Ambrose Hall Interview Part 1

Scores and Rehearsals


1 How do you go about studying a score?

Well, that’s an impossible question to answer, because I mean, depends on the score, and depends on whether I know it already or not, and if I’m studying something that’s completely new, I would do it in a different way from studying something that I know very well like, I mean at the moment I’m doing the cunning little vixen at Covent Garden, which is a work I know very well, but I still have to study it of course, to make sure I beat accurately, and chiefly that I beat it accurately, because a lot of it is quite difficult, but if I take on a new work, I study the music first, before I think about actually how I’m going to beat it.


2 How important is it to memorise a score?

A. Well I don’t think that memorising is at all important, but maybe I would say that because I never conduct from memory, except Ravel’s Bolero or something, or La Cenerentella overture, but I don’t attempt to memorise things, I know that a lot of conductors have visual memory, that they can see the score written in front of them, do you mean like a photographic memory, Yes. I’ve never seen the need to do that and particularly conducting a lot of opera, where it’s rather dangerous to conduct from memory, because they rely on you for cues, and so you know if you’re not reliable in giving your cues to the singers, in a way half the function of a conductor, to be short, I don’t think memorising is very important, although many of the greatest conductors have always memorised their scores.

AEH: it’s important to know where you’re going, when I’m conducting I think what section, what’s coming up next, I like to think what’s coming up ahead, would you say that was quite important.

CM: certainly, for getting, as it were, the architecture of a composition, I mean, it’s certainly necessary to think about what’s coming, so that you have the form of the movement in your mind before you do it.


3 Do you work out all your gestures in advance and have everything choreographed before rehearsals?

No, absolutely not, it depends on whether it’s a difficult piece, technically or not, I mean I might do that if I was doing The rite of spring with all those changes of time you know, but normally I just give beats exactly as I feel, you know I try to express the music with my hands, and with my face, that’s what I do with my gestures, I really don’t work them out in advance, not unless it’s a particularly difficult or complicated work like let’s say The rite of spring where you have to work out what you’re going to do like five eight bars, three or two you know, but I don’t think it’s necessary in shall we say ‘normal compositions’ like Brahms symphonies or Beethoven symphonies or something, it’s not necessary to work it out in advance, the exception to that would be of course Beethoven fifth symphony which is a mine field of difficulties you know, that bar bar bar, bar, is an up beat, but it’s a down beat in the music, you have to beat it as a down beat, although it’s supposed to sound like an upbeat, bar bar bar baar, but then when you have, da da da daaar, da da da dar, whether you have to cut that off or not, whether they will, if it is cut off, whether they, half the orchestra will go on and the other half will stop.


4 What are the main things you think about before a rehearsal?

Oh that’s a very difficult question, I mean you know, when I’m going in to a rehearsal, I sometimes study the score on my way into the rehearsal, but ah, it depends on whether I know an orchestra very well, like the Philharmonia or the Covent Garden orchestra, or the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, or whether I don’t know them so well, like the Berlin Philharmonic, I do a bit of study in the car when I’m being driven. I know that I have to treat certain orchestras differently from others, because I know them very well, or because I don’t know them very well, but I don’t especially prepare anything, before a rehearsal, obviously, yeah.


5 Do you talk to the orchestra while they are playing or do you prefer to stop and explain something?

I think orchestras prefer not to be stopped all the time, and I frequently do talk over the music while still doing the music, not so loud there or less flute or something, yes I do talk over the music while they’re still playing, I think they, most orchestra prefer that to being stopped all the time, if you stop all the time, the playing, the music losses continuity, you see, which I think is defiantly to a good rehearsal is that it has continuity and that its leading from one thing to the other. Yeah.


6 You talk about eminence in your book. What exactly do you mean and how do you think about it?

Emanating one’s personality so to speak, on the orchestra and in that way that’s what makes the difference between one conductor and another really not the way you beat or anything like that.

AEH: Do you relate it to charisma?

CM: yes that’s right, I suppose eminence is similar to charisma, but if one emanates to the orchestra, which I think makes the difference between one conductor and another, it’s not really what he knows or how he beats or anything because, you see there are a terrible lot of not very good conductors who know a lot, an awful lot, and the opposite is true also, that there are a terrible lot of good conductors who, emanate their feeling of the music, who don’t necessarily know a terrible lot about the inner working of the music, that not necessarily very knowledgeable musicians, and I think that that’s what I repeat that what the conductor emanates to the orchestra, of his personality is what makes the difference between one conductor and another.

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