Last summer I was traveling throughout Europe and the US concertizing with various orchestras, ballet and opera companies, festivals and choruses. This summer, like most musicians, I'm home connecting to musicians and patrons virtually. Ask me anything about the arts, conducting, and how the arts are being affected by COVID! What is conducting anyway? If the musicians have the music in front of them, what does the conductor do? Is a baton necessary? Are tails necessary??


And one way COVID has transformed the industry is that it's allowed for patrons to have much more direct access to artists. Here are two random small online projects I'm involved with, connecting artists directly with patrons over zoom.

Musical Notes - Ever wonder how musicians decide how to interpret a musical work? Join in for a deeper look into the clues in a musical work that help performers decide how to approach a composition. Much more than just historical background, we take a closer look into what makes a work great, what is at the heart of each composition. Free - register here!

Ballet and Bubbly - ever want to sit down with some of the top artists in ballet? What really makes ballet great? Join in with San Francisco Ballet Principal Sasha chatting with some of the top choreographers and musicians in ballet about the connection between movement and music. Christopher Wheeldon, Dwight Rhoden, Oliver Davis and more!

EDIT: Even though this IAMA was started in the morning - I'm happy to answer questions as I receive them!

Comments: 213 • Responses: 88  • Date: 

Normal_Juggernaut37 karma

Could an orchestra actually function/perform perfectly fine without you?

mingl96 karma

The musicians all have their music in front of them and and a good part of their training has to do with really learning to play with each other, whether in the section, like string players matching the way they play, or within the orchestra, like when percussionists really know how to play with other instruments in the orchestra (unlike strings, percussionists can't really just "sneak in"). Honestly 85% of the time an orchestra might not need a conductor at all. But especially during times when the tempo is flexible a conductor is essential. And there needs to be an agreement on an artistic approach to the work. While some conductor-less orchestras have developed amazing systems to gain consensus about an artistic vision, in most cases the conductor is the one that unifies the approach to a piece. There might be a crescendo, a swelling in the music, but how is that crescendo done? With urgency? With patience and a slow build? The conductor generally decides those aspects.

theoriemeister5 karma

Hmmm, doesn't the Hannover Band play (and record) without a conductor?

mingl22 karma

There are several conductor-less orchestras, one of the most famous being the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra which has released many recordings. New Century Chamber Orchestra in the SF Bay Area is conductor-less, and there are many others. But the vast majority of orchestras use conductors.

Vikkunen25 karma

You ever go full Toscanini on a section/musician?

mingl34 karma

One never goes full Toscanini ;)

1Monkey1Machine23 karma

Do you require that everyone refer to you as Maestro?

mingl25 karma

Seinfeld... heh

I don't require it and do find it awkward, but often people do it as a default, especially if you don't know the person.

unwittingprotagonist18 karma

I have my hands in the air for a living too--only directing heavy equipment, so actually completely unrelated.

Do your arms get tired? My arm actually feel asleep yesterday. What are the pro tips for tired conductor arms?

You ever think about installing dry wall? I bet those guys got nothing on you.

mingl25 karma

That's why we use batons! For conductors the tiring part comes when using your shoulders. The more just using forearms and a baton, the more stamina you have. And then when you're older you don't have big shoulder issues like many people have. And batons are designed to be ultra light and balanced so not too much strain.

John27109512 karma

Are you still able to make a living as an orchestra conductor with COVID impacting performances for live audiences?

mingl25 karma

Many orchestras have completely shut down, some even completely cancelling their 20-21 seasons. For musicians it's a very difficult time as even when restrictions are relaxed, it'll be hard to get audiences into a concert hall when it's an enclosed space with lots of people over a longer period of time. So it's very difficult to know when the industry will be back. Many orchestras are pivoting to online concerts, but obviously it's not the same at all.

Some of my groups are now fully online for the time being, so it's not a complete loss. Even if the activities aren't full concerts, we're working on staying in the public eye and continuing to make artistic contributions during this time.

Yes, possible to make living, but the situation is now completely different on the ground!

Tasteoftacos12 karma

Which instrument do you think is underutilized and you would like to hear more from?

mingl27 karma

Hm, at this moment? Why not the theremin? That's the instrument that was often used for alien spooky sounds in old tv shows and movies. But it can be a gorgeous instrument, especially in the hands of somebody like carolina eyck. SF Ballet just did Little Mermaid with a score from Lera Auerbach. It uses theremin throughout and it's absolutely amazing as a legit instrument.

helpusdrzaius3 karma

are there any recorded works you might recommend that use a theremin throughout?

mingl3 karma

I don't know if there's a released recording of Little Mermaid - but this video describes the composer's thoughts on using the theremin in the ballet:

dazedan_confused11 karma

When the DJ says to "put your hands in the air" and "wave them around like you just don't care", do you join in? Or is that considered taking your work home with you?

mingl24 karma

man, but i wave them around like i do care. :p

sparkylocal310 karma

Why does the media portray conductors like they're assholes with horrible tempers? Tom and Jerry and Ghostbusters for example.

mingl26 karma

It used to be that conductors were actually like that, dictators on the podium. Toscanini, the famous italian conductor, was the Music Director for the NBC Orchestra for a long time. He was famous for his tirades. And there are still some conductors today with terrible tempers.

But today orchestral players have a lot more say about the conductors and even rate them. There are secret evaluations that orchestras have on conductors that we actually never see. Most conductors love collaborating with musicians, so conductors like Simon Rattle are leading the new charge of how conductors interact with orchestras.

sparkylocal32 karma

Nice thanks for answering. I'm a union member and am curious if (I believe they're unionized) the musicians union had any role to play in musician's rights so far as dealing with a jerk conductor and the evaluations you mentioned.

mingl9 karma

Oh of course, ICSOM, OCSM, and ROPA all use evaluations and can request of other orchestras the evaluations of a conductor they're considering hiring for guesting or longer term things. And yes, many musician friends have good stories of the union standing up for players, even in the middle of rehearsal.

