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Boy maestro conducts top maestro’s LA masterpiece

If you are an assiduous Slipped Disc reader you will know that the latest 26 year-old to get his own orchestra is the young Finn, Santtu-Matias Rouvali, who looks about 16.

Santtu-Matias Rouvali

If you want to see  what Santtu can do with an orchestra, our Finnish friends have sent us YLE’s video of his performance of LA Variations by Esa-Pekka Salonen who, by comparison, is practically the Grand Old Man of Finnish music. Watch here.

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  1. Martin Bookspan says:

    Young conductors in prominent posts is not a latter-day phenomenon. The great Artur Nikisch was in his early 30s when he took over (for some 5 years) as conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1889.

  2. Sorry, but what’s so impressive about this? His technique is amateurish (he’ll have chronic back pain by the time he’s 30 conducted with his arms above his head all the time) and the orchestra (the strings especially) hardly look as if they’ve fully absorbed how to play this piece. As well as that he shouldn’t have to spend so much time looking at the score. It’s admirable in many ways how the Finns promote their own young conductors, but there’s an awful lot of hype attached to them and I’d rather see this conductor making a good job of a Beethoven symphony before I start hailing him as a genius.

  3. Let’s hear the opinion of some conducting teachers out there:
    His left hand mirrors the right hand unnecessarily the whole time,
    He has no control over the lower half of his body,
    Constantly bending the knees and swaying towards and away from the score
    Which he spends too much time buried in, and the flourishing cut off gestures are unclear and lead to poor ensemble playing which is audible especially in the parts which should sound unison.
    I refrain from expressing my “opinion”, these are merely the facts.

  4. StickFever says:

    I sadly must agree with the earlier posts here. This boy is, just judging by this video, not a genius and not even a good conductor. His technique is extremely poor and apart from him ‘mirror conducting’ most of the piece, his gestures, musculature and body position are not fluid, not natural. Sadly, it all looks quite amateur, sorry to say. This is, once again, one of those false ‘wunderkind’ stories. It is hard to believe that an agency like Harrison Parrott has signed this young guy to their roster of conductors. What could they see in him? What could have possibly inspired them, apart from artificial hype and his youthfulness and childlike face and expressions. Sorry Mr. Parrott, by doing things like this you undermine the tremendous skill, technique and intellectual maturity needed in conducting, something that takes time and a lot of work. Sadly, there are no shortcuts here. Unfortunately, Santtu-Mattias Rouvali shares Parrott’s conductors’ roster with other kiddies, also of mediocre ability, among them Perry So. Is he 12 or 13 years old? I have no objection to talented youth rising to the top. Lorin Maazel did it in his time, so did Leonard Bernstein, but Mr. Rouvali and Mr. So are neither a future Maazel or a Bernstein, so don’t fool the world into believing that they are or will be.

  5. And this is the downside of throwing these green conductors in to the spotlight too soon. They get trashed for not being very good (yet) and they spend the rest of their careers trying to live down their early crappy reviews. I like the gradual “earning” ones way in to a gainful career rather than being hyped in to it. Smart musicians resist the temptation to get big exposure too early. I see so many great conductors without the fame contrasted with others who are all marketing and no real substance. I like to think (or wish, at least) that classical music was mainly a meritocracy.

  6. I probably shouldn’t wade in here, but I must say this: it would be a truly good thing if all would-be conductors learned to play a single instrument really well, then spent a few years actually playing in an orchestra. It’s the best way to learn what NOT to do.

  7. Conducting isn’t about how someone does — or doesn’t — wave a stick around in front of a band of players.
    You can’t judge a conductor’s “technique” just from the way they move their arms.
    I, as an orchestral musician, don’t give two hoots if a conductor’s left hand mirrors his right hand all the time, half the time or not at all.
    What matters are the results of the conductor’s interaction with the orchestra.
    Santtu-Matias Rouvali is still young and starting out.
    He’s still learning his trade, his craft like any other musician has to. And the only way he is going to do that is if he stands up there in front of an orchestra and conducts them.
    He recently gave his debut with the hr-Sinfonieorchester at a concert in Frankfurt. Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto (with Kit Armstrong) and Sibelius’s First Symphony. And the results were really extremely impressive for someone so young.
    By no means the definitive performance of either work. But why should it have been?
    He knew exactly what he was doing, exactly what he wanted from the orchestra and how to get it and was in perfect control all of the time. And he knew every single not of the scores in front of him.
    Furthemore, every single one of the players in the orchestra was willing to give him what he wanted.
    A musician never stops learning. A violinst tackling a Mozart concerto when they’re 13 will play it very differently when they’re 30 or 50 or 80. Why should a conductor be any different?
    Why should a conductor be any different?
    Give the boy a break, for chrissake.
    And if you all think you can wave your batons around better than he can and that posing in front of a mirror to your Karajan recordings somehow makes you some sort of “authority” on conducting, then get out there and prove it.

