PICNIC 08 – Conducting Creativity by Itay Talgam
Through different examples of conducting an orchestra Itay Talgam, highly acclaimed Israeli conductor and founder of the Maestro program, explores some of the aspects that are related to the practice of collaboration. In his presentation he addresses aspects such as authority, creativity and interpretation.
Talgam begins the final presentation of the first day of PICNIC 08 with a brief explanation of the role of a conductor in leading an orchestra. Before a performance starts, the members of the orchestra settle themselves on the stage and perform some sort of warm-up, resulting in a incoherent mixture of all sorts of instruments, a cacophony. When the conductor is ready to start the performance, this chaos will change into a coherent composition only by making a small gesture with his hand. Talgam argues that this is an example of the authority that is exhibited by the conductor. He asks the audience to demonstrate this point by trying to clap synchronously, only to find out that this will happen synchronously when someone steps up as a leader and directs everyone to clap at precise moment in time.
But there is more to the role of the conductor as someone who is exhibiting authority than the example above shows us. The authority also stretches to the specific interpretation that the conductor draws from a certain score. He directs the members of the orchestra to play the score according to this interpretation. Talgam suggests that this kind of relationship between the conductor and the members of the orchestra bears strong similarities with a top-down process, because the conductor takes all responsibility for the interpretation of the piece. This point is illustrated by Talgam with the example of Richard Strauss and his obsessive turning of the pages of sheet music of a score he wrote himself and beyond doubt doesn’t need any sheet music to while conducting. This sends a clear message to the orchestra that they’re not allowed to add any other interpretation to the piece.
Now what would happen when a conductor leaves large parts of this interpretation up to the members of the orchestra? Talgam shows several examples of Leonard Bernstein conducting an orchestra. Through facial expressions Bernstein only sets out the mood of the piece and thus leaving large parts of interpretation up to the members of the orchestra. Talgam argues that it is probably more rewarding if there is some sort of symbiosis between the conductor exhibiting authority and the members of the orchestra adding bits of their own interpretation to the performance thus having more responsibility. This way of conducting stands in contrast with the aforementioned mode of conducting by Richard Strauss, and as a result this method can be seen as a bottom-up process, which is similar to many practices of collaboration on the internet.
The general idea behind this insight into the world of conducting is to give the audience an example of the different relations that exist between leadership, management, and teamwork when it comes to the practice of collaboration. Authority, creativity and responsibility are important aspects in the practice of all kinds of collaborations. As Talgam concludes, we learn that the success and amount of reward of a particular collaboration depends on the experience of these interconnecting aspects by its practitioners, and in a position of leadership there is a limit to what you can achieve on the basis of authority alone.