Hello Reddit, very excited to be doing my first Reddit AMA. I'm Maestro Michael Francis. I used to play double-bass with the London Symphony Orchestra. After jumping in for various conductors at the last minute, I am now a full-time conductor and Music Director of The Florida Orchestra, the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego, and Chief Conductor of the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz.

I'm currently in the middle of conducting the Mainly Mozart Festival in San Diego whose orchestra features more Principal players from other great orchestras than any other Festival orchestra in the US. Tomorrow evening, I will be performing Mozart’s Davide penitente and Beethoven’s Violin Concerto with violist Augustin Hadelich.

Upcoming guest conducting projects include the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, Detroit, Berlin Radio and Minnesota symphonies amongst others.

Connect with us on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/MainlyMozart/ You can view my website here: http://michaelfrancisconductor.com/

My Proof: https://imgur.com/a/UYWb061

Edit: Such a pleasure getting to chat with you all! I have to run to rehearsal, but will do my best to come back and answer any remaining questions later today or tomorrow.

Comments: 85 • Responses: 36  • Date: 

BaconLord140112 karma

Can you talk a bit about what else conductors do aside from conducting? What about programming pieces? Or any management stuff?

MichaelFrancisAMA16 karma

Good question. There is a huge amount that happens off the podium. In the US, conductors who run orchestras are Music Directors. We are in charge of personnel choices - auditioning and hiring, along with the players committees. Choosing the repertoire for the season. Inviting guest artists/conductors. The artistic vision of organisation - for example, in Florida, where I am Music Director of The Florida Orchestra, I have put a large emphasis on community engagement activities - making sure that there are no barriers to participation, whether financial (free concerts), geographic (we travel to hospitals, schools, retirement centres), or any other restrictions you could imagine. I also work closely with the board of directors for fundraising and developing new ways of financially supporting the orchestra (in the US, ticket sales account for about a third of revenue, the rest is donations!). The culture and development of the standard of the orchestra perhaps the most important thing I have to do. Working to create an environment of excellence that engages our listeners and community. After all, music really matters...

too_manyostriches11 karma

What's the typical dynamic between a conductor and his players? I figure you don't see each other as peers, but is there a clear power dynamic?

MichaelFrancisAMA18 karma

There is of course a hierarchy in orchestras. Within the group you have principal musicians, assistant principal, section musicians. There is also the concertmaster, who is effectively the number two in charge. The conductors I admired, while playing in orchestra, were those who created an atmosphere in which we could be individually creative but within a clear vision of the composer’s intentions. So, as a conductor myself, I speak a lot in metaphors, to find a communicative approach that gives emotional guidance, but allows the musicians to make informed creative choices. Ultimately, if there is a difference of opinion, I do have the final say, but more often than conductors like to admit, the best ideas often come from the orchestra.

Outside of the rehearsal/performance, the leadership dynamic is more clear. Choosing repertoire, hiring musicians, artistic vision and a myriad of other decisions are made by the conductor.

For me, the balance is giving clear overall vision, but allowing others a lot of room for expression of ideas. It is not that different to other leadership positions in other fields. It is a fascinating job, with subtle psychological skills required - one in which I learn on a daily level!

SmugLeaf0019 karma

When did you first fall in love with music?

MichaelFrancisAMA16 karma

My dad was a double bass player, so I had music around as a child. For me, it was the first time I played in youth orchestra. I couldn’t believe how loud and exciting it could be. Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony and anytime I played or heard Beethoven in my teens. It was like being injected with an addictive drug (not that I’d know!)!

martinmaine8 karma

How did you become a conductor? What schooling did you need, and how long did it take to learn?

Also, what is the most difficult part of conducting?

MichaelFrancisAMA15 karma

Hi! I became a conductor through jumping in last minute for sick conductors. I was brave - or stupid enough - to say yes, sometimes at the very last minute for pretty scary occasions! I didn’t study conducting formally at university/college. Instead I learnt from playing for great conductors and then jumped up and got on with it. It takes a lifetime to learn, as most of it is people management as well as artistic growth.
Most difficult part is bringing the best out of others and staying true to the music.

VivaLaEvolucion7 karma

What has been your favorite event in this season’s Mainly Mozart festival? The Derek Paravicini night was incredible.

