Having studied at two conservatories, Mikhail Zukernick was a timpanist in an orchestra until one day someone confused his name with Zuckerman and he was sent to a master class for conductors. Now Mikhail himself runs international master-classes for conductors - beginners, experienced old hands, or simply anyone who has been separated from their orchestra for whatever reason knowing that the only way for a musician to stay in shape is to practice. And sometimes it seems to Mikhail that he is training not conductors, but toreadors!
DE I: Who needs you master-classes?
M.Z.: In the past year we’ve trained 130-140 conductors, and if our classes bring even 10% of them some success, then that is also success for us. I want for a conductor to be able not only to shake his head nicely and gesticulate powerfully, but also for him to be a competent leader. The orchestra understands very quickly what is standing there before them, a skilled master, or pure ambition. Richard Strauss played the French Horn in the Court Opera in Munich and he always said that the level of a conductor was determined not by his first sweeping gesture, but how he came out to the orchestra. A few simple steps demonstrate if he capable or not.
DE I: IS it really possible to teach all that?
M.Z.: Of course. We help to understand the thoughts of the composer. But the conductor can bring that to life only with the help of the musicians, and he has to remember that the members of the orchestra are not keys – no matter how hard you press, they will always start to play later. You have to get used to that and know exactly how to show them, for example, staccato so that it will sound exactly as you think it should be heard.
DE I: What makes someone want to become a conductor?
M.Z.: Aside from genuinely talented musicians who want to achieve a new level, there are plenty of careerists and dictators who live in their own world while 80 musicians are out there playing in front of them. It’s worse than drug addiction. Anyone who tries conducting once will be hooked for life. The President of Sony Corporation had a dream to conduct Beethoven’s 9th Symphony which he eventually did at the opening of the Sony Centre in Berlin. It’s real power. All you have to do is think ‘Here is the crescendo’ and as you’re thinking it’s a bit too loud, it’s already happening. One famous critic, Kurt Pallen from Salzburg, said that a conductor really only matures at 80.
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