Should Composers Conduct Their Own Works?
January 18, 2010
Just as it's often the case that playwrights and screenwriters aren't always the best people to direct their own plays and movies, so composers don't necessarily do an optimal job leading performances of their works from the podium.
This hypothesis was borne out over the weekend when I saw the British composer George Benjamin conducting the San Francisco Symphony in two of his pieces -- "Duet", a work for piano and orchestra written in 2008, and "Ringed by the Flat Horizon", which the composer wrote at the very start of his career in 1980.
Unlike the previous concert of Benjamin's work which I saw last week under the baton of David Robertson, this composer-helmed concert lacked, for want of a better word, oomph. Benjamin conducted both of his pieces as if sewing a pair of delicate lace curtains. The soundscape shimmered and was extremely intricate. But it all sounded very much the same. Robertson, on the other hand, brought out the extreme contrasts in the composer's works. We heard filigree and fire in Benjamin's music as interpreted by Robertson. But the contrasts were subdued in the composer's hands. Perhaps it's a case of the creator "not being able to see the wood for the trees"?
PS: Read Stephen Smoliar's response to my blog post here.