Douglas Bostock is the current Music Director of the Argovia Philharmonic in Switzerland. He is also Guest Professor in the conducting and opera faculties at the Tokyo University of the Arts, and Visiting Professor at Senzoku Gakuen College of Music in Japan. In his career, he was Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Carlsbad Symphony Orchestra in the Czech Republic (1991-1998), the Principal Guest Conductor of the Czech Chamber Philharmonic (1993-2011), the Principal Conductor of the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra (2000-2006), and their Principal Guest Conductor (2006-2010). His repertoire covers a wide range of repertoire from the Baroque to the present day, including all standard works, as well as many rarely performed works, contemporary music and opera.
Douglas Bostock will be in Singapore from 8 to 11 September as visiting maestro for the 2nd Singapore International Conducting Masterclass organized by the Wind Bands Association of Singapore (WBAS). The Band Post speaks to him on his career and his opinions about the conducting world.
This article is the second of the two parts of his extensive interview.
What characteristics or skills do you think make up a conductor?
This is often asked but hard to define.
A conductor is only as good as he is a conductor as he is a good musician. You cannot become a good conductor if you are not a good musician. The quality of musicianship, musical training, musical ability and musical talent as a musician is the basis of a conductor. These qualities are combined with physical and technical aspects, which are the ways we communicate as a conductor.
Leadership skills should take the form of subordinating oneself and leading in the traditional sense, or being able to co-operate with people in a myriad of ways. Charisma or personality, includes things like the idea of people psychology or being human, and getting things across to people and communicating with them. Other traits include the ability to work hard and be very diligent, to study and never expect anything from anybody you do not expect to be yourself; hence always expecting the highest standards of oneself. The knowledge of music history and further higher music education are also important to being a conductor.
However, all of these qualities are only of use if they are put into the shell of a good musician.
What are some common mistakes in conducting you find in your workshops and other observations and how do you solve them?
When I was teaching conducting masterclasses in many countries both on intermediate and professional level, I came across a very common kind of mistake, be it in a teacher who is taking up conducting to improve oneself or a conducting masters student at a university.
I call this physical inaptness, which is when the body is not working in tune with the mind for the music.
In many students I have seen, the body sometimes stand in the way of music. Sure, the conductor has a good idea about the music but not in the physical form.
It is liken to the analogy of flowing water through a pipe which is blocked halfway, not allowing the water to flow freely. Piano players often have to get into a good smooth subtle physical way to let music flow through their bodies. This goes the same for conductors, but it is often neglected. There is a need to deal with these spiky conducting movements and the conductor needs to let out what is inside of him or her to express the music fully.
Other observations that I have made were the use of too much technique and the reliance and agility to conduct pieces in the technical sense where the music becomes very boring for the audience. There were also some conductors who have a good idea of the music but do not have the technique to bring forth the work. Lastly, I also find that some instrumentalists have the tendency to assume that if they are good players, they are born good conductors without realizing conducting needs to be learnt and studied and practiced.
What is the difference between symphony orchestra conducting and wind band conducting?
There is simply no difference. Personally, I do not believe in wind band conducting, but a good conductor who will use his art and craft in the many diverse phases of conducting. In my teachings, I do not specially cater to the wind band field but rather interested in coaching, helping, nurturing, teaching conductors who will be able to conduct all kinds of music. It is however fine to specialize in their own field, whether symphony orchestra or wind band, but there is no difference in the basic training. In fact, most of my conducting is not in the wind world – I do not agree on the pigeon holing and we must keep a broad aspect of conducting in mind.
With regards to young people who are interested in taking up a conducting career, what advices do you have for them?
I am amazed at how many conductors Singapore has produced over the years, perhaps due to the plethora of winds bands and the vibrant scene.
I believe if a young person is interested in conducting, it is a healthy thing and he or she should be fostered. As to how far this interest or hard work in conducting will go, only time will tell.
Young people who are interested in conducting should learn to play an instrument very well. If the instrument is not a piano, it is good to pick it up as a secondary instrument to learn to play harmonies. A very thorough training in aural, music theory and music history is a good basis. This training can be very dry but without it, a conductor is nothing.
The person should then be playing in ensembles and orchestras to have experiences in knowing how musicians tick and to be conducted. There will surely be differences in wind bands and symphonic orchestras, regardless of youths, amateurs or professionals, across many countries. I enjoy being with the different instruments and musicians, interacting in music with them.
While these elements are the basis of becoming a conductor, the person should also get some basic conducting lessons from the music teacher or band director. He or she should sit in the conducting lessons of others and try out simple pieces which are studied and prepared well with the school bands or orchestras. Try getting lessons and go to as many rehearsals with bands and orchestras to study their sessions with the scores. This process will slowly develop the person in doing small things and allowing him or her to grow to get a conducting position somewhere and then attending masterclasses at a higher level. It should be remembered that while in the process of growing, the elements that form the basis of the conductor must continue to run in parallel.
Only when these get quite good, he or she may make the switch to do conducting inside of Singapore or in other countries, considering that it will be the highest level of things having gone through the entire journey of developing as a conductor.