MichaelFrancisAMA13 karma

Derek was amazing. For those who don’t know him. Derek was born at 26 weeks, blind and with severe learning difficulties. He is a musical savant and through lessons with his teacher, Adam Ockelford, he has become an astonishing performer. His autism has led to a prodigious memory that can recall any piece he ever heard, and then he can improvise on it immediately. Incredible!

The two concerts we have performed with the festival orchestra have been stellar. Anne-Marie McDermott’s performances of Mozart’s Piano concerti no. 14 and 22 were incredible: what an artist! Jeremy Denk was also amazing on the first concert. The orchestra is made up of the concertmasters and principal musicians of the best orchestras in North America, so the standard is off the charts. The performance of Mendelssohn’s Reformation symphony was a musical highlight of my life. The commitment and passion with which they tackled this relatively unknown symphony was so inspiring for me - I just love this festival. The word “world class” is so overused, but not with the Mainly Mozart Festival Orchestra. It is humbling to be the Music Director.

mevaleunachingada7 karma

What would you recommend for an aspiring conductor to get jobs and opportunities?

MichaelFrancisAMA8 karma

I would recommend playing in orchestra if possible. It doesn’t have to be at the highest professional level, youth orchestra and amateur ensembles will help. It gives a great understanding of how to produce sound, and what difference a conductor makes upon your own playing (both good and bad ;-). There are many great conductors who did not play in orchestra, for example those who play the piano, and some conductors think playing the piano is essential (I don’t play the piano very well at all!). Most of the life of a conductor is sat on our own learning music, so a studious and interested mentality is necessary. There are many conducting courses at university’s, and these produce fine conductors. If you are already at a good level, then the best advice I can offer is conduct anything you are offered! Just get up there and go for it. Try to video yourself - if allowed by the musicians - and watch the results. It is horrible to see yourself at first, but you’ll start to see what needs to be improved (in my case, trying not to pull such silly faces in the passionate bits! Amongst other things...). Competitions can be useful, and take every audition going. Conducting requires a thick skin, as there will be much public failure, but the rewards are amazing - helping others play better than they knew they could.

shacharlevy6 karma

How is the competition for being a conductor?

MichaelFrancisAMA3 karma

Pretty intense. There are so many good aspiring conductors, and so many established brilliant ones. I tend not to worry about competition, I can only control what I do. If I concentrate upon the music, prepare and rehearse in a respectful and humble way and then go for it by giving my all in the concerts, then if I’m good enough hopefully I get re-invited. For competitions, there are hundreds and hundreds of applicants for only a few spots. It seems to be getting more intense each year.


How many instruments can/do you play? Do you make it a point to fully understand each instrument so you can fully comprehend issues with the different musicians you lead?

MichaelFrancisAMA7 karma

I specialised on the double bass. To get into a top orchestra requires years of dedicated practise so it is hard to do this on multiple instruments. The advantage of playing in the LSO was that I could talk to my colleagues about the various challenges of their particular instrument and learn from them. It is very important to understand the nuances of each instrument. When I look at a score, I am able to see that the second oboe will be overpowered unless I re-balance it, or all the cellos and basses on one line will be too strong for divided violas. Talking to musicians and observing the pressures they are under is important as this helps guide our gestures. For example, if the principal horn has a big solo coming up, don’t give a big unnecessary gesture just before they play, simply look up to give them confidence and then let them get on with it.
But yes, I do make it a point to understand each instrument, knowing that they will always know more than I do (except the bass), but my job is to create an environment for them to shine.

thatonewhitejamaican5 karma

Any conductors you have looked up to your whole life? Have you ever conducted a professional band? If so have you noticed any differences between conducting the two?

MichaelFrancisAMA3 karma

Many. Sir Colin Davis (RIP), Valery Gergiev - these were the two Principal Conductors when I was in the LSO. Of the older vintage, all conductors adore Carlos Kleiber when he was alive, and I also listen to Nicholas Harnoncourt’s and Ivan Fischer’s recordings, what fascinating musicians. The conductor’s I admired were the ones who were humbly committed to the music, yet gave their all in concerts and inspired me to play better than I thought I could.

