Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The thrown baton

with one comment

The display of temper, the arbitrary firing of musicians on the least pretext, the hurling of batons were common in conducting through the first half of the century. There is, within the more cynical perspectives of musicians, a feeling that the most notable achievement of Serge Koussevitzky was not in building a great sound in the Boston Symphony but in finding a more punishing substitute for the thrown baton. In rehearsal, he’d put aside the baton and use instead a long thin rod—a dowel perhaps ten or twelve inches long and three-eighths of an inch in diameter. “He had a couple of dozen of them in a box right by the podium,” says a product of the Harvard University Chorus, which worked with the Boston Symphony in Koussevitzky’s years. When he became enraged, Koussevitzky would smash the dowels on the podium—at less cost than smashing batons—or he’d hurl them at the musicians. “He was quite accurate with them up to ten or fifteen paces,” says the Harvard man. All this, of course, had a terrorizing impact on the musicians—and the effect of keeping them more closely attuned to the conductor’s wishes and his beat. “You learned to keep a very close eye on the conductor,” reports the Harvard man, “if only to know when to duck.”

William Barry Furlong, Season with Solti

Written by nevalalee

May 6, 2017 at 7:30 am

One Response

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  1. When the conductor is the only one who knows or thinks he knows where the beat is, he may be mistaken. The orchestra who plays together, stays together. They just need a different conductor.


    May 6, 2017 at 11:51 am

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