Among other really helpful comments, Ray Barnes was back with a searching and pertinent question:
Since at least 80% of the success of the very best performances owe their high standard to the conductor, and since Simon Rattle is arguably one of the very best, the question is perhaps - where is the Simon Rattle of the Church?I am happy to use the word leadership in Church, but rather suspect outside Leadership models, some of which we haven’t caught up with yet in practice, don’t really capture the beadth and depth of what is required. I want to be as accountable as any leader has to be in an excellent outfit today, but know there are other people involved as well.
The orchestra is ready and waiting!
Enter Fergus McWilliam, since 1985 a horn player for the Berliner Philharmoniker. He gave an excellent and thought provoking talk at the Festival Hall before Wednesday’s concert on how the sound of the orchestra relates to its members.
Afterwards he answered questions with some ideas that relate directly to Ray’s crucial line of questioning.
The band begins with a profound value of equality founded on mutual respect. It is a working democracy, in that it elects its musical director, and auditions are carried out principally by prospective colleagues. In other words it rejects artifical hierarchy and embraces personal fit — auditions, said Fergus, could assume technical competence and were thus not beauty contests, but more like marriage partner decisions.
In such a society there is little or no place for deference, often the English default position. As brilliant as Simon Rattle’s tenure has been, extended by request of the players, it has not been uncontroversial, nor would he or the band expect it to be. The idea of a hierarch high and lifted up sneering at people with whom he disagrees rather than listening to them would be absolute anathema, and kill the sound.
Fergus also called into serious question the idea of the Titanic Conductor, which he had encountered the other side of the Atlantic a few years ago — players produce the dots and the conductor will produce the music. As someone who works daily with the best conductors in the world he wasn’t rubbishing their work, but suggesting it ran on creative tension and relationships. Both band members and conductor mattered as much as each other. Mutual respect and understanding produced the best performances.
He also suggested that decisions to hire people for the orchestra were invitations to join a shared adventure. Risks are involved. There has to be a shared maturity and radical equality,continuous openness to what might be, and willingness to pursue it in a focussed way; a passionate focus around the music itself, andradiucal mutuality.
Levels of virtuousity are climbing all the time, but could, unbridled, lead to a band of soloists playing ego games. People have to want to join the band enough to transcend pure ego, for which you need a capacity that has to be acquired, without losing their personalities. But the real distinctives he looks for in new colleagues, he said, were
- Passion (a capacity to feel in the present moment)
- Sensuality (sensual awareness, not necessarily in a narrow sexual sense the term is often used in English)
- Viscerality (Connectedness between head, heart and guts — radical groundedness)