Friday, November 20, 2015


Most artistic researchers that I meet are working on solo projects. On stage, most of those also profile themselves as soloists. This has an easy to identify logic behind it: investigating a topic from within one’s own practice involves the subject and its single instrument. And as there is so much ground to cover in order to develop the discipline, this is an understandable primary focus.

But while academic disciplines already have a history of looking at collaborative processes, I still wonder about what an instrumentalist’s research project would be like if it were about playing in an orchestra, where the creativity and its room for exploration and innovation is shared with the conductor. I imagine that relationship to be complex (as a pianist I have only limited experience playing in an orchestra), with the players enjoying a more or less high degree of independence in matters of technique (shared with performers of the same orchestral group, and depending on the formal hierarchies in that group), but the conductor having more of a final word on sound and interpretation. In what way, for instance, would such boundaries permit (or stimulate), say, a clarinettist to develop something that goes against the traditions of his orchestral practice?

Besides the instrumentalist’s perspective, there is that of the conductor as a musician. Naturally, her mandate would allow her to implement a novel interpretation (given enough rehearsals), experiment with the stage set-up, programming, etc. But I am curious about the potential for archeology in that field. Which interpretive aspects of Stravinsky's own conducting of his work were indebted to his (lack of) experience as a conductor and which were a matter of actual musical choice? It would take a conductor to make an informed assessment of how to distinguish between both, beyond the superficial characteristics of coordinated ensemble playing.

artistic research, conductor

Perhaps a first step (that I know of) in exploring this area will be taken by the conference that the Oxford ConductingInstitute, in partnership with St. Anne’s College and the University of OxfordFaculty of Music, is organizing for June 24-26, 2016.

Deadline for applications is quite soon: Tuesday, December 1, 2015. All information can be found here

In the call, the range of topics is framed as follows:

The practice of conducting has significant impact on music-making across a wide variety of ensembles and musical contexts around the globe. Whilst professional organizations and educational institutions have worked to develop the field through conducting masterclasses and conferences focused on professional development, and academic researchers have sought to explicate various aspects of conducting through focused studies, researchers and practitioners are rarely in dialogue about these findings and experiences.

This conference will explore issues pertaining to the study of conducting from a range of perspectives by bringing together research across a variety of disciplines including musicology, ethnomusicology, music education, philosophy, psychology, anthropology and sociology as well as from practitioners. The tripartite aims of the conference will be to engage researchers and practitioners in productive dialogue, promote practice as research, and raise awareness of the state of research in the field of conducting.

Researchers and practitioners are invited to submit proposals for individual papers (20 minutes + 10 minutes for questions) on the following and other topics related to conducting.

- Critical approaches to pedagogy and mentorship
- Leadership, power and authority
- Verbal and non-verbal communication
- Critical views on repertoire and programming
- Enterprise, responsibility and accountability
- The rehearsal and performance process
- Students, amateurs and professionals    
- Historical views
- Gender
- Race
- Aesthetics of conducting
- Health and wellbeing
- Views from the podium
- Movement and gesture

The announcement makes it clear that participation is invited from academic and practitioners’ sides of the sector, but it can be hoped that artistic researchers will come to the fore as well. In any case, conductor Cayenna Ponchione is involved, and if her high-end input during the March 2015 conference on authorship in music was anything to go by, this one is not to be missed.

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