Classical: It's a player's right to choose

The Berlin Philharmonic has voted for Simon Rattle as its conductor. But orchestras are odd constituencies, as Ian Pillow knows

The world has been waiting this week with bated breath while the Titans fight tooth and nail for the ultimate prize. Individual talent is not an issue. Nor is the need for financial undercutting. Each contestant can name his own price, safe in the knowledge that supreme reputation will take care of the purse strings. The final victory will be achieved by way of those extra subtleties that separate the great from the near untouchable. I refer not to the impending Wimbledon finals, or even the epic contest between Daniel Barenboim and Sir Simon Rattle for the reins of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Orchestra of St Cuthburga's in the Meadows, Winterbourne Regis in Dorset (rehearsals every Monday evening, bring your own stand) is looking for a principal conductor. I have been invited to rehearse them, one of a shortlist of three, as an audition for the permanent post. I have therefore been watching the Barenboim vs Rattle contest with keen interest, and assiduously studied their campaigns.

I did feel that Barenboim's high-profile approach would have the edge, so I was accordingly scanning the parish magazine to see which events would present me with the greatest media opportunity. Next Saturday's Oxfam fete would have been a good one. I imagined placing myself strategically, ostentatiously sharing a joke with the vicar, laughing loudly and heartily, and making a heroic attempt at Trap the Rat.

I could even present myself as a community philanthropist. I would send a box of Quality Street to the parish council. I had plans to wow them in the rehearsal. Barenboim, I discovered, rehearses the Berliners in their mother tongue. My own attempt at state-of-the-art Dorset - "Clarionet, you'm playin' too vaarst! Oi be zubdivoidin into vour" - would no doubt please the traditionalists in the orchestra.

I have even featured in a controversial movie. In the video of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra viola section playing my arrangement of "The Ride of the Valkyries" for 10 violas, I had allotted myself the optional cymbal part, as well as directing, and the parting of the cymbal from its strap and its consequent orbit into the midst of the players caused great debate. Was it planned? Was it accidental? Such an issue would surely burn throughout Winterbourne Regis as much as Hilary and Jackie in Berlin.

I must say I was not comfortable with this approach. Somehow I found it all rather insincere, so I was quite relieved when I heard that Rattle had won, even though it has meant a drastic change of strategy. Taking myself off to the Caribbean while the orchestra locked themselves in Corfe Castle for their secret ballot would certainly be on as far as I am concerned. I also feel quietly confident about the "Let my music do my talking for me" stance. My interpretation of "The Ride of the Valkyries" with the Society of Recorder Players (Dorset Branch) and my rendition of "The Ride of the Valkyries" with the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra have passed into local folklore. (It is, after all, de rigueur for a great conductor to have a small repertoire. It lends an air of exclusivity.)

Rattle rehearses the Berliners in a foreign language - English. We orchestral players are so used to phoney foreign accents that this should be no problem: "Ve do, 'ow you say, ze Worn Villiams." In addition, I could go into the village stores, buy something and say to the assistant: "I'm sorry, I haven't got my glasses. Which of these is English?" while pulling out a sundry selection of francs, pfennigs, pesos etc among the 10p pieces. This would be an impressive indication of my international lifestyle.

Actually, I'm not sure that members of the orchestra choosing their principal conductor by democratic vote is a good solution, and I am surprised that such august establishments as the Berlin Philharmonic and St Cuthburga's still operate this method. Orchestral opinion on the merits of a conductor varies so enormously that coming to any sort of decision is extremely difficult. There are so many different factors.

I have been in several ensembles during the choosing of a new maestro and the scenario is always the same. Conductor A coaxes better string playing, B gets better wind playing, C is a poor accompanist but wears nice aftershave, D coaxes good string playing, good wind playing, accompanies well but doesn't wear aftershave and perspires heavily. The strings won't vote for him unless clothes pegs and sou'-westers are regulation dress, the winds will not vote for A, the strings will note vote for B, only the trombones and tuba, who are hardly ever in concertos, will vote for C.

Then along come two excellent contenders. The up-and-coming Polish maestro Stanislav Wietabicz, and the doyen of the English tradition, Albert Postlethwaite. Even then the band is divided. Postlethwaite is the first conductor in history to whizz through The Apostles in time to see Match of the Day, but is an unknown quantity in Shostakovich. Wietabicz conducts a stunning Shostakovich, but can he do Pomp and Circumstance?

There is something to be said for managerial autocracy. Orchestral players are not always reliable arbiters. Even on the rare occasion when opinion has been unanimous, the subsequent relationship has not always been a success. That delicate, elusive chemical balance in the cocktail of talent, audience appeal, marketability and media-friendliness has misfired and left seats bumless even when talent has been an abundant ingredient.

I was once on a panel choosing a new principal conductor. A member of the orchestra's management committee, a town councillor, was putting forth a vehement case for a young conductor: "We must grab him while we can. Mark my words, he is a star of the future. He'll go places." The orchestral members on the panel were less enthusiastic. A nice lad, yes; talented, yes; but a star in the making? Naah.

Shortly afterwards that nice, talented young conductor was appointed principal conductor in a place called Birmingham. Sir Simon, wie heisst ihre Aftershave?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Team Tenacity pitch their fetching solar powered, mobile phone charging, heated, flashy jacket
tvReview: No one was safe as Lord Sugar shook things up
News
Owen said he finds films boring but Tom Hanks managed to hold his attention in Forrest Gump
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
Music Album is set to enter UK top 40 at lowest chart position in 30 years
Arts and Entertainment
The Michael McIntyre Chat Show airs its first episode on Monday 10 March 2014
Comedy
Arts and Entertainment

Review

These heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
books'The Narrow Road to the Deep North' sees the writer become the third Australian to win the accolade
Arts and Entertainment
New diva of drama: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Daenerys Targaryen, played by Emilia Clarke, faces new problems

Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Polly Morgan

art
Arts and Entertainment
The kid: (from left) Oona, Geraldine, Charlie and Eugene Chaplin

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album