I haven’t conducted a professional band. Although, I have conducted brass pieces and wind pieces, and crossover concerts - for example with Sting and Seal for The Florida Orchestra Gala concerts. It is easier with a drumbeat!! ;-)

thatonewhitejamaican2 karma

I meant more of a military band. I have a brother who is in one of premier bands and they have a great sound, and some of the band pieces are wonderfully written (ticheli/maslanka).

MichaelFrancisAMA1 karma

I have not conducted a military band, but I have tremendous admiration for the quality of the musicianship. In the UK, I lived near Windsor Castle and to hear the changing of the guard was always a highlight of my day!

FPHandMotivate5 karma

My daughter is in high school and plays French Horn. She is involved in a lot of different music related things such as a weekly private lesson, 2 school bands, the local youth orchestra and state honors band.

What can she do to try to stand out for things like college scholarships and higher orchestras? She is very interested in being a paid member of an orchestra like her private teacher and loves playing her instrument.

MichaelFrancisAMA5 karma

I wish her all the very best.

The best advice is practise well and frequently - being careful of overplaying on a brass instrument. Study the music away from the horn, what is the composer trying to say, what is the historical context. Not enough people really think about the music in a deep way, aside from the challenges of playing it technically. Then commit to your informed interpretation and remember the axiom - an amateur practises to get it right, a professional practises so that cannot get it wrong.

The good news is she loves her instrument, this above all things will stand her in good stead. The rest will be the same path we all take of failure, rebuilding, determination, passion and commitment to your ambition. Good luck!

Thatguyjmc5 karma

I initially read this as "Manly Mozart".

Now, my question is "can you make a group called MANLY Mozart, and play Mozart in the Most Manly way"?

MichaelFrancisAMA4 karma

I love these types of misreads!

Problem of playing Mozart in a ‘manly’ way is that it would only work for a small portion of his musical language. He is the greatest because he understood all humanity. His female characters in opera are amongst the most nuanced and sensitive portrayals. He is so brilliant that he unites us through his music.

Xxmlg420swegxx5 karma

If you had the infinity gauntlet, would you snap your fingers with it? What would be your wish?

MichaelFrancisAMA6 karma

Not sure about the whole killing half the planet bit, but I’d like to use the time stone aspect and go back in time to a few world premieres.

Bach playing the passacaglia in C minor in Leipzig Mozart playing his Piano concerto no. 22 Beethoven’s first performance of 5th and 6th symphony on same concert. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring when the audience ripped up the chairs and started rioting!!

ALthough, that much power in one hand, oh....if only.... Not sure you could trust a conductor though!!

mantis_bog5 karma

I'm sorry if this sounds confrontational or troll-like, but why does the conductor get all the credit when the orchestra is doing all of the work?

MichaelFrancisAMA5 karma

Good question.
Having been on both sides, as a musician in orchestra and as a conductor I do think that the conductor gets a disproportionate amount of credit. I do my best to give credit back to the musicians at every opportunity. Having played at a high level, I am acutely aware of how many times the orchestra saves the conductor in concerts! Without the orchestra, we are just flapping our arms about and looking ridiculous!

That said, the conductor does have a high level of pressure and a lot of responsibility on and off the podium. A good one will make a huge difference, and a bad one equally so.

I endeavour to stay humble. Good thing is my family make sure of this!!

OppositeBid5 karma

How can you get any work done in Florida and San Diego? I would literally have a margarita in my hand 24/7, places are paradise.

MichaelFrancisAMA4 karma

Ha! I agree. Don’t even get me started with golf! Fortunately, the music is so inspiring and seeing the pleasure on the audience’s faces is worth the momentary abstinence’s from booze. Also, no drink tastes as good as the first one after a great concert! I am a lucky man, as off the podium these are great places to live and work!

apolter4 karma

How do you see orchestras as staying relevant to today's society? What will it take to remain relevant?

