Ask A Conductor
I’m not a huge hashtag twitterer; even Follow Friday is a little too regimented for me. I prefer to just let the tweets fly as the spirit moves me, although I do appreciate the occasional self-reflexive hashtag punchline (a favorite from occasional NMBx commenter jnarum: Pumpkin pies in the oven. One for me and one for @colinholter. Just kidding. #twoforme). However, I saw a hashtag last week—#askaconductor—that I just couldn’t pass up:
@colinholter #askaconductor Why do so many high-profile conductors of American orchestras come from Europe?
Sure enough, in short order I received an informative response:
@sashamakila: @colinholter #askaconductor The best education is in Europe, also the longest traditions in classical music. that’s a fact.
Wow. Well, I guess that settles it—it has nothing to do with the vestigial prestige of European music and musicians in America; it’s a simple matter of the superiority of European training. And it is, apparently, a fact that Europe has the “longest traditions in classical music.” (Do any ethnomusicologists want to fact-check that one for us? I feel like gagaku and Hindustani classical music are probably competitive, just off the top of my head.)
I’ve had the good fortune to work with a handful of European conductors and a few American ones, and I have to say, I certainly don’t feel that the Europeans have a self-evident edge. In the past year I’ve gotten to collaborate in various contexts with three young American conductors—Eli Wirth, Shanti Nolan, and Bob Whalen—all of whom are extraordinary talents and beneficiaries of first-rate educations obtained in the States. This is not to say that European conductors aren’t also great; I have nothing but respect and gratitude for them, and if any of them wants to commission a piece from me I would be more than happy to oblige. I just don’t think it’s “a fact” that European conductors are better prepared than American ones.
At the big-time orchestra level, though, a European name counts for a lot: Who better to present works written by European composers, mostly dead, some alive, than European conductors? I’m sure that somewhere out there in an administrator’s spreadsheet is a European Conductor Coefficient that models just how much a transatlantic artistic director is worth to an orchestra. I’d be curious to see this number.