And Now a Left-Handed Conductor

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Ralph
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And Now a Left-Handed Conductor

Post by Ralph » Tue Jun 27, 2006 6:32 am

06/25/2006
Left-handed conductors an endangered species
By JUDITH WHITE , For The Saratogian

The snickering began almost as soon as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center unveiled its colorful new logo in late February. Intended for use on SPAC's print and promotional materials, the arch-shaped design, created by Saratoga Mar¬keting Group, features five images representing the per¬formance genres offered at SPAC: ballet, jazz, opera, rock/pop and orchestra.

The image representing the orchestra is of a tuxedo-clad con¬ductor. A left-handed conductor. Charles Dutoit, principal conduc¬tor and artistic director for the Philadelphia Orchestra's Sarato¬ga season, has shown his splen¬did right-handed baton technique for the past 16 years on SPAC's amphitheatre stage.

Rumors circulated when the new logo was displayed to the arts center's community advisory committee. One sharp-eyed member suggested that the image was an error, and had been mistakenly reversed in print by someone unfamiliar with the orchestra world. Not so, said SPAC officials. SPAC's board chairman, William Dake, is said to have made a $5 bet with the questioning committee member, saying he could come up with the names of well-known left-handed conductors.

If the story is true and Dake followed through, he fattened his wallet. Yes, Saratoga, there are a few famous left-handed conduc¬tors, although SPAC's lengthy list of guest conductors during the past 40 seasons contains nary a single one.

The official explanation of the lefty image in the new SPAC logo came from Marcia White, SPAC's president and executive director: "It was a design that worked, and when we researched, we found that the baton could be in either hand." She offered as evidence a 20-page treatise, "The Cam¬bridge Companion to Conduct¬ing" (Cambridge University Press, 2003), which makes a sin¬gle reference to the subject on page 8: "The baton is usually held in the right hand, though some left-handed conductors hold it in the left."

White emphasized that SPAC would never design a logo that wasn't accurate. But errors do occur in design and printing, and it's not uncommon that musical images, in particular, are reversed.
Albany Symphony Orchestra featured a collage of photos a year ago on its 75th anniversary brochure, with two images reversed: instruments on string players' right shoulders. This newspaper reversed a photo image of a violist, maybe 13 years ago, and was unaware of the problem until this writer informed a news editor - who didn't seem to think there was an issue.

Musical notation also is often reversed in publications. design¬ers don't seem to realize that it matters if an eighth note has its flag to the left, instead of to the right, and it's common to see sharps and flats where they couldn't possibly belong.

If an editor or graphic designer doesn't have a good musical background, it shows in the end result - but only to those in the know.
The generic images in SPAC's new logo appear remarkably sim¬ilar to published click-art images, and a quick check of free click-art images on the Web shows numerous images of left-handed conductors. What's up with that? Could be an artists' joke ("Let's see if this will pass."); could be simple musical ignorance on the part of the artists, and/or their editors. Or, maybe it's an attempt to show that there really are a few (very few) well-respected lefty conductors out there. Who? (Listen, Bill Dake.)
There are three widely-known, living left-handed conductors in the world today. Pianist Peter Nero, conductor of the Philly Pops, says he's left-handed to begin with, but going back 30 or 35 years he started conducting left-handed "out of self-defense."

"Most orchestra conductors don't want to deal with (pops) music, and don't pay much atten¬tion to the scores for the arrangements," he maintains. "It was panic time," during perform¬ances, he says. "It started when I was performing with the Pitts¬burgh Symphony, and the con¬ductor hurt his back and asked me to take over my part of the program," which he did from the piano, gesturing with the hand closest to the musicians.
"From then on, I was pitched as a pianist/conductor, and once I got up on a podium I just con¬tinued using my left hand," Nero says.
He doesn't use a baton, mainly because it would put his hand in a difficult position prior to play¬ing solo piano. Today, he says, many conductors use both hands. "When I first played with the Florida Philharmonic , I asked the concertmaster if it bothered anyone. He asked, 'You conduct left-handed?' He hadn't noticed."

By the way. Nero performed as soloist in SPAC's third season, in 1969, playing a Gershwin pro¬gram under the right-handed baton of Arthur Fiedler. At that time in his professional life, Nero wasn't yet a conductor.
San Francisco Opera's music director and principal conductor Donald Runnicles seems to agree with Nero's assessment of whether left-hand baton tech¬nique is important to the musi¬cians who play under his direc¬tion.