One opera conductor was pissed off about one section that the first violins were playing. It had happened to be that the second rehearsal had a few more subs in the first violin section - which is probably why some of the things rehearsed and intonation weren't like they were at the end of the first rehearsal. Anyway, the conductor was really mad and pointed at one of the players to stand up and play the excerpt solo. The union rep immediately jumped up and said, "maestro, unfortunately you can't do that - you can't single out players." Then the conductor said, fine the stand partner can stand up too. Union rep - "sorry, can't do that either." The players' committee and the conductor then went out to have a long discussion about this all... :p

Barbarossa70709 karma

Who are some contemporary conductors you’re impressed by?

mingl14 karma

I can't get enough of Anna Clyne. Conducted her night ferry last year which is a fantastic work. She just released a new cello concerto called Dance which is unbelievable.

RedLMR568 karma

Forgive me if this seems ignorant, but I'd like to ask, with each person playing their instrument and having a sheet in front of them, what is the role of a conductor?

Do you point towards the people you want to take the lead in a particular verse, and then point up or down depending on the volume and tone you want them to play at?

mingl24 karma

Just answered a similar question above! But I'll also add that professional orchestras often put together music very quickly. A normal pace is the week of the concerts (3-5 rehearsals). There are many concerts, especially pops or education concerts, which have only a single rehearsal! So a conductor is needed to ensure that the process is efficient.

Yes, cuing (pointing or gesturing towards certain instruments) is an important part of conducting. As mentioned in the other comment, the musicians have the music in front of them. It might say to play loud, but how are they to play loud? Aggressive and with force? Warm and comforting? Brilliant and bright? The conductor and our gestures help convey the style of the music.

BEHodge4 karma

Not always gestures -

(a video I watched a number of times - always get a kick out of the expressions)

mingl6 karma

Hey man, with masks on during performances and rehearsals I have to work on my eyebrow gestures too... :D

rooowdy4 karma


mingl20 karma

It has to do with perception of weight often. Gesturing with a very tight intense arm will imply aggression. If you hold your arms like you're holding something, like a pumpkin in implies a weight that will imply a certain type of tone that is warmer, fuller, richer. If your hands are palms down and relatively higher, like elevated near your face, it's like they're floating. You might imply a more ethereal, lighter sound in that manner.

islandsimian7 karma

What are your thoughts on symphonies playing along to movies like the Harry Potter series? My kids and I absolutely love these when they are available, but what do you and the other musicians think about this? Is it boring, exciting, or just another job?

mingl16 karma

John Williams is a personal hero of mine. His background and training is rooted in classical music and continues the traditions of many of the greats. Most classical musicians I know absolutely love his music though it's a pain to play (since it can be really difficult). I remember conducting a pops concert of Harry Potter music when the movies had just come out. The orchestra players didn't know the music because it was so new and they were so upset because it was really difficult. And it was a pops concert so they only had one rehearsal to put it together.

All music though can get tiring if you do it too much - I'm lucky to be involved in many areas of music (choral, orchestra, opera, ballet, pops). If I had to do Star Wars every single weekend... well... honestly, I don't think I could get tired of that... :D

Vikkunen6 karma

What's your favorite piece/composer to conduct?

Anything you'd like to conduct but have never gotten the chance?

Anything you see on a program and go "Ugghhhhhhhh"?

mingl12 karma

Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet - so much color and power. The last scene, the death of Juliet, is so amazing.

There are hundreds of pieces I've never conducted yet, gotta do them all ;)

There are certainly pieces that are fun to conduct but I don't want to hear in concert. But more often it's the the performance isn't engaging. Even if it's a piece I wouldn't think to listen to but it's an amazing performance, it'll be great!

Pennwisedom1 karma

Is there a rule that when conducting pieces from a ballet sans dancers you have to conduct it at an absurd speed that would give anyone who ever danced it a heart attack?

mingl2 karma

Actually, SF Ballet was on tour to NYC and we were doing a piece that they were doing, but a completely different choreography. The NYCB dancers heard our tempo and completely freaked out - they immediately came out and were like that's utterly impossible to dance to! Heh, that was fun.

Pennwisedom1 karma

I can not remember when SF ballet came here. Anyways, and on top of that NYCB is already too fast since Balanchine is the F1 of ballet.

mingl1 karma

Did you or do you dance currently? It's a notorious battle between musicians/conductors and dancers about tempi like you mention. A hint that I'll mention is that musicians tend to prefer to be too fast when working with dancers than too slow. If it's too slow it kills the dancers, whereas if it's too fast they can leave out something. Obviously neither are ideal and I love collaborating and trying to really connect to what is going on on stage. But yes, many ballet conductors are told "if you miss a tempo, better to be too fast than too slow." (for what it's worth)

gabrielstune6 karma

Hello!! I'm in college for teaching band/orchestra and hoping to eventually get into professional conducting. I've noticed there's a distinct lack of women in the profession, at least on the instrumental side. It definitely seems to be a unspoken thing in instrumental music that women stick to the younger kids.

What do you think we can do to help make instrumental conducting/teaching less intimidating for women to advance in? Do you have any specific tips for women (or anyone) entering the field? Is there a way to make myself stand out against the other candidates besides networking and practice?

I understand if you don't want to answer this question as I can see how it would be controversial, but thanks for doing this!

mingl5 karma

I hate that it's still common for some of the old guard to disparage female conductors. Conducting is a hard profession as it is anyway, but those that persevere will definitely make it. Definitely reach out to Marin Alsop, Joann Falletta - they really go out of their way to support female conductors. Orchestras will eat conductors alive, so it's key to know how to gain their respect.

