards is a conductor who is also very committed to diversity and to representing women composers on each concert. One of the highlights of the repertoire in the workshop was “Penelope Waits” from the “Mythology Symphony” by Stacy Garrop. It is a wonderful composition and I will be investigating more of her music in the future.
Other pieces that we taught and performed in concert were Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7,” Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin,” Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri: Overture,” and Saint-Saëns’ “Cello Concerto,” featuring the wonderful cellist Walter Gray as soloist. Walter was the founding cellist with the Kronos Quartet and plays regularly with the Seattle Symphony.
One of the nice things about the Pacific Northwest Conducting Festival on Whidbey Island is that we each stay in private homes. So, in addition to the music-making, the week was spent building life-long friendships throughout the community.
The workshop culminated with a wonderful concert held at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts. All 10 of the Conducting Fellows participated in the pre-concert lecture. Each conducted one piece, or a movement of a longer work, on the program. It was astonishing to see their growth as conductors in such a short amount of time.
As you can see, I am passionate about helping conductors to become better musicians, helping them develop more conducting techniques, encouraging them to grow as music leaders and community leaders, and show them how to inspire the highest quality of musical performance out of the ensemble they are working with.
Teaching at these workshops also helps me to grow as a musician as I analyze what is working and not working with each of the conductors on the podium.
The opportunity to share wonderful orchestral music with a community is always a blessing and I hope through my teaching to impact conductors and their resident orchestras whereever they are in the world. I always return from these workshops and festivals inspired, enthusiastic, and ready to open the concert season.
See you at the Symphony!
The Allentown Symphony Orchestra 2019-2020 “Classical Music Series” begins with “Olga Kern Plays Rachmaninoff,” 7:30 p.m. Sept. 21 and 2 p.m. Sept. 22. The “Rach & Blue Cocktail party,” is at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 21.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor of The Garden State Philharmonic, New Jersey, and author of “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics.” She teaches conducting workshops throughout the United States and Europe.
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, for those up to age 21, underwritten by a grant from the Century Fund, are available for Allentown Symphony Orchestra concerts.