Classical Music: Learning to lead

Renowned conductor and teacher Jorma Panula will direct the Int'l Conducting Master Class hosted by the Haifa Symphony this week.

Renowned conductor and teacher Jorma Panula of Finland will direct the International Conducting Master Class hosted by the Haifa Symphony this week. The instruction takes place at Haifa's Kriger Auditorium and is open to the public for a nominal fee.
Click for upcoming events calendar! Eight conducting students from Israel and abroad were chosen from among dozens of candidates to conduct each day under Panula's guidance, followed by analyses of their mistakes and achievements. Others were invited as "passive participants" in the course, which also features lectures. Panula, who counts leading conductors such as Essa Pekka Salonen and Miko Frank among his students, conducts master classes throughout the world. This is the first time that a music event of this kind will take place in Haifa. Conductor and composer Noam Sheriff, artistic director of the Haifa Symphony, observes that "We have forgotten that conducting is a Jewish tradition, too - just think of names like Mendelssohn, Mahler or Bernstein," he says. "Young conductors are miserable people," smiles Sheriff. "While instrumentalists can practice with their violin, trumpet, whatever, conductors reach the orchestra at the late stage of their career - this is a very expensive instrument. That is why it's very important to give them an opportunity to work with this complicated human instrument." And what does teaching conductors entail? Sheriff, an experienced teacher of 40 years standing, who has conducted courses in Israel and abroad, explains that while technical aspects can be taught in a few minutes, "the real teaching is about how to paint with this rich palette, how to choose oil, pastel or watercolors for drawing your Mozart. This profession demands vast instrumental knowledge and human maturity." Body language and posture are also of utmost importance, according to Sheriff, who notes that this is what orchestra members grasp. "They even hear your breath. Imagine an asthmatic conductor!" Sheriff believes that even the language the conductor speaks at the time he is conducting influences his hands' movements: "So if you conduct Beethoven, you need to speak at least some German because the Germans collect information first and only then act. The Latin peoples - the French, the Italians - are much swifter." As for a conductor's ability to maintain order among musicians, Sheriff recalls a lesson from his school years. "I remember two teachers. One would scream at us all the time, but nothing helped. The other would enter the classroom and put his things in order on the table - and there would be complete silence in the room! "People love to understand what they are doing. If the trumpet player understands why he enters after the 80th bar, he will do his best to enter at the right moment. What people respect is music authority, not dictatorship." A concert of master-class participants concludes the course on Saturday night, February 10, at Haifa's Rappaport Auditorium.