This 27 year old conducted NY Phil and the flute player asked, do you want me to play it this way or this other way. The conductor said, the other way. The flutist snapped back, I played it the other way before and you didn't say anything, were you even listening?

Some conductors might have flinched, but he just laughed and said, "no, i didn't hear what you played, but i'm glad you brought it up." he gained the respect of the orchestra and they just got back to work.

There will still be people that disparage you - for being young, or being female, or being short, or not using a baton or whatever. But as long as you know your stuff, have a good working relationship with them, and don't waste their time - all that will go away. Ultimately they want to work with somebody that's not going to waste their time and who is going to get stuff done. After that, they won't care about anything else!

DigiMagic5 karma

Doing concerts and traveling a lot, how do you balance that with family life, having pets, hobbies, ...?

mingl11 karma

Honestly it's REALLY hard. Many very famous conductors who are on the road have horrible personal lives. Luckily I have/had a good balance between concerts near my home and traveling. My wife likes to bring up at dinner parties when I left for Paris for five weeks only a month after our second child was born. But I have many mornings free and early parts of the week so I see the kids to school for drop off and am involved with their school a bit as well.

As for hobbies, I'm a sucker for restaurants/drinks so that works really well for travel. And if it's a particularly long trip and things make sense regarding school, oftentimes people have their families travel with them.

Obviously everything's changed now and I'm home almost 24/7. I'm WAY more stir crazy as it's a drastic lifestyle change for me. But managing, like everybody else - chatting for this IAMA helps ;)

hydraulix16aa5 karma

What's the opera house or concert hall that's on your wishlist to conduct, and what opera house/concert hall impressed you the most?

mingl6 karma

Bolshoi theater in Moscow was one of my favorites. Amazing history and orchestra. The sound from the pit was so powerful and live.

I've never conducted in the concertgebouw - would love to conduct there!

rycbarm12345 karma

During the performance, the conductor is, of course, God. But before that, do you have to listen to the stage managers like the rest of the mortals?

mingl8 karma

Always listen to the stage managers... :) some of my favorite people.

Actually, once my vest came undone and the stage manager came rushing out on stage after me to fix it... the audience got a laugh out of that...

ayushg_674 karma

How did you find your calling?

mingl23 karma

I was on a choir tour in undergrad (as a piano major) and we were giving our 7th concert out of something like 14 concerts. So the same repertoire each time that we had been working on for months. However, this performance was transformative. One of the works was a Ukrainian carol and this seventh performance happened to be at a Ukrainian church with a large Ukrainian population. We realized they all knew the carol we were singing and there was something transformed in the performance. The entire room, audience, performers, conductor were fully in the performance together. I realized at that point that the conductor was the conduit for the energy in the room - it was the start of my love of conducting.

EnterTheCabbage3 karma

Was it Shchedryk?

mingl5 karma


That wasn't the particular piece but we did have a version of Carol of the Bells that we performed. I actually don't remember the song itself, but it was a holiday song about girls singing and rocking their dolls?

theaveragepixel4 karma

Thank you so much for doing this AMA!

I am an undergrad for music ed. My goal is to be a choral director for advanced or professional choirs. I also hope to get involved in the musical theater scene.

Do you have any experience working with choir or theater? How does your conducting style change when there is no orchestra? Do you change your style for ballet or opera?

How much do you deviate from the traditional conducting pattern? I notice a lot of high level conductors rarely just beat time unless there is something of importance.

Do you have any advice for someone starting down this path?

P.s I would love if I could get the chance to chat live(or by email) about your thoughts around music and covid.

mingl5 karma

I actually started in choral and symphonic choral conducting! Yes, conducting for ballet/opera is completely different, especially opera, because your function is hyper critical. You're trying to align the sounds from the stage, which could be 40 feet away from you, with the sounds of the orchestra below the stage. It's really thrilling to do. In general the conductor needs to be of greatest service to the ensemble. So with professional orchestras, they need something very different than amateur or student groups. Opera orchestras need something different than choirs. So your conducting will change greatly.

I deviate a lot from conducting patterns and would suggest practicing musical gestures first. I used to practice conducting patterns a lot and it's hard to break that as a default. Since you want to portray the music, it's good to connect to musical gestures too.

Sure, I'm happy to chat - since my website is up in the proof section (, just email me through there.

SlingyRopert4 karma

How much do you get to override the arranger? Like if something just isn't working for your players, can/do you rewrite some measures here and there to keep everybody happy?

mingl10 karma

Yes, that happens a lot with new works or pop pieces. Sometimes if you get a poor arranger they write something that's no playable for the instrument. So if the arranger or composer isn't there, the conductor and player can change the music. Sometimes we have to make interpretive decisions, that even still happens with composers like Beethoven. The instruments during Beethoven's time didn't have the full range of today's instruments and sometimes he wrote awkward things for them to play to adjust. But if those instruments had the full range, it's obvious he would have just written it how he wanted it. So you can choose to do what is currently written, or what you think Beethoven would have actually wanted.

ThatCommenterGuy4 karma

Since you're a conductor and there is a pandemic going on, how do you continue your career from your home?

I mean, I don't know an app that has zero latency for musicians to communicate and play along, so everyone needs to record their own tracks and send them to an arranger in order to have a clean recording.

So we don't need a conductor in this case, right?

Is there a way that you can continue as a conductor? If there is none, are you playing an instrument or are you doing the arranging?

mingl8 karma

Conducting in the traditional sense in Covid time is impossible. There's just no way for a large group of people/instrumentalists to actually play together. Too many issues with people's internet speeds, the delay of processing, actual distance, etc. All the videos you see online of virtual performances are artificial. They're not following the conductor, they're following a click track or a recording they're listening to (hence all the headphones). But Music Directors do more than just conduct, there's a lot of administrative responsibilities so we're still generally employed.