MichaelFrancisAMA5 karma

I do. We are at a strange place in humanity. We have more information, distraction, communication than ever before, yet we are more isolated and lonely. The arts are an antidote to this. They teach us empathy, compassion, unity, tolerance, civility and personal understanding. They help us through times of turmoil and trial, and music is such a powerful art. It can bypass the intellect and go straight to the soul, it has a kinetic effect upon us (goosebumps and literally taking our breath away). When we listen together as a community, and turn our mobile phones off for a concert, we are allowing the composer to penetrate into our beings. I recently performed Shostakovich’s 5th symphony and spoke to the audience about the effect this piece had on the audience (it was written in 1937 during the height of Stalin’s reign of terror), and they wept because this music understood them. When we listen to it today, we are connecting emotionally, not just intellectually with this age - reminding us lest we forget and continue to make the same mistakes today. When young people play an instrument it is the only human activity that stimulates all seven types of intelligence at the same time. Bodily-Kinaesthetic, Visual-Spatial, Logical-Mathmatical, Verbal-Linguistic, Intra/Interpersonal, Naturalistic and Musical-Harmonic-Rhythmic. An orchestra is a symbol of unity and a beacon of beauty for any community.

We stay relevant by performing this wonderful music with excellence and commitment, but also by communicating its truths with openness and passion. I speak during most concerts, particularly if it is a complicated piece, so that the listener can go deeper into the music. Communication is essential in an age in which we are not competing with opera/ballet/theatre/broadway, but with Netflix, ITunes and a world in which people can completely isolate themselves and only choose entertainment within their comfort zone. Classical music reflects all of life - joy and suffering, celebration and commiseration, when we share this and talk about this together and allow the music to hit us, we are becoming bigger better people.

I am seeing growths in every metric of the orchestras I lead - not because I am brilliant - but because we are committed to lowering the barriers of participation (free concerts etc...) and we are committed to creating a communicative environment that encourages people to understand their own lives better and the lives of others around them. This is the power of art - and in my humble opinion, music is the most powerful of all the arts.

Every human has a playlist of their life. Every culture has a defining music. After smell, it is the most immediate memory trigger. Music helps us with our own narrative in this life and orchestras are a big part of this.

letrumpeter4 karma

Hi Maestro! I’m a musician in the LA area and do a bit of conducting myself. Two questions, how do you go about your score study, and how would you recommend a young professional find more opportunity to conduct?

MichaelFrancisAMA9 karma

Hi there! Good luck with the conducting!

Studying the scores is the thing we spend the most time on. I first of all read through as if reading a book. I don’t hear it all perfectly in my head at first - there are some conductors who can do this, but frankly that’s just an irritating amount of talent ;-). I then read as much as I can about the composer and the piece of music - the historical and personal context of the piece is very important for me to understand. I then break it down into chapters/sections - exposition, development etc... then analyse phrase lengths, harmonies, followed by going through the four instrument sections; Strings, percussion/harp/piano, brass, winds. All the time, I have my baton nearby so I can imagine what the sound/phrasing feels like in my hand. I am constantly taking notes as creative ideas pop in my head. I am not afraid to listen to recordings, but I am careful not to copy what others do - we should learn from the great conductors/orchestras (John Eliot Gardiner or Nicholas Harnoncourt for Beethoven for example...), but we need to have a personal connection with the composer ourselves. By this time I know the piece very well, but in truth, you only know a piece once you have conducted it in the white heat of a concert.

Regarding opportunities. I recommend taking any chance - youth orchestra, band, a few friends to play a string quartet and conduct it. Conducting is about people management, so getting up there and just doing it counts for so much. The hard bit about our job is we need an orchestra to practise on! We can’t just wave our hands about in a practise room and expect it to work on stage - so taking and making opportunities is essential. Take lessons with experienced conductors, as they will guide you, but also maybe they have opportunities - taking a rehearsal whilst they are away. Competitions can be an excellent fasttrack to success. You can find these listed on the internet. Also, there are many intensive summer courses for conductors. Orkney Islands, many in UK and Europe and I suspect a lot of summer festivals in US invite young conductors as well. I also recommend attending as many professional rehearsals as possible - watching what conductors do and don’t say is invaluable. So much of what we do should be shown with our hands alone. Good luck!

31m04 karma

What is your favorite piece of music?

