Conductors' witticisms (and foibles) - your experiences
At my string orchestra rehearsal last week a violist made a slight slip of the tongue when addressing the conductor, from whom there was a witty and instant response.
Violist: ” I have a question mark!”
Conductor: “I'd see a doctor about that if I were you. I have a colon, but I don't go around talking about it!”
When the laughter subsided nobody could remember the question.
This conductor had been a university physics lecturer until he retired, and was doubtless adept at handling questions in the lecture room.
I Have played in a community orchestra for decades, but I can only remember one witty remark made by the conductor. Actually it was my first rehearsal and the conductor, welcoming us to the new season and addressing the new musicians, said: "If you are going to make a mistake, please make it loud so that it is interesting." We all laughed or chuckled but he make his point - don't be afraid, play out, don't hold back.
The wittiest conductor of them all might be Thomas Beecham, who has enough quotes to fill a small book. Two that I can paraphrase; re. Beethoven Symph. #7, 4th movement; "What can you do with it?, It's like a bunch of Yaks jumping about" 2) A male opera soloist complained that he couldn't perform an aria very well while lying down in a bed. Answer: "Some of my finest performances have been from that position"
My youth orchestra conductor was full of bizarre remarks. Some highlights:
"You play like peeeeet orchestra."
* "Sounds a bit avant-garde" (when we play out of tune)
I saw Sir Thomas Beecham conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall (1960, about a year before he died). It was magnificent. The concertmaster was Sidney Harth. It was a "lollipops" program (all orchestral encore pieces). The orchestra really played for Beecham.
Beecham was legendary for his quotes, although a number of them would probably not be considered politically correct today. Here is a website with a bunch of them. Enjoy!
One of my friends at Oberlin kept a notebook in rehearsal and every time the conductor made a remark that could be taken as an unintentional double entendre, she would write it down. Out of consideration for our underage v.com members, I won't repeat any of them here but a couple of them have stuck in my brain for nearly forty years.
In early summer 1973, 46 years ago, I was blessed to play in an orchestra under the direction of Herbert Blomstedt. This was in the orchestra for one of the annual 2-week Conducting Master Classes he gave every summer in Redlands, CA. It was certainly a wonderful experience I will never forget. Ever since then I have held Blomstedt's example as a communication benchmark for conductors I have played under. They don't have to have the same style but for me they have to have a similar level of communication in their body language. As an amateur, if they violate that to severely I can go somewhere else to play - and have done!
I can think of a lot of funny things that happened in orchestra but few of them have anything to do with the conductor. The comment that sticks out most in my mind is in music camp orchestra (I was a teenager) when the conductor, aiming to get us to play an Italian overture with the right style, referred to it as "spaghetti music." I was very offended on behalf of the piece because I thought the overture was very beautiful. His comment was obviously something he had pulled out of the hat many times with the intention of being witty. And that was over 60 years ago. Scary how long you remember things you heard as a kid...
Scott Cole: At Tanglewood, years ago, Veektor (Mr Y) would say "you play like yogurt." I wish I'd thought to thank him for saying we sounded so cultured.
What is it about conductors and food references? I have a whole archive of conductor quotes. A couple of the more memorable food-related ones:
To summarize: It does not look like conductors are a very witty group of people. Which is exactly my own experience.
Mary, over-age members outweigh the underage members here, and besides, I promise whatever you were going to say is 1/10th of what they hear on a daily basis from peers.
I am well aware of that but that doesn't mean I'm going to contribute to lowering the public discourse.
Well, when I heard Brahms conduct his 3rd Symphony......Oh, never mind.
Said by a conductor that tried to conduct one of my pieces, but had trouble getting the tempo consistent; "If this is the music of tomorrow, why do we have to play it today?"
Community orchestra: "If you're not going to practice, at least listen to the music so that you know how it goes!"
This is just a sampling from about six years' worth of conductor quotes I've written down...
Years back, I had the pleasure of playing for George Hurst a number of times. On quote sticks in the mind.
Andrew, you're playing in an orchestra where Michael Morgan is the conductor?
Guest conductor. He conducted Camellia Symphony in an all-Mozart concert that included the Requiem in 2017.
Andrew - thanks for those, wish I had heard them in their original setting. And this conductor one is a classic:
There is actually a book of Sir Thomas Beecham quotes called "Beecham Stories" compiled by Harold Atkins and Archie Newman. Fun little book. FYI, a little quote from it:
Another word on Mozart (not the Requiem) from Toscanini:
… Stephen: back in the 'glory days' when all orchestra musicians were male I guess ...
Among my favorite conductor anecdotes and witticisms that I've collected over the years are the following:
Harry Legge was pretty witty. One of his less outstanding ones, but one which I remember is "She can play Aida - I 'eard 'er".
More the opposite of the thread's title, but Leonard's Fritz Reiner quip about Der Meistersinger reminded me of a part from the fun movie about classical music
Just finished reading Solti's "Memoirs" (1997). In it, he says that "Hubay was a notoriously bad conductor. At one rehearsal, when a harp player missed his entry, Hubay asked him why he wasn't playing. The harpist replied ' I'm watching for the cue professor.' 'A cue?' replied Hubay. 'But can't you see I'm conducting?' "
Now I don't know whether to classify this one as a foible (perhaps not), but it's certainly not a witticism, so I'll use my OP's privilege and tell it anyway ;)