Harry_Paget_Flashman3 karma

If I (with basically no knowledge of classical music, other than being able to recognise some pieces from adverts) listened to the same piece of music conducted by three different people, would I be able to discern a difference? I assume you would be able to?

Linked to that, I'm curious about whether conductors have their own discernible styles; would you be able to identify a particular conductor on hearing, for the first time, a particular piece conducted by them?

mingl8 karma

Yes! Definitely I think you'd be able to tell the difference. Obviously with more exposure, elements of each work would start to stand out more. But there are very different versions out there of various works.

Listen to Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 - the heavy metal movement:

Example 1 - Manic and out of control (deliberately so)

Example 2 - tragic and depressing

The first example is deliberately so fast and out of control, the playing is angular and aggressive. The second is much slower and really with (deliberately) better tone but still intense.

It depends what affect you're looking to achieve - even the same conductor will change the way they approach a work each time they do it.

glhope3 karma

I keep going back to the recording of Klaus Makela conducting the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra on the Ninth Symphony. He seems to express such affection for the musicians and (at least to my eye) seems to be connecting deeply. Am I over-romanticizing this, or is this anywhere near the experience for an experienced conductor?

The filming of the performance was wonderful as well!

mingl2 karma

The connection with the orchestra is utterly key. If you don't have the trust and respect from the orchestra, they will literally try to ignore you. The best performances, at least to me, are those where the orchestra and instrumentalists truly respect each other and work together for the performances. It really is one of the most critical things!

hatecrimeisokay3 karma

Are you also a musician? Did you go to college? What did you study?

mingl7 karma

Went to grad school and undergrad for music. Grad school was conducting, undergrad was piano pedagogy and music education. Piano was my main instrument and I still play a bit today. But had some tendinitis issues so I try to limit my playing!

I also play violin and in the past used to sit in a community orchestra... and complain about how much conductors talk. ;)

TheApostateMage1 karma

I'm a budding pianist so I had to ask this, can you tell me how you had the issue? I want to try and avoid that in the future!

mingl3 karma

Seriously take rests part of every hour. Remember that the pain you might feel in your wrist is the friction from inflammation. When you're having pain in your wrists and after advil you feel better, that's when it's healing, not that it's actually healed yet. Just like anything, it's building in the habits of resting enough, even if you think you don't need it. You do. And going to type at the computer is not giving your fingers/arms a rest. Those things! Hyper important!

NocturnalWaltz3 karma

As a conductor, how big an influence do you have on the final performance. Would you be able to recognize the conductor based on their "signature style" when hearing a piece of music being performed?

mingl4 karma

There are some stylistic traits that might be identifiable, but the ensemble has SO much to do with the sound. Chicago Symphony was famous for their brass, Vienna has a very famous overall sound. Simon Rattle once did a Beethoven cycle with Berlin and London at the same time - the two recordings are very different!

davethecomposer3 karma

Reading up on John Cage, he apparently had some difficulties with some orchestras. He describes Bernstein as not getting what he and Feldman and others were doing and just allowing each member of the orchestra to improvise whatever they wanted was basically the same thing. And how members of the orchestra destroyed some of the equipment he had purchased for them to use (contact mics, etc). This was all in the late '50s, if I recall, but even in the '70s and '80s he had to stipulate in writing a minimum amount of practice time or he would withdraw the piece because apparently orchestras would assume that they could just wing it when it came to his music and not practice it ahead of time.

I assume things are better now -- especially with Cage -- but do you run into pieces that some members of orchestras rebel against even if in minor ways?

Do you conduct much music in that more avant-garde/experimental vein? How have audience reactions to this kind of music evolved over the years? Is it the essentially the same? Does location matter (thinking the LA Phil and SF Phil vs more conservative places) the most?

mingl4 karma

Oh god, it's actually NOT often better. There are conductors and orchestras that despise playing new music, even those that are known for doing new works. Sometimes composers are really given very little rehearsal time, or players complain about how the part is written.

I absolutely LOVE new music - it's not only discovering what the composer is staying, but also learning the musical voice of a composer. This is different than in Beethoven's time as Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn were all writing within a certain style. Today's composers are finding their musical voices in addition to figuring out what to say about their works.

But I'm not known as a new works conductor so I rarely get asked to do new works. I think that audiences sometimes are scared of new works, but if an organization or a conductor really embraces it and shows why these works are important, than that goes a long way to making it exciting for audiences.

krim21823 karma

Is there a particular section of an orchestra that you are not a "fan" of? I went to college as a piano major (did not work out, too competitive and I wasn't dedicated enough) and I had a personal beef with the french horns.

mingl8 karma

Are you trying to get me killed. I love ALL the instrument groups in the orchestra. Equally. Because, you know, if I didn't, I'd be in trouble. Especially the bassoons. :p

vikingjay103 karma

As a trombonist I can confirm the answer is the trombone section.

We think every note is a solo and Interpret every dynamic marking as triple-mother-forte.

mingl5 karma

Never look at the trombones... it only encourages them... (Strauss)

kaptaincorn3 karma

I've been to an outdoor performance of the 1812 Overture with real cannons, what weird instrument have you pointed your baton for conduction and direction?

And how could you communicate to someone firing a cannon that you'd want more emotion from their performance? :)

mingl3 karma

Canons are always the top for weird instruments. But the vibraslap (flexatone) is a favorite of mine for fun instruments. You can hear it in this recording.

gasparodasalo2 karma

University viola student here and I found we actually happen to have mutual friends on Facebook LOL. Music world is small. Anyways I wanted to ask some things about what you listen for during auditions. I’ve heard many things from my teachers and other musicians who have been on the audition panel about what THEY listen for but haven’t heard all that much about what the conductors themselves are looking for.

