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Conductorless orchestra

Conductorless orchestra

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The conductorless orchestra, sometimes referred to as a self-conducted orchestra or unconducted orchestra, is an instrumental ensemble
Musical ensemble
A musical ensemble is a group of people who perform instrumental or vocal music. In classical music, trios or quartets either blend the sounds of musical instrument families or group together instruments from the same instrument family, such as string ensembles or wind ensembles...

 that functions as an orchestra
Orchestra
An orchestra is a sizable instrumental ensemble that contains sections of string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. The term orchestra derives from the Greek ορχήστρα, the name for the area in front of an ancient Greek stage reserved for the Greek chorus...

 but is not led or directed by a conductor
Conducting
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...

. Most conductorless orchestras are smaller in size, and generally perform chamber
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

 orchestra repertoire. Several conductorless orchestras are made up of only strings
String instrument
A string instrument is a musical instrument that produces sound by means of vibrating strings. In the Hornbostel-Sachs scheme of musical instrument classification, used in organology, they are called chordophones...

 and focus primarily on string orchestra repertoire. Conductorless orchestras generally come from the classical music
Classical music
Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 11th century to present times...

 tradition and perform standard repertoire, but many conductorless orchestras promote or specialise in contemporary classical music
Contemporary classical music
Contemporary classical music can be understood as belonging to the period that started in the mid-1970s with the retreat of modernism. However, the term may also be employed in a broader sense to refer to all post-1945 modern musical forms.-Categorization:...

 repertoire. Many contemporary classical music ensembles also regularly perform without a conductor.

History


Early orchestras did not utilize a conductor, but instead the concertmaster
Concertmaster
The concertmaster/mistress is the spalla or leader, of the first violin section of an orchestra. In the UK, the term commonly used is leader...

 or the continuo player, generally the harpsichord
Harpsichord
A harpsichord is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by plucking a string when a key is pressed.In the narrow sense, "harpsichord" designates only the large wing-shaped instruments in which the strings are perpendicular to the keyboard...

ist led the orchestra. As the orchestra grew in size throughout the latter half of the 18th century composers generally conducted their own music in order to facilitate more expedient and efficient rehearsal and performance preparation. By the 19th century, conductors were considered an integral part of the orchestra and a distinct role separate from the composer. Most if not all performances were led by a conductor throughout the 19th century into the early 20th century.

1920s


After the Russian revolution in the early twentieth century the Pervïy Simfonicheskiy Ansambl′ bez Dirizhyora (Russian for ‘First Conductorless Symphony Ensemble’), or Persimfans
Persimfans
Persimfans was a conductorless orchestra in Moscow in the Soviet Union that existed between 1922 and 1932.The name "Persimfans" is an abbreviation for Pervïy Simfonicheskiy Ansambl' bez Dirizhyora . It was founded by Lev Tseitlin.-References:*...

 formed in the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. The purpose for the conductorless state of this orchestra did not stem from musical ideals alone, but encapsulated the political and philosophical ideals of the time. Persimfans built itself upon egalitarian concepts and functioned by committee. They sat in a large circle while they performed and took cues across the circle. Persimfans formed in 1922 and lasted ten years until it disbanded for political reasons.

1950s


Founded in 1951, the Prague Chamber Orchestra (PKO) is perhaps one of the longest running conductorless orchestras. The orchestra started when members of the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra formed an ensemble more suited for non-standard programming. The orchestra's first album contained Bohemian music, recorded in 1951, though their repertoire now spans works from the Baroque era to contemporary music. As the demands of the orchestra increased, the Prague Chamber orchestra became independent of the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra in 1965. The Prague Chamber Orchestra collaborates with conductors for special recording projects, though the standard mode and philosophy of performance for the ensemble is conductorless. After the fall of communism, the musicians formed their own company, PKO Agency Ltd., and managed all critical operations of the ensemble.