MichaelFrancisAMA9 karma

There are so many to choose from, as you can imagine. Hundreds of years of great masterpieces by geniuses. If I was to pick a handful of pieces, I would start with Beethoven symphonies (3, 6, 7). The power and beauty of his music is so exhilarating. He suffered so much with his deafness, yet constantly sought to unite humanity through the power of music; what a legend! Mozart Piano concertos (no. 9, 22, 27), as this is the best way to understand the man. Whenever I hear the piano concertos, I am imagining that this is Mozart playing the piano - so witty, charming, touching and occasionally irreverent and naughty! Gustav Mahler’s 2nd symphony always moves me in an amazing way as well - that epic climax with the entire choir and huge orchestra gives more goosebumps per second than anything else!

XtianMason4 karma

What are some of your favorite pieces or composers to play?

MichaelFrancisAMA6 karma

When I was in the London Symphony Orchestra as a double bass player, I would love the variety of music. From playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, Richard Strauss’s ridiculously large Alpine Symphony and then hopping over to Abbey Road Studios to record the Star Wars soundtracks. There was such a mixture of music. As a conductor, I get to choose what I want, and this is even more satisfying. I’m in San Diego with the Mainly Mozart festival, and we are celebrating the music of the greatest genius of all, Mozart, through a chronological survey of his life (we’re in year 4 of 6). I’ve picked various Mozart Piano concertos (Anne-Marie McDermott was our soloist last night, and was exquisite), and we finish the season with Beethoven’s pastoral symphony (my favourite of all his symphonies). I also love conducting the big blockbusters like Shostakovich 5th symphony and lot’s of contemporary music by new talented composers like Andrew Norman and Michael Ippolito.

hopeb444 karma

Wow those are some big orchestras! Do you feel like you have to do a lot of ego management?

MichaelFrancisAMA4 karma

Ha! Fun question. Ego management....hmm...how to answer this one! ;-)

In my experience (and I am relatively new in my career), is that musicians in orchestra respond well to authenticity. If they feel you are prepared, have good intellectual understanding of the music, care about the composer, and have the technical skills to show what you want, allied with humble and respectful communicative skills, they will give you their best. The musicians want to play well, they want to do great concerts. When I played in the London Symphony Orchestra if a conductor had the attributes I listed above, we would put up with any differences of musical opinion and give them our best. Any troubles that have occurred have usually been because I was too inexperienced to understand this, or something was lacking in my preparation. Of course, there are times in which musicians are just being grumpy - having played in a top orchestra, I am pretty well trained in spotting genuine musical irritations towards me, and someone just wanting to cause trouble (this happens very very rarely I should say). Conductors have to have very thin skins to be sensitive to what is going on around them, but very thick skins not to take everything personally! It is not for the faint-hearted!!! ;-)

CarelessShop4 karma

What's your job to a non-music guy. Are you like a coach? When dealing with these top-tier musicians, how much direction do they need?

MichaelFrancisAMA6 karma

A conductor is a facilitator. Someone who creates a space for the musicians to play the composers directions to the highest level for the listener to receive the composer’s intentions in the best way.
Sometimes this means strong beating of time, other times it means gentle coaxing and encouraging, but very much like a sports coach it requires an understanding of how to get the best out of others.

With top tier orchestras they can, of course, play the music. But, in my experience, the best performances require both a singular vision of the music from the conductor, but married to the creative interpretations of each individual musician. They can play the notes, but dynamic contrasts, tempo fluctuations, balancing of different instruments is just easier with a conductor. So much of our profession is limited by time - they could do it without conductor to the same level, it would just take a lot longer and with a large group it would still require a leader to make it happen (concertmaster). Orchestras put on high level concerts on not very much rehearsals.

1SoftOpportunity94 karma

What's your favorite cocktail?

MichaelFrancisAMA5 karma

Gin and Tonic (I’m a British cliché!!)

Brynjus4 karma

Hi there! I'm a norwegian baritone, and i'm curious about how you work with singers. Do you spend a lot of time with them, or do you focus mostly on the orchestra? Do you have understanding of their craft?

