Navigator of stormy oceans;Reviews;Books

5th June 1998 at 01:00
ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE: A Guide for Conductors and Players. By Christopher Adey. Faber. pound;25.

Tom Deveson is inspired by a conductor's labour of love and wisdom.

Chris Adey has an enviable reputation as a conductor of youth and student orchestras, a position that is well-earned and conscientiously maintained. My daughter and son, who have worked under his baton, speak warmly of his patience, his musical verve, his ability to communicate with young people - above all his seemingly encyclopaedic knowledge of their own and their friends' instruments.

Now he has distilled his experience and understanding into a book, and it is one to be grateful for. This is not really written for the casual concert-goer or CD-buyer, though it carries its learning lightly and is written in crisp and clear prose. It is for the practitioner, not only because it contains hundreds of uncompromising extracts from orchestral scores, but also because it expects its readers to have a direct interest in the difficulties and successes of inexperienced players. Adey quotes Berlioz: "Much time is needed to find the oceans of music; still more, to learn how to navigate in them." Adey's triumphant role is to be the pilot who anticipates rather than weathers the storms.

He begins with 150 pages on the nature of each instrument and its family, with the horns given their "irrefutable, individual, absolute and uncompromising" right to be considered on their own. A further 270 pages cover tech-niques and their relation to collaborative playing. This is not a textbook on orchestration but a summation of Adey's insight into how young instrument-alists need to understand their position within their ensemble.

For example, the horns' advice on such matters as "bells in the air", hand-stopping and double- and triple-tonguing is fitted into a larger context, taking into account matters of breathing and phrasing that are evident from the whole score but not necessarily obvious from individual player's parts.

He deals with the question of how players will, at times, need to fulfil differing functions and how the conductor can let them know what is going on. Clarity of gesture is described as vital. "Whoever invented the myth that a conductor's mistakes don't show?" The tone here is not so much one of how to as one of know what you're doing; it's not instructional but a guide to improving existing knowledge.

A further 180 pages on the "infusion of quality" are supplemented with wise and generous words on repertoire and on the practical minutiae of perform-ance. Perhaps the only advice omitted is that amateur horn players should avoid hired chairs whose metal legs characteristically make dents in their bells. Nor can Adey on the page demonstrate his skill at singing the contra-bassoon's pitch several leger-lines below the bass clef. But that's just a party-trick; this is a labour of love and wisdom.

* Tom Deveson is music advisory teacher for the London Boroughof Southwark

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