Ambrose Hall Interview Part 2


Tempi, Cues and Recordings


7 How do you get the right tempo? Do you hear the music in your head first to get the right tempo?

Oh yes, getting the right tempo is another thing, that conductors do, which is extremely important, in fact which apart from emanating his view of the music, or feeling for the music, finding the right tempo is crucial, and what many people say about me is that I usually do get the right tempo, and that is done by knowing what the tempo is before you start and giving the right upbeat to produce the music that is at a certain tempo.


8 How do you explain something to the orchestra? Do you sing a phrase to help them get it?

Yes, I sometimes do, but it’s a way of describing how you want it, I mean you sing it with the expression that you think it should have, and the orchestra will frequently pick that up.


9 When cueing a player or group of players do you use the left hand as well as looking at them?

Well if it’s an important cue you should really point to him, but if it’s not a really important cue, I think that the way to bring a player in who may not even be sure of when to come in, is to do that you know, just sweep him in, you know?


10 At what point do you cue a player: immediately before an entry or on an entry?

No, immediately before, I mean like the up beat, I mean actually all conducting and cueing and everything is really a beat earlier than it really is, if you’re going to cue a player you have to sort of give an up beat to it.


11 How much do you rely on recordings to understand a work?

Well I sometimes listen to recordings particularly done by very famous conductors before me, I like to hear you know Beecham’s and Bruno Walter’s, particularly Furtwängler, who in my view the greatest conductor who ever was, because he had that freedom of expression, and yet strictness – he had that mixture of freedom of expression and strictness of tempo, which was ideal, I think particularly for the performance of German music, like Wagner and Brahms and Beethoven you know, gramophone recordings, I mean I do frequently listen to recordings of works conducted by other people, but very often I listen to my own recordings because if I’m completely satisfied with them it means that I don’t have to study a work which I know very well already, I don’t have to actually study it with the book I can study it by listening to my own performance.

AEH: it’s got your own interpretation on it as well.
CM: Well, quite!

AEH: And if you listen to other recordings you start to subconsciously absorb their interpretation as well.

CM: That’s right yeah, not necessarily but not necessarily not!


12 When working on a score that has not been played before how do you understand and absorb it given there is no recording?

Well naturally I study each detail and the composer will be there if it hasn’t been performed before, and will frequently guide one.

AEH: When you were working with Benjamin Britten and Shostakovich?

CM: I mean when I did Turn of the Screw with him [Britten] present or rather I took it over from him, and that worked very well I think, but none of these Britten works were really new to me, the only one that was actually new to me was Noyes Flood which is a master piece of course, but typical Britten that he was able to use professional forces, and so called amateur forces together and put them to wonderful use, he was a genius in that respect, Benjamin Britten, well for the Noyes Flood I mean he was there all the time guiding us in how he wanted it to be performed so there wasn’t too much of a problem interpreting that, although no one had ever heard it before.

AEH: He gave clear instructions?

CM: Yes, yes.

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