MichaelFrancisAMA8 karma

I do a lot with singers. Choral music is a real passion of mine.
I find the best way, as with all musicians, is to trust them and encourage them to fully commit to the expression of the text (when there are words), and listen carefully to how they breathe and phrase. I may offer some guidance about what I believe the composer is meaning, and invariably I want them to be even more dramatic, such is my way... but regarding the technical requirements of their craft, I try to trust them to know their personal instrument. I am mindful of not letting them over-sing in rehearsals, but the fact that I have hired them means I believe in them. Working with choirs is different. Most Master Chorales in US are amateur, and here I have to offer more technical suggestions and clearer guidance for expression and clarity of delivery. It is not the same with a professional choir, for example the exemplary MDR Choir in Leipzig - they know what to do perfectly well.

But I do mainly conduct orchestral repertoire.

MichaelFrancisAMA6 karma


Not at all! It is a term that differentiates a conductor from another profession - it actually means teacher - but there are good and bad connotations with this title. Others tend to use it, but no one should take themselves too seriously to believe it off the podium! ;-)

Picturesquesheep3 karma

Your musicians ever play any tricks on you? You sound like a good guy. Props.

MichaelFrancisAMA2 karma

Oh indeed!

When I joined Florida, for my first concert I had to open with the American National Anthem. I wanted to quickly run it through, but upon beginning I soon realised that they had switched it to the British National Anthem. I think the clip is on YouTube.
The Florida orchestra has a great sense of humour - check out the Geico Triangle spin-off that John Shaw and Stuart Malina did during a coffee concert, this one has had c.20m views and counting!

Musicians usually have a heightened sense of fun - I try to encourage a playful environment in rehearsal.

fsbworld3 karma

Do you do practice sessions before every show? Asking this cause I heard from Deadma5 that when he recorded this orchestral album the players just need sheet music and they play it together easily. Is this true?

MichaelFrancisAMA4 karma

Depends on the music. When recording film music, we usually receive the music on the day and just record straight away.
Classical music - using the broadest terminology - is complicated and needs refined rehearsal for the highest level of performance. ALthough, the first read of a piece by a top orchestra is incredibly accurate. I suppose it all depends on how high your standards are - almost anything in life is improved by practise. I should check out Deadma5...

reyder2342 karma

Do you insist on people calling you maestro? And do you have a house in Tuscany?

MichaelFrancisAMA3 karma

Absolutely not!

My brothers would never stop teasing me if I insisted on this!!
Nope, no house in Tuscany - are you offering???

reyder2343 karma

I'm sorry for wasting your time. That was a reference to a seinfeld episode :D. Thanks for the answer though

MichaelFrancisAMA2 karma

Ah! Sorry, I’d be better with the British comedy references. Anything from The Office and I’m all there! ;-)

rocharox2 karma

Hi there, nice AMA.

Have you ever done gaming music?

MichaelFrancisAMA1 karma

The Florida Orchestra has performed an evening of music from Final Fantasy - it was very well received. I have not conducted a concert of gaming music, but I did record one of the Final Fantasy films whilst playing bass in LSO. I understand the music has become increasingly sophisticated. Film music is a stable diet of most US Orchestras Pops seasons, and I thoroughly enjoy conducting it. John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Michael Kamen; all inspiring and stirring stuff!

VenusBoldandBright2 karma

my son wants to quit Berklee college of music after only one year to pursue his music career (he's a bassist) Is it really possible to make a decent living without a college education?

MichaelFrancisAMA1 karma

Firstly, I would highly recommend him completing his course. Life as a musician is highly competitive and if he is talented enough now, he will be even better in a few years, particularly with the varied training he will receive at Berklee. There are musicians who make it without completing college courses, but it is much better to have the education behind you. There may come a time that he wants to supplement his income with teaching, and this is harder to achieve without a college degree. Also, so much of the more sophisticated, nuanced teaching occurs in the final years of a college course. All of which will make him a better musician.

Regarding making a living. If he is a classical bassist, then all is dependent upon the audition. Most auditions are blind - the candidates play from behind a screen - so if he is good enough, he could do well. The standard is exceptionally high nowadays, and the number of applicants for a position is also very high. Generally, the candidates who do well have completed extensive educational studies with gifted instrumental teachers.
There are freelance musicians who do not join orchestras - I was one before joining the LSO - but this is harder to earn a decent wage, and little job security. If he wants to play bass guitar in a band, this is a different kettle of fish. But I would suggest that there are few scenarios that are better than finishing his course at the estimable Berklee College.