    • I for one welcome that opportunity, as it is precisely those types of prime opportunities that are very difficult for conductors to come by.

    • “He knew exactly what he was doing”? Well it simply does not look like he is even aware that he knows what he is doing with his body or his hands. The problem is that a decent performance can be expected from a professional orchestra (for example the “hr-Sinfonieorchester”) if even a beginning, inexperienced, or not particularly capable conductor stands in front of them and waves his arms around (with both arms merely beating time while his body sways back and forth uncontrollably). But should that conductor be praised or given opportunities to develop while wasting the time of professionals to learn his craft with them? At least when Dudamel won his competition that started his international career, he had countless hours of podium time behind him from years of work in El Sistema. Managers, however, should not be fooled into thinking that they can find other conductors under 30 who will have adequate skills to deserve a place conducting in the place of professionals. It is a disgrace to our art.
      Perhaps the CSO should have let Dudley Moore be the next music director after Solti?

      • I am a little concerned at these mechanical criticisms. Most could apply equally to Furtwaengler, Tennstedt, Gergiev. Every good conductor develops a personal technique. He or she needs to be judged on musical results.

      • Before you judge somebody from a youtube video — which is rather like trying to judge a painting from a fuzzy polaroid snapshot — go, see and hear a conductor live in the concert hall.
        Yes, the hr-Sinfonieorchester is a highly professional band. But at the concert, they played with a commitment under Rouvali which, unfortunately, cannot always be expected nowadays.
        The musicians genuinely liked him and delivered.
        That’s what counts.
        Not the uninformed opinion of someone whose experience of “conducting” is restricted to prancing around in front of the mirror in the safety of their own home.

    • Martin Locher says:

      Thanks for reminding me of the radio broadcast recording I made of your Armstrong/Rouvali concert, which I never got round to listen to.

      Kit Armstrong is fascinating young man and I enjoyed most of Rouvali’s work so far.

  8. It’s remind me that story about Toscanini listening to a broadcast of NBC Orchestra in the 30′s or 40′s, and he was able to detect a weakness on one of the wind players. That’s part of his legend. I think it is not accurate judging by a YouTube video. Especially considering the limitations. Even a video named HD (720 up to 1080p) suffer limitation of 20 frames per second (If my memory doesn’t fail). It is something that noticeable affect the sound quality. I’ve got around 200 videos on my tube page, and I can tell you that the original tapes quality is far better, but It is still just unpretentious memoirs.

    I’ve got one of this bootlegs with 1080p of NY Phi, Gilbert and Dicterow playing part of Bartok First violin Concert. Most of bad critics on it came from people that even before started to watch had already wrote their opinion about one or two of the interpreters on the video page. They can think that a conductor is mediocre, but not due to that specific video since it is amateur made with a hidden camera, doesn’t contain the whole concert, nor has a professional sound. I think most people are criticizing Rouvali here, because they are tired of this recent phenomenon or fashion about wunderkinds. I’m also tired about it, but we cannot lost the point that the problem is concerning the overexposure of some artist with similar profile. Too much for someone that did not do anything outclass yet. Let these guys go on their development naturally without pressure or already believing that they are top-notch, and perhaps they will be really outclass one day. However, I’m afraid that this anxiety to over promote these artist profile will jeopardize the path for it. We cannot judge badly by a YouTube video, but also no one can say that there are anything special at all on it. Both critics and over exposer are not acting based on meritocracy.

    • The link above is actually not to Youtube, but to YLE’s (Finnish public broadcaster) online service. The video is professionally made and it does make the most of the bandwidth it’s afforded (360p), but it’s not high-definition, either in image or sound quality.

      On Youtube, anything can happen, of course. A video can be in a 1080p format and still have very severe compression artefacts in sound etc.

      • Indeed Mikko. I was just illustrating with an experience on general reactions concerning videos on internet (Basically Tube and Vimeo, on my case). I think that on a high-definition or even alive in the best seat at the concert hall, these reactions would be almost the same due to the reason I’ve said.

  9. The “boy maestro” is actually 27 seven years old, will be 28 on November 2013…

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