1970s


The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a Grammy Award-winning classical music chamber orchestra based in New York City. It is known for its collaborative leadership style in which the musicians, not a conductor, interpret the score....

 was founded in 1972 by cellist Julian Fifer and a group of fellow musicians who sought to incorporate chamber music techniques into orchestral playing. The orchestra has been conductorless since its inception and all members rotate leadership roles depending on the demands of the piece performed.

Orpheus is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and has a Staff and Board of Directors in addition to the orchestra members. All artistic direction of the ensemble is managed by the musicians, and three of the orchestra members serve on staff as artistic directors. Orpheus was one of the first winners of the Worldwide Award for the Most Democratic Workplaces sponsored by WorldBlu, Inc.

In 1975, cellist
Cello
The cello is a bowed string instrument with four strings tuned in perfect fifths. It is a member of the violin family of musical instruments, which also includes the violin, viola, and double bass. Old forms of the instrument in the Baroque era are baryton and viol .A person who plays a cello is...

 John Painter founded the Australian Chamber Orchestra
Australian Chamber Orchestra
The Australian Chamber Orchestra was founded by cellist John Painter in 1975. Richard Tognetti was appointed Lead Violin in 1989 and subsequently appointed Artistic Director....

 (ACO). The ACO is a conductorless chamber orchestra led by concertmaster Richard Tognetti
Richard Tognetti
Richard Leo Tognetti, AO is an Australian violinist, composer and conductor. He is currently Artistic Director and Leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Artistic Director of the Maribor Festival in Maribor, Slovenia....

, appointed artistic director and lead violin in 1990. The ACO functions as an ‘ensemble of soloists’ and gravitates toward cross-genre programming. They perform on both modern and period instruments, in smaller chamber groups, as a chamber orchestra, and as an electro-acoustic collective. Referencing past traditions, all musicians except cellists stand while performing.

1990s


The New Century Chamber Orchestra
New Century Chamber Orchestra
The New Century Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1992 by cellist, Miriam Perkoff, and violist, Wieslaw Pogorzelski. The goal of the founders was to present classical music in a fresh and unique way in the San Francisco Bay Area. The music director chooses the programs and guides the artistic...

 is based out of the San Francisco Bay Area. Founded in 1992, the first music director and concertmaster was Stuart Canin. The orchestra has also been directed and led by concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney. The current music director and concertmaster is Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The New Century Chamber Orchestra's repertoire spans both traditional and contemporary repertoire. The ensemble regularly commissions new works and features cross-genre programs transcending jazz, rock, and classical styles. The New Century Chamber Orchestra is a string orchestra of 20 members (10 violins, 5 violas, 4 celli, 1 bass).

Early 21st century


The early 21st century saw a rise in the formation of young conductorless chamber orchestras and chamber music
Chamber music
Chamber music is a form of classical music, written for a small group of instruments which traditionally could be accommodated in a palace chamber. Most broadly, it includes any art music that is performed by a small number of performers with one performer to a part...

 collaboratives.

The East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO) was envisioned in 2001, when a group young string players sought to form a conductorless chamber orchestra, based upon democratic principles. The members are soloists, orchestral musicians, and chamber musicians all mainly trained at Marlboro Music School and Festival
Marlboro Music School and Festival
The Marlboro Music School and Festival is a retreat for advanced classical training and musicianship held for seven weeks each summer in Marlboro, Vermont...

. ECCO is a string orchestra made up of 17 instrumentalists.

The Advent Chamber Orchestra started in 2003 when Roxana Pavel and Elias Goldstein worked together in chamber music ensembles. The ensemble functioned primarily as a chamber music collaborative until 2005 performed their first concert as the Advent Chamber Orchestra. The ensemble is generally led by concertmaster and music director Roxana Pavel Goldstein, but artistic decisions are achieved democratically.

A Far Cry, formed in early 2007, is a Boston based chamber orchestra made up of 18 string players. A Far Cry describes itself as self-conducted, and operates with rotating leadership and no conductor. All artistic decisions are made by vote, and the orchestra members handle all the artistic management and promotion of the ensemble. A Far Cry has close ties to the New England Conservatory (NEC) as well as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum or Fenway Court, as the museum was known during Isabella Stewart Gardner's lifetime, is a museum in the Fenway-Kenmore neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, located within walking distance of the Museum of Fine Arts and near the Back Bay Fens...