-What can make an audition positively stand out from the rest?

-Are there any automatic giveaways that someone auditioning has what you are looking for or vice versa? And how long do you have to listen for you to know?

Edit: One more question- Best viola joke you know?

mingl2 karma

You're a violist so you already know all the best jokes! But of course, my favorite is that this violist ran up to the conductor whining and said, "maestro - my stand partner detuned one of my strings!!" the conductor said, "man that's childish, oh well, sorry to hear about that." the violist whined again and said, "you don't understand the worst part - he didn't tell me which one!!!"

The Met Opera is doing masterclasses and often on audition prep:

July 15 11am EST. This is the cello/bass masterclass as the viola has already passed. But yes, feel free to watch.

Auditions are brutal. Seriously. Single mistakes are perfectly fine, unless there's a hint of some systemic issue. Most people want to hear personality and a deep understanding of the music in excerpts.

KevinDelSol2 karma

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

mingl3 karma

There are moments in the concert where everything goes right. The intonation, alignment, the way everybody plays together, a particularly beautiful solo from a player. Those are my favorite moments.

camilachvz2 karma

I play the violin. I dream of being an orchestra conductor since I was little. My idol is Gustavo Dudamel since we are from the same country. Any advice on how to be a conductor?

mingl3 karma

Learn your instrument as best you can and just be as curious as you can be. Try to ask conductors for their advice and try to emulate the ones that the orchestras respect. Learn as much about music history, theory, orchestration, etc. as you can!

clayweintraub2 karma

Have you ever conducted a combination of two music pieces?

mingl6 karma

Yes! Some pieces were meant to be played on top of each other. I forget the piece, but one piece is actually supposed to be the sounds of a cell phone and conversation interrupting another.

But some pieces are meant to sound like two pieces played at the same time - Charles Ives was famous for that. He lived in the center of a small town that had two marching bands. The bands, to avoid bothering each other, would play on opposite sides of the town. However, where Ives lived he could hear both bands. So he often wrote music to sound like two pieces played at the same time that had nothing to do with each other.

PianoMon2 karma

Hello! Thank you for doing this! I am a grad student in piano performance, but conducting was a part of my life early on before I even knew much about musical structure, theory and analysis, etc...

My question is, what is the role of analysis (whether that means harmony and voice leading, hypermeter, timbre, completely different considerations) in your score study ahead of time for rehearsals and performances?

mingl1 karma

95% of it is the score study. I mean, the arm waving is important, the rehearsal technique is utterly critical (probably most important), but the score study informs both and is the absolutely most important thing you can do.

Peachesx2 karma

How does one become an conductor? I’ve always wondered

mingl2 karma

Most people learn an instrument as best they can first. There typically aren't undergrad conducting programs - just grad programs. They have to learn music theory, history, and how each instrument works (but they don't have to know how to play them). If you take the responsibility to lead a group, you need to know everything about the piece you're conducting!

iamrubberyouareglue82 karma

Do you wave your hands when you talk on the phone?

mingl2 karma

AND pace. I find it pretty annoying that I can't sit still when talking on the phone... it's really bothersome...

DarkseidHS2 karma

My perspective is the work of the conductor is making sure the piece is interpreted correctly by the orchestra. Making sure the orchestra is playing it flawlessly as a unit and also that the notes and timing are correct.

What we see on stage is mostly theater.

How far off am I?

mingl6 karma

Very close! The only difference it that there are many ways to interpret a piece, so the conductor decides the artistic vision of that particular performance. Orchestras often keep different sets for the same piece since conductors will have different approaches to the work.

The conductor is essential during the performances too though. It can be very hard for orchestra members to hear across the stage and there's still a lot of flexibility that happens in performances. There IS a lot of theater and show during the performance, but lots of practical need too.

TheD1v1s1on52 karma

Do you think you can be good with dance pad with your legs?

mingl2 karma

I'm actually notoriously terrible with dancing! Conductors aren't supposed to move their feet so perhaps I lost some ability there.

ninjitsioux2 karma

How does one get to carnegie hall?

mingl3 karma

To perform? You just rent it out - it's actually a common rental and I can say I "performed" there when I was like 13 or so and also gave a piano performance in one of the smaller rooms at age 18.

oldmanshakey2 karma

Other than orchestras and music groups simply trying to convert ticket sales to "live stream" events, or "zoom" concerts, are you hearing or seeing any examples of new trends or innovations in "live" performances amid/post COVID?

Classical/new music concert-going will be forever changed. Out here in Boston, my partner is still deeply mourning the personal and professional loss of what would have been a pretty baller 20/21 season. I'm so saddened for all my colleagues and friends in the performing arts. I suspect many won't be able to recover.

mingl3 karma

It's so tough because the power of music is the direct communication, not only with the audience but with the other players. I have no idea what trends will continue but everybody agrees that zoom and other virtual programming seem much more temporary fixes than industry changes. Unless there's a way to have truly simultaneous playing virtually it'll be impossible to have actual performances together.

It's really just a tough time for everybody - something like 40% of restaurants have permanently closed because of COVID. My best it to try to keep people involved and excited about music. Hopefully we'll get back to performing sooner than later. It's hard to hear about orchestras in New Zealand and Europe already returning when in the US it looks like we won't be there for at least another year (for performances).

verhaegen2 karma

Favorite choral pieces written in the 21st century?

mingl5 karma

Oh I'm such a sucker for a cappella like Eric Whitacre's Sleep.

clayweintraub2 karma

Who were the conductor you were influenced by?

mingl3 karma

Kleiber's musicianship and ease of conducting. Bernstein's infectious buoyant energy. Simon Rattle's curiosity and joy.