MarkAttark2 karma

Do you like to dance? If you were just kicking back at a bar, what would you want to listen to?

MichaelFrancisAMA3 karma

Fatboy Slim always gets my toes a tapping! My formative years were late 80’s, early 90’s so anything from this period hits home. And yes, this includes Vanilla Ice - I’m sorry to report!
I really like Bruno Mars - what a brilliant musician.

TinyFloatingTurtle2 karma

Hi Michael, thanks for this great AMA! Most of my possible questions have already been asked and answered.

One remains: In the early 90s an older friend of mine trained as a conductor. She was quite good (according to her sorta-mentor) but when she took the first steps in a more professional environment she was really disheartened by the reactions many musicians showed to a female conductor. She finally cracked after an older Japanese first chair violinist refused to work with/listen to a woman.

According to her very supportive mentor this was a prevalent problem. Do you know if this is still the case? Or did she have phenomenal bad luck and it was never this bad? I'd love to hear your opinion on this. Thanks!

MichaelFrancisAMA3 karma

I am sorry to hear this. Yes, I am sad to report that there has definitely been a prejudice against female conductors over the years. The good news is that this has changed most dramatically in the past decade, and I am encouraged to see most orchestras are employing female conductors in all of their series’. There are tremendously talented young female conductors coming through who are receiving the opportunity their talent deserves. This does not mean such prejudice is gone everywhere, but certainly the culture of equality is significantly better.

kikiubo1 karma

I have a bachelor of music (piano performance), I never had an opportunity to play as a soloist with an orchestra while I was a student. What do you recommend to get in touch with directors in my country? (Mexico) And how can I practice performing with a director(wihout one)? I hope last question does any sense.

MichaelFrancisAMA1 karma

I know of pianists who have used YouTube to very good effect for drawing attention to their talents - Valentina Lisitsa is an excellent example.
If you have a good, established teacher, they can help open doors through recommendations. The most common route for pianists to achieve recognition is through competitions. Enter a few prestigious ones and see how you do. This will be a good marker to see if you are playing at the requisite level, or whether you need to work on your playing. If you win a competition it will open doors with Music Directors, managers and agents.
Regarding practise, 98% of your practise will be on your own away from the orchestra. Soloists only join the rehearsal process with professional orchestras the day before the concert. They are expected to have the music mastered by this point.
Good luck!

trakewell-1 karma

Do any of the organizations you work with do anything to try to get people in the music director/conducting pipeline who aren't white men?

MichaelFrancisAMA1 karma

Thank you for asking this.

Yes, all orchestras that I know are consciously and actively trying to improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity. We have workshops and strategy meetings about how to reflect the diversity of our communities on the stage.

The gender imbalance in conducting is undergoing a very healthy realignment in the last few years. Most orchestras are actively inviting female conductors to conduct in all of their series’. I am pleased to see many more non-white conductors coming to the fore, but as an industry we have much to do in this area. So much of this goes back to education, and this is where orchestras are really stepping up. It is exciting to see that although there are often cuts to arts programmes in schools, orchestras are positively choosing to fill these gaps. The Florida Orchestra employs two teaching artists who teach the teachers how to teach string students. Our prodigy programme is superb at bringing in students from all ethnicities, and we are constantly having dialogue about to proactively improve our DEI in general. From this, there will hopefully be more conducting pipeline, but some of it will take many years.

ATalkingLamp-2 karma

What's it like transporting three ostriches across the Atlantic? Also overall what's it like taking care of three ostriches and how do you make money off it?

MichaelFrancisAMA1 karma

I prefer Emu’s.

DollarBrand-2 karma

I went to the Florida Orchestra's performance of Star Trek and Star Wars works. I am not a trekker, but at least know the difference between Trekkie/trekker. My question to you is why did you disrespect Star Trek fans when you insulted the premise of the Episode "The Inner Light", but then played the music from it? Very unprofessional and took me out of the enjoyment of the peice .

MichaelFrancisAMA9 karma

Apologies if you felt that. I programmed the concert and love the music. It may be that my British dry humour came across not in the best way. I shall be more mindful in future.