, where it is ensemble-in-residence.

The Lyra Vivace Chamber Orchestra, founded in 2010, is a musician-run collective based in Augusta, GA and the SouthEastern United States. Lyra Vivace is an ensemble of www.InPraiseofMusic.org, a resource of and for professional musicians.

Arizona Chamber Orchestra is the most recently formed conductorless ensemble. Based in Phoenix, the Arizona Chamber Orchestra presents its inaugural season in 2011 with a nucleus of 15 string players, performing throughout Arizona.

Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra, formed in late 2010, is a Washington, D.C.-based chamber orchestra made up of 29 musicians. It is self-conducted, and operates with rotating leadership in all sections. Ars Nova's artistic decisions are guided by the musicians, and they all participate in marketing and administering the ensemble. The ensemble's members include D.C.-based musicians, and musicians based in other parts of the United States.

Leadership and management


One aspect of conductorless chamber orchestras that sets them apart from other instrumental ensembles is the democratic leadership model. A conductor generally makes the artistic decisions for an ensemble, and in the absence of a conductor, artistic direction and leadership must be delegated elsewhere. Many currently operating ensembles such as A Far Cry, ECCO, Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra, and Orpheus
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a Grammy Award-winning classical music chamber orchestra based in New York City. It is known for its collaborative leadership style in which the musicians, not a conductor, interpret the score....

 incorporate the democratic model into their mission statement and build their organizational structure and rehearsal techniques on this model. Orpheus is the subject of a book on democratic leadership in the workplace by Harvey Seifter and Peter Economy entitled, Leadership Ensemble: Lessons in Collaborative Management from the World-Famous Conductorless Orchestra.

Another leadership model that several conductorless groups utilize is that of a dual Artistic Director/Concertmaster role. The Australian Chamber Orchestra and New Century Chamber Orchestra embrace this model and the artistic direction and leadership is generally organized by the lead violin.

Conductorless orchestras today


Orpheus
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is a Grammy Award-winning classical music chamber orchestra based in New York City. It is known for its collaborative leadership style in which the musicians, not a conductor, interpret the score....

, ECCO, A Far Cry, Australian Chamber Orchestra
Australian Chamber Orchestra
The Australian Chamber Orchestra was founded by cellist John Painter in 1975. Richard Tognetti was appointed Lead Violin in 1989 and subsequently appointed Artistic Director....

, Advent Chamber Orchestra, Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra, and the New Century Chamber Orchestra
New Century Chamber Orchestra
The New Century Chamber Orchestra was founded in 1992 by cellist, Miriam Perkoff, and violist, Wieslaw Pogorzelski. The goal of the founders was to present classical music in a fresh and unique way in the San Francisco Bay Area. The music director chooses the programs and guides the artistic...

 are very active today. Many of these groups have educational and outreach initiatives as part of their mission.

Sources

  • Eckhard, John, "Orchester ohne Dirigent", Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik 158, no. 2 (1997): 40–43.
  • Fyodorova, Olga, Russian Musical Highlights of the 20th Century, Voice of Russia
    Voice of Russia
    Voice of Russia is the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service owned by the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company. Its predecessor Radio Moscow was the official international broadcasting station of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.-Early years:Radio Moscow...

  • Oron, Aryeh, Prague Chamber Orchestra – Short History, bach-cantatas.com, 2001 (based on liner notes to J.S. Bach: Magnificat in D & Motets, Prague Chamber Orchestra, Rondeau Records)
  • Sabaneev, Leonid and Pring, S. W., "A Conductorless Orchestra", The Musical Times 69, No. 1022 (1928): 307–309.
  • Wallechinsky, David and Wallace, Irving "History of the greatest conductorless orchestra", The People's almanac, Issue 2, W. Morrow and Co., 1978, p. 790. (reproduced with permission on trivia-library.com)