NotMyDogPaul1 karma

I know this may sound like a stupid question but are there universally accepted baton movements? Like up means one thing, down means another, left and right mean others. Or is it just to have a rhythm to follow?

mingl1 karma

Yes! There are standard beat patterns. Obviously you can greatly alter beat patterns, or even choose not to use them at certain times.

NotMyDogPaul1 karma

So like there's the base and you can put your own flavor on it?

mingl1 karma

Great way to put it!

brokeneckblues1 karma

What do you think about sexual predators in the industry such as James Levine and Placido Domingo still getting work in major houses (mainly in Europe)? Especially when there are so many other talented people out there itching for work. What actions would you take if a member of your orchestra or staff reported abuses by a top performer?

mingl2 karma

Out. No question. Most of us are seriously pissed that people like that are still getting work. Most of us are still pissed that the entire industry knew about them for decades without doing anything.

Harry_Paget_Flashman1 karma

I listened to an interesting podcast recently in which somebody from an orchestra described some stereotypes about the musicians who play different instruments, with the violin players as prima donnas, the viola player as wannabe violin players and so on.

How would you briefly describe the players of the major instrument groups?

mingl3 karma

Heh... a lot of those tend to be true... this is a cop out but I'm going to play nice and not stereotype orchestra sections too much. Except for the contrabassoon specialists... they're a special breed... j/k :p

whoplaysthebassoon1 karma

Hey now! Have you ever gotten to play a contrabasoon? I’m just saying it rattles something deep inside. It could change your life.

mingl1 karma

One of my closest friends is married to a contra player - heh :) I just like giving him a hard time. Beauty and Beast excerpt is so great too. And had a crush on a contra player when i was younger, man, she was good with a knife :p

duckface081 karma

How does one even become a conductor? What is the training like? Like, do you just get shoved up in front of an orchestra and start? And speaking of which, what was your first time conducting in front of an audience like?

mingl1 karma

Most conductors learn an instrument first - for me it was violin and piano (and some singing) through college. My undergrad was in piano. If you're going to take the responsibility for leading a group, you have to know as much as you can about the piece. So conductors really study music history, performance practice, theory, etc. And then there are training programs for conductors, workshops, graduate degree programs, etc. My first time with an orchestra was preparing for my grad applications with a student orchestra. It was such a crazy experience. Really fun and I was hooked!

smartaleky1 karma

This may be too general, But what inspires you to interpret the entire piece and the way you do. Whether to go faster or slower in some places whether to do a piece really really fast or slow down in places. Or whether to do it exactly to the letter of the original score. Or whether to put your own spin on it. What is the thing that gets you to look at a piece as a whole and say I'm going to modify it so it swells here and quiets down here. It speeds up here and slows down more here or I think the oboes should really stand out on this bit because I like it/am hot for the oboe player. And then how do you translate that to the orchestra I mean how many rehearsals does it take. And have you ever watched the Amazon series "Mozart in the jungle?" :)

mingl1 karma

Heh - I have a lot of friends that played in the orchestra they used for Mozart in the Jungle (Chelsea Symphony in NYC).

Interpretation is dependent on so many things, who the composer is, the era it was composed in, the time in the composer's life, the harmony, the style, etc. It's so difficult. But for instance:

Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 - allegro molto

This is like the heavy metal of classical music. It's so raw, aggressive, painful. It was an expression of pure pain for Shostakovich. Shostakovich was a russian composer writing during the time of communism - the censors had a very strong grip on artistic works and Shostakovich often had a difficult time with the censors.

After a quartet read through this piece for the first time for Shosty, he apparently just sat there crying. It is a piece of incredible personal relevance to Shostakovich.

So how are you going to play this piece? This particular performance is on the faster side, almost manic and out of control. There are performances that are slower, despondent, in pain, but not as out of control.

That's the fun about interpretations - you can try to bring out in the piece what you feel makes it powerful.

Jck_Sdsk1 karma

Are violas as bad as everybody in the orchestra likes to tease them about?

mingl1 karma

It's a joke that violinists that are bad will end up playing the viola. There's a joke that says, what's the definition of a string quartet: a good violinist, a bad violinist, a really bad violinist (violist), and a person who hates the violin (cellist).

But violas have the best of both worlds. They can play any violin rep AND any cello rep (same string tuning) and of course there's great viola repertoire too.

Jck_Sdsk1 karma

I feel as though violas gets no glory for being a good instrument. And thats coming from a violinist- The viola is a beautiful instrument but I usually tend to dislike the people playing them. I find that violists tend to be very snarky but I guess thats just my experience.

mingl1 karma

My favorite viola moment was watching SF Symphony in a performance of a Tchaik symphony. Often Tchaik had the violas double the horns (or vice versa) to get a great color for a rhythmic section. The conductor, David Robertson, had the violas play as loud as they could. Usually it's a horn driven sound with the violas coloring it. This time it was a viola section solo with the horns supporting them. It was glorious!

bananplant411 karma

This just popped up in my feed so I hope it’s not too late to ask a question. With the autonomy that conductors have (urgency of a crescendo example); how close do you feel modern day renditions of the classics are to say a Mozart or Beethoven’s vision of their original piece?

mingl3 karma

Period performances, which is the practice of trying to recreate as much as possible the original performance practices of Mozart's and Beethoven's day is a whole field of classical music. Instruments have greatly changed since that time and the range and strength of instruments have increased in the modern day. So right away modern orchestras have a different sound. There are some orchestras, like the Vienna Philharmonic, who are considered the authority for how Mozart and Beethoven should be performed. But there really are different ways of approaching their works. Beethoven's metronome markings are notoriously weird, people even speculate it was broken they're so off from what seems normal. So a lot of debate!

bananplant412 karma

Thank you so much for your response and this AMA. I totally get your point about the evolution of instruments, if I could ask you one more question regarding that; how would you reconcile today’s instruments and said advancements to the unicorn of orchestra instruments, the “Strad”. Cellist hobbyist here and to the guy that questioned your intent on doing this AMA, screw him.

mingl2 karma

Eh, it's okay - the guy's a troll - his account is filled with him saying the same thing for various IAMAs - so not even worth getting worked up about it.

