Issue 27: Behind the Colourful Scenes

Happy New Year! This new issue of Notes focuses on the preparatory aspects of the conductor’s work, as well as a continuation of the theme of British music seen in a number of recent issues.

It was great to welcome back conductor Tiffany Chang, after her brilliant interview on Puccini’s Tosca, for a deep dive into one of her favourite subjects: rehearsal technique. She was recently told she could take masterclasses on the subject, so I was intrigued by what we could learn from her. It has been refreshing to investigate more of the practical elements of the rehearsal process that, so far, have been unchartered territory for Notes. I feel sure that most young and amateur conductors, as well as more seasoned professionals, will be able to pick up some fresh ideas from the conversation. Tiffany also covers her non-musical leadership influences (one of her areas of great interest) and how they have inspired her development as a conductor.

The next conductor featured is also a returning favourite. This time Chris Hopkins chose to focus on one of his all time favourite pieces: A Colour Symphony by Sir Arthur Bliss – a piece commissioned by Elgar for the Three Choirs Festival back in 1922. As someone who has always been interested in the relationship between colour and music, I thoroughly enjoyed researching this piece. However, there is a lot more to A Colour Symphony than Purple, Red, Blue and Green (the names of the four movements). This beautiful multi-layered work is not only an exploration of colour, but also a meditation on the theme of war. Bliss himself fought in World War I, and Chris explains the importance of understanding the desperately tragic biographical background that led the composer to write the piece. All of this became especially poignant for me when I was editing the transcript on Remembrance Sunday.

Lastly, I was extremely fortunate to synchronise with Vasily Petrenko, who very kindly fitted in a conversation with me back in November after a long day of rehearsals in Hong Kong. His fascinating suggestion for discussion was the mental and physical preparation of conductors and musicians for concerts (in both the short and long term). A lot of extremely valuable advice is included in this article, some that Vasily has previously given to students in masterclasses, as well as some that he has never had the chance to give until now. We also touched on some other related topics, which have been included in the transcript. Vasily is a witty, insightful, humble and incredibly hardworking conductor, and has shared some extremely useful suggestions and trade secrets that can assist conductors in their preparation for concerts.

As ever, huge thanks to Tiffany, Chris and Vasily for their contributions to this varied edition. I hope you enjoy the read.

Dr. Hannah Baxter (Editor)