"I'm not sure that many musicians have even noticed," Runnicles wrote in response to an e-mail from this writer (although it was Philadelphia Orchestra's associate concert¬master, Michael Ludwig, who informed me about Runnicles hand technique).
Also principal conductor of New York's Orchestra of St. Luke's and principal guest conductor of the Atlanta Sym¬phony Orchestra, Runnicles said he doesn't warn musi¬cians of his left-handed tech¬nique, and seems a bit defen¬sive on the subject: "This is not a whim," he wrote. "This is what nature gave me."
When Runnicles was a con¬servatory student, two profes¬sors cautioned him about the likelihood of problems stem¬ming from his left-handed approach to conducting. "But there was no 'thou shalt not,' " he said.
The baton will be in Runni¬cles' left hand when he leads two performances of the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood this season - with Yo-Yo Ma as soloist in the premiere of Golijov's Cello Concerto on Aug. 4, and with pianist Lars Vogt in Beethoven's " "Emperor" Concerto on Aug. 6.
History reports that there were other left-handed con¬ductors, including the late Benjamin Britten, but the best anecdote about a southpaw maestro comes from violinist Chanal Juillet, director of the Saratoga Chamber Music Fes¬tival.
Lefty conductor Krzystof Penderecki was on the podium when soloist Juillet came on stage to play the North Ameri¬can premiere of Penderecki's own Second Violin Concerto, "Metamorphoses."
"He looked at me and said, 'Get away from me! Leave me some space; I don't want to hit you!' " Juillet recalls. "I was nervous about playing this new piece, and all I heard was that this conductor was going to hit me," Juillet says. "I'm sure he never meant to sound harsh, but one becomes very vulnerable in the spotlight."
After the performance, she told Penderecki that she had been unnerved by his on-stage comment, which he had intended simply as a reminder that he needed space to con¬duct with the baton in his left hand, which would be moving through the air perilously close to the soloist.
Penderecki's response to Juillet's alarm? "Before every one of the next 30 performanc¬es with him, he teased me when I came on stage, saying, 'Get away from me! I'm going to hit you!' "I know it sounds cute now, but it wasn't when it first happened," she says. "A left-handed conductor, with grandiose gestures... it can be a problem."
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Post by erinmr » Tue Jun 27, 2006 7:39 am

Thanks for that, Ralph. As a left handed person, I have always wondered about this. In fact, I almost posted a question not too long ago, but neglected to follow through. Maybe I shall have to be the first female, left-handed conductor... but please don't hold your breath :wink:

~Erin

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Post by Heck148 » Tue Jun 27, 2006 8:15 am

right-handed, left-handed, it makes no difference...

it's what happens with that hand, those eyes, that body English, that communication, that makes the difference...

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Post by Ralph » Tue Jun 27, 2006 9:32 am

erinmr wrote:Thanks for that, Ralph. As a left handed person, I have always wondered about this. In fact, I almost posted a question not too long ago, but neglected to follow through. Maybe I shall have to be the first female, left-handed conductor... but please don't hold your breath :wink:

~Erin
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Good luck - from your fellow left-handed CMGer.
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Post by RebLem » Tue Jun 27, 2006 10:45 am

I didn't know that Benjamin Britten was left handed. TY for that, Ralph; as a lefty myself, I find that right handed people are mostly a bunch of babies. The world is build around them; we have to adjust to it, and do. You give a left handed person a right handed student desk--one of those things with the writing platform that is about as big as a clipboard that's attached to the right side of the desk-- and he will adapt. You give a right handed person a left handed desk, on the other hand, and he will react with indignant horror.

BTW, another left handed conductor--Lukas Foss.
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Post by erinmr » Tue Jun 27, 2006 12:37 pm

Very true. I hated the desks in high school - they were all the "right handed" ones. In college there were a few left handed desks, but they were always in the very back. So, being the wonderful (to be read: nerdy) student that I was, I would arrive early and pull one to the front of the room 8)

Its nice to know that conductors have the right to hold the baton with the correct hand - without ridicule!

~Erin

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Post by Corlyss_D » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:01 pm

I think Dan mentioned he was left handed too. Or maybe that was a reference to his politics . . . 8)
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Post by Ralph » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:45 pm

Corlyss_D wrote:I think Dan mentioned he was left handed too. Or maybe that was a reference to his politics . . . 8)
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The BEST folks are gifted by being left-handed.
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Post by Gary » Tue Jun 27, 2006 1:53 pm

Ralph wrote:
The BEST folks are gifted by being left-handed.
What if you're ambidextrous?
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Post by Ralph » Tue Jun 27, 2006 2:53 pm

Gary wrote:
Ralph wrote:
The BEST folks are gifted by being left-handed.
What if you're ambidextrous?
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Isn't the correct term now "bidextrous?" :)
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Post by Gary » Tue Jun 27, 2006 4:25 pm

Ralph wrote:
Isn't the correct term now "bidextrous?" :)
Sure takes the biguity, er ambiguity, out of it. :)
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Post by MahlerSnob » Tue Jun 27, 2006 10:55 pm

BTW, another left handed conductor--Lukas Foss.
He wasn't the last time I saw him conduct.