Yes, with stringed instruments the old italians, bunch of french, and some germans are fantastic! But with some instruments, like basses, wind instruments, various brass instruments, a lot of changes have taken place over time. Even in Brahms' horn trio was written for natural horn, not the modern horn. And man, the tuba is still going through changes.

Many modern high end string instruments are really fantastic instruments. And the difference between them and strads etc really isn't that much. Obviously strads have a marketing value and historic value. But as instruments, there are plenty that are very close.

ShiBoGod1 karma

Do conductors practice?

mingl2 karma

It's more mental practice and knowing the score as much as possible. In reality the hand waving is not as difficult as knowing the music. And the orchestra responds differently than young conductors expect, so it's useless to practice the hand waving without performers in front of you.

ShiBoGod1 karma

Is it easier to conduct a piece you like more?

mingl1 karma

Yeah, definitely. Like end of Romeo and Juliet - such glorious music - so much fun to conduct even though technically it's very easy to conduct.

ShiBoGod1 karma

Sorry to waste your time, but here’s another question:

What makes a piece easier or harder to conduct?

Also the end of Romeo and Juliet is really nice.

mingl3 karma

I think for me how "hard" a piece is to conduct has to do with how much I have to work for practical reasons instead of musical reasons. Like, the beat patterns are really difficult, or that the beat patterns are easy but it's hard to make sure the instruments are really playing together.

Did you know that R and J was supposed to have a happy ending? Prokofiev was forced to change it after Stalin required that he follow Shakespeare's original story. But Prokofiev actually used a bit of the same music, so the tragic music at the end was actually supposed to be happy music. Which is bizarre to me!

sathvik661 karma

I recently watched Mozart in the Jungle, how different is the conducting culture than it was portrayed on the show?

mingl2 karma

I actually haven't watched a lot of it - though a bunch of my friends were in the orchestra they hired for it (Chelsea Symphony). But while a lot of it is made up for TV, the book it was inspired by (Mozart in the Jungle) is all based on reality. The book caused a scandal of sorts because the author just flat out named people and called them out in the book.

HilariousSparta1 karma

Have you ever composed your own piece(s)? If so, what advice would you give to someone looking ro start writing music? Asking for myself.

mingl1 karma

I don't compose, but I do like improvising at the piano. For composing I love Ira Glass' comments about the creative process:

(Ira Glass is cousins with Phillip Glass!)

Fun_Jump1 karma

Have you ever conducted a piece so beautifully that it moved you to tears?

mingl1 karma

End of Romeo and Juliet - Juliet wakes up after Romeo has taken poison and killed himself. She realizes she's alone, trapped in the crypt and Romeo is dead. She tries to take poison, but it's out. She finds a dagger and stabs herself with it. The music for the final scene is so gorgeous and amazing....

thatsgreat281 karma

Hi! Thank you for a fascinating, insightful, and humorous AMA! I can't wait to go watch the various links you've shared.

One of my most strongest memories of high school concert band was a performance that might have been like what you described in another comment, that everything went right. Our director had a strong emotional connection to the piece as well, and he cried toward the end while conducting. Has that happened to you? If you don't mind sharing, what piece(s)?

Also, you shared earlier about other genres of music you listen to, but I'm curious how much you enjoy attending other types of performing arts! Like the theater? If you attend a musical, do you find yourself distracted by the conductor?

mingl2 karma

The end of Romeo and Juliet is one of the most moving things I've ever conducted, especially the production we do in San Francisco. It moves me every single time.

I grew up on musicals so it's an important part of my upbringing - I'm actually listening to Dear Evan Hansen as I type this! But yes, I do get distracted by conductors often... unfortunate but part of the business I think.

paseroto1 karma

Who was the best conductor in history and why?

mingl1 karma

Subjective - but I love Simon Rattle - such excitement and joy and curiousity. It's telling when the orchestra musicians are so excited to work with certain conductors.

Kapitalist_Pigdog1 karma

What works or kind of works tend to be the most difficult for a conductor to interpret? Does an orchestra see the conductor more like a ‘team leader’ or another musician? What sets conductors apart from each other to the untrained ear?

mingl1 karma

Orchestras (hahahahaha) hopefully view the conductor as a team leader. The best conductors create the best circumstances for the orchestra to play at their best. Help them play together, help them phrase together, allow them space for their solos as need be. Those are the best conductors - oftentimes that's set up in rehearsal and not just on the concert day.

scream1 karma

I have a very pressing question that I have been wanting to ask a conductor for a long time.

Have you heard of/seen Jonathan Okseniuk?

mingl2 karma

I've heard of him - I think he conducted Houston at a really young age (and is still young). Don't know more about that stuff.

nu_popli1 karma

Hi. Hope you are doing alright. I have always wondered, how do the players continuously read the sheets whilst looking at the conductor? Doesn't both the tasks require continuous attention?

mingl1 karma

They mainly look at the music, listen to the musicians around them, and then look at the conductor peripherally. There's a few times they might look directly at us, but usually not!

ginnyborzoi1 karma

Why are theatres closed when airplanes are running again?

mingl2 karma

Considered essential (planes). Though in 1918 with the Spanish Flu, governments kept theaters open as they were deemed essential to people's mental health.

carrero331 karma

What do you think of Dudamel?

mingl1 karma

Love him. Such enthusiasm and he makes everybody feel good. Not my favorite for interpretation, but he really makes music making fun.

