Sunday, December 1, 2013

Interview with LANXESS-SNYO Guest Conductor David Commanday

I had a short chat with Singapore National Youth Orchestra guest mentor and conductor David Commanday, discussing the growing influence of classical music in Asia, leading students vs full-timers and their concert on 26 November 2013 (yeah its over...)

The Mad Scene: This is the fourth year that you are guest conducting/mentoring the SNYO, what are your thoughts of this orchestra?

David Commanday: In previous visits my interactions with SNYO musicians were on a one-to-one basis, as I gave master classes in cello and string chamber music performance. This year, the LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC has given me the opportunity to experience the good qualities I had earlier observed, but now in the larger orchestra. As the rehearsals have progressed it has been a pleasure to see such quick progress in response to my work, and I sense discipline, talent, solid technical abilities, and open-minded curiosity and eagerness to learn throughout the membership of the orchestra, and this is an evolution of their widening learning perspective.

The Mad Scene: Any differences between conducting orchestras in Asia, America and Europe?

David Commanday: The saying is that ‘music is a universal language’ holds generally true among orchestral musicians across the continents. So the music and music-making is the same – while the only differences lie in subtle matters tied to the sociology and customs of each culture. Ultimately, music’s truth always prevails.

The Mad Scene: As the artistic director of an orchestra yourself who has also guest conducted numerous other orchestras, where do visiting artists and mentors figure in the development of an orchestra and its players?

David Commanday: A visiting artist brings new perspectives and a new personality to the orchestra. The effects and influences of the ‘new’ element depends entirely on the nature of the guest and of the work or works engaged with – sometimes invigorating, sometimes teaching, sometimes broadening the horizons, and often reinforcing and confirming the value and principles of the ‘home’ leadership.

The culmination of such qualities also opens up the possibility for a unique interpretation of the music works performed, and both mentors and students benefit from cross-learning opportunities offered through such initiatives. In this regard it is a great service to the youth of Singapore and the cultural and musical life of the nation that Lanxess initiated and supports the LANXESS SNYO Classic programme so generously, and I am proud to be part of such a unique and invaluable initiative.

The Mad Scene: It seems to me that an increasing number of Western classical musicians and organisations are looking for opportunities in East and Southeast Asia in recent years; do you agree? If so, why do you think these parts of the world are seen as ideal new markets for classical music performance and education?

David Commanday: Asia is a region which has been rising in economic power and influence in the world – and at the same time perhaps developing the interest and the means to ‘consume’ and support Western Classical music-making. This creates a potential market and performance opportunities that are naturally attractive to Western musicians.

The Mad Scene: Are there any unique challenges that an Asian musician have to overcome in order to play at a professional level?

David Commanday: I cannot think of any challenge that would be unique to an Asian musician – all musicians face the same challenges – technical, psychological, and spiritual – in our quest for excellence in expression and performance. Since some musics are strongly related to national and ethnic cultures, however, some nationalities and ethnicities may respond more quickly and easier to certain music than others. Inherent musicality and sensitivity can always overcome this apparent gap in initial feeling. I have found Americans tend to “get” Jazz more quickly than others, while having greater trouble with folk-related music of other cultures. This is all natural, and universal among the nations.

The Mad Scene: What differences are there between conducting a student orchestra vs a full time orchestra?

David Commanday: A student orchestra on the one hand may need more ‘instruction’ in a musical style, in how to balance its sound and enhance its ensemble – and in some cases players may need help in sorting out musical or technical challenges in their orchestral parts.

On the other hand a student orchestra is often the more receptive to new ideas, and to exploring new possibilities even in a standard work. When led properly and inspired, the students tend to give of themselves with total risk and commitment – something which is more rare and harder to achieve with highly experienced professionals.

In most cases, the student orchestra simply needs the exposure to, and opportunities to benefit from the experiences of more seasoned musicians – such as is achieved by the LANXESS SNYO CLASSIC here for the SNYO students – to bring on a good learning journey for their players.

The Mad Scene: This concert and masterclass series will see the orchestra performing works from the baroque, classical and romantic. What are your considerations when conceiving this programme for SNYO?

David Commanday: Your question is correct on the face of it, but in fact I view this programme as being about the romantic aesthetic. Carl Stamitz’s music belongs to that early or pre-classical school known as the “empfindsamer stil” – or feeling style. The Viola Concerto (1773) is quite beautiful, with a classical clarity and lightness, and yet it is also quite romantic in its lyrical slow movement – and features the sound of clarinets and horns, which play such an important role in the romantic orchestra. Carl Maria von Weber founded the sound of the German Romantic, and the themes of magic, fairies, and nature which are part of his opera “Oberon” firmly place this overture into the romantic realm, even with its 1826 premiere. Finally, Brahms’ masterpiece, the First Symphony, combines a romantic orchestral palette, romantic passion and expressive scope, with an expanded late-classical formal design. Brahms made clear to the world with this symphony’s 1876 premiere that the form of the symphony was alive and evolving still, some 50 years after Beethoven’s time. It is a wonder and a glorious work. I look forward to our performance in the beautiful Esplanade Concert Hall!

Here's more information about Mr. Commanday on his official website.

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