Conducting left handed, while accepted, is generally frowned upon by conducting teachers. By the time you're in front of an ensemble you should have enough control over your limbs to hold the baton in either hand. Having to hold it in one hand or another is not a good sign.
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Post by RebLem » Tue Jun 27, 2006 11:16 pm

MahlerSnob wrote:
BTW, another left handed conductor--Lukas Foss.
He wasn't the last time I saw him conduct.

Conducting left handed, while accepted, is generally frowned upon by conducting teachers. By the time you're in front of an ensemble you should have enough control over your limbs to hold the baton in either hand. Having to hold it in one hand or another is not a good sign.
I defer to you. I know I read this someplace, though.
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Post by Ralph » Tue Jun 27, 2006 11:23 pm

Although I'm left-handed, at home I conduct with a baton in my right hand while listening to CDs.
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Post by erinmr » Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:56 am

MahlerSnob wrote:
BTW, another left handed conductor--Lukas Foss.
He wasn't the last time I saw him conduct.

Conducting left handed, while accepted, is generally frowned upon by conducting teachers. By the time you're in front of an ensemble you should have enough control over your limbs to hold the baton in either hand. Having to hold it in one hand or another is not a good sign.
Yes, that cetainly does make sense. So what would happen if a right-handed conductor chose to hold the baton in his left hand? (Scandalous, arent' I? :lol: )

~Erin

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Post by Ralph » Wed Jun 28, 2006 7:04 pm

erinmr wrote:
MahlerSnob wrote:
BTW, another left handed conductor--Lukas Foss.
He wasn't the last time I saw him conduct.

Conducting left handed, while accepted, is generally frowned upon by conducting teachers. By the time you're in front of an ensemble you should have enough control over your limbs to hold the baton in either hand. Having to hold it in one hand or another is not a good sign.
Yes, that cetainly does make sense. So what would happen if a right-handed conductor chose to hold the baton in his left hand? (Scandalous, arent' I? :lol: )

~Erin
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We'd hear some novel interpretations of familiar music. :)
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Post by Lance » Thu Jun 29, 2006 12:09 am

Very interesting - left-handed conductors. I never gave it a thought. I saw Runnicles conduct in Atlanta last year and it never occurred to me what hand held the baton. But he produced some wonderful music from the ASOers!

They have left-handed golf clubs, but not saxophones, trumpets, or other instruments I'm aware of.

Speaking of graphics being reversed ... it happens all the time with photographs. The piano is showing (if you're standing at the keyboard) with the lid opening on the left instead of the right. The treble end now becomes the bass end, and vice versa. I cannot imagine that whoever is doing graphical work would not know that it doesn't look right from the get-go. Then one day while looking at actual paintings, I discovered one that the artist had painted in reverse as well.

If a person is left-handed by nature, one wonders if, for a pianist, his/her left hand is more prominent or seems unnatural in any way. Some pianists, of course, became left-handed out of necessity (losing the right arm/hand) or some malady. Paul Wittgenstein, Leon Fleisher, and I believe Gary Graffman, became left-handed pianists, though Fleisher eventually regained his right hand.
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Post by Fugu » Thu Jun 29, 2006 8:08 am

Corlyss_D wrote:I think Dan mentioned he was left handed too. Or maybe that was a reference to his politics . . . 8)
Yep, I am (left-handed that is).

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Post by erinmr » Thu Jun 29, 2006 9:02 am

Lance wrote:If a person is left-handed by nature, one wonders if, for a pianist, his/her left hand is more prominent or seems unnatural in any way. Some pianists, of course, became left-handed out of necessity (losing the right arm/hand) or some malady. Paul Wittgenstein, Leon Fleisher, and I believe Gary Graffman, became left-handed pianists, though Fleisher eventually regained his right hand.
I began piano lessons at age 12. I did have to learn to control the left hand because it would dominate my right hand. But, I also wonder if part of that is due to the fact that I was so "old" when I began lessons... However, I don't recall my left hand ever feeling unnatural. If anything, my right hand felt unnatural when I first began lessons. I practiced quite a bit, so it didn't take very long for them to even out.

~Erin

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