Zomg_A_Chicken1 karma

Who is Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved"?

mingl1 karma

me, clearly

dashieundomiel1 karma

Favorite funny memory from a performance/rehearsal?

mingl7 karma

I was conducting Giselle (ballet) for the first time and there was a hunting scene with two dogs in it. In the middle of the scene they just start having sex - the audience went nuts. They were laughing so much that the orchestra couldn't even hear themselves play (and couldn't see what was going on). Best part was the ballet artistic director was so mad that at intermission he went backstage and fired one of the dogs...

toga-party_1 karma

What's the coolest concert you've conducted? Venue you've been to? People you've met?

mingl2 karma

I once did a concert in a baseball stadium for 10,000 people - that was really fun. My favorite venues I've performed in include Bolshoi theater in Moscow, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center NYC, and Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. I love that some of the best musicians are the nicest musicians. Mariss Jansens was such a nice person.

XomokyH1 karma

Hi maestro, I’m a composer and have lots of questions.

In your career, what have been the most challenging pieces to tackle and why? Which pieces have required the most workshopping with the orchestra?

What are the biggest sins a musician can commit and have you ever had to fire somebody?

Have you ever heard this piece? I’ve always wanted to get a conductor’s take.

And finally, what’s the most underrated ballet and why?

mingl2 karma

I think the word challenging can be taken in two different ways - one could be technically/practically challenging, the other could be musically challenging. Practically, works with a lot of changing meter but also shifting emphases often are difficult. John Adams is famous for music that doesn't sound like the meter that it's written in. Some of those works are pretty challenging. Musically it's all over the place - even Mozart can be difficult to get musically satisfying!

Musicians need to prepare their parts and be ready to work on orchestra. While I've never fired people during a concert, I've definitely stopped hiring people or removed them from the orchestra for not preparing (multiple times).

I love Zappa!!!

Most underrated ballet - it's hard because there are ones that are audience favorites, but all the new works out there can be absolutely amazing. There's a work called Hummingbird by Liam Scarlett that I absolutely love!!

MagicSPA1 karma

Are there any examples of footage available where an orchestra with a good conductor gets compared to an orchestra that has a lousy conductor, or no conductor at all?

mingl2 karma

Here's an amazing performance of a conductorless orchestra playing Prokofiev 5 - which is an incredibly difficult piece.

Here's a hilarious conductor who mimes and dances on the podium. He's actually a fantastic conductor - this is just a great clip.

trousersnekk1 karma

Holy crap! Prokofiev's 5th is one of my favorite symphonies and to see it being played by a conductor less orchestra is amazing as it's quite a big and frantic piece. With such a big ensemble, wouldn't it be hard to agree on dynamic or tempo choices? Playing without a conductor is pretty common in chamber music but this is just on another level of practice and dedication.

mingl1 karma

Yes - definitely hard to come to artistic consensus. There are some conductor-less orchestras that actually give talks to businesses to talk about how to get consensus without an overt leader!

Username-Creative1 karma

Are the hand singles you use unique for every orchestra? Or is there some secret laugange used by all orchestra conductors so that you could just jump into any orchestra and they would understand what you want.

mingl2 karma

Yes - there's certain "grammar" for conducting that everybody knows. There are beat patterns that are very standard. You can alter them greatly but orchestras still expect certain things from the conductor.

ohboiarock1 karma

Have you seen Metallica’s S&M show? How do you feel about the combination of a full orchestra with Rock and Metal?

mingl1 karma

San Francisco Symphony just did a concert with Metallica! :D I wasn't doing that one, but many different types of groups play with orchestras. I love rock and metal and many orchestra members do to - if audiences like it, it's all fun.

helpusdrzaius1 karma

what have you come to appreciate as a conductor that a member of the audience may not?

mingl3 karma

The practical nature of a lot of things. Like it's easier for me to tell when the orchestra hates the conductor but they're being professional. Or when something goes really wrong but they're trying to hide it.

kingofthecrows1 karma

What do you think of the future of musical notation? I played music for several years before I learned to read and it has always struck me as inefficient and unnecessary in contemporary culture due to recording and video technology. Do you see it going the way of figured bass as an anachronistic method only for niche uses of do you think it will continue as a standard method of music communication?

mingl1 karma

It completely depends on the style! There are many people that don't need traditional notation in their particular field. Movie composers only use three staves and let their orchestrators fill in everything else.

But for classical musicians, especially because the music of the past uses this notation, will probably stay!

trufflewaffle3201 karma

Do you enjoy any electronic music? And if so do you have any favorites?

Also as a conductor what are things you would like to hear more in electronic compositions?

mingl1 karma

YES! Well, first, I listen to literally everything and anything, from classical to metal to country to rock to jazz, etc. But in terms of electronic music with orchestra - Max Richter, Mason Bates, Daniel Wohl, etc - all amazing composers with electronica.

Check out Dream Sequence by Wohl

Max Richter's Four Seasons (after Vivaldi)

Mason's Mothership

Oh, I just read your second question and realized you might be in the business. So you probably know those people. But personally I absolutely love it when the electronic elements are seamlessly incorporated into the orchestra.

Individual-Mammoth-40 karma

Is it because you lacked the talent to play an instrument?

mingl2 karma

My instruments were piano and violin - piano is such a solitary instrument (and I definitely didn’t play violin well). Even in chamber music piano is really more percussive and is it’s own element. I mean - it’s great because you can play complex works by yourself - but not as great for collaborations. Even though with conducting you aren’t making sound, the collaborative feeling is very different - the main reason I got into conducting!