Thierry Fischer, Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and also Chief Conductor of the Nagoya Philharmonic, conducts Debussy"s Nocturnes, Frank's D minor Symphony and Ravel this weekend with the Columbus Symphony.
Stewart Goodyear plays Ravel's Piano Concerto in D Major for the Left Hand, a fantastical miniature concerto with scintillating orchestration.
Fischer is notably a fellow woodwind player, having held, among other positions around Europe, the title of Principal Flute under Claudio Abbado with the multiple award winning Chamber Orchestra of Europe.
His conducting mentor is Nicolaus Harnoncourt, whom he seemed to follow throughout his career as a musician, from the Zurick Opera to the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. (where Harnoncourt garnered DG's Record of the Year award for a recording of Beethoven 9 Symphonies, though I don't know if Fischer played)
Harnoncourt's website quotes him saying "Art is not a nice extra – it is the umbilical cord which connects us to the Divine, it guarantees our being human."
I can see Harnoncourt's influence in Fisher's conducting style. From the moment he began rehearsing with us yesterday, he seemed incredibly focused on moving beyond the technique of playing to the essence of making music. Yet he never, ever relinquished his insistence on accuracy of dynamics, articulation, phrasing and balance.
He refused to let us play anything beyond the literal dynamics, especially in Debussy's Nocturnes, where transparent textures ARE the music. It took us awhile to get used to playing so softly, but once we did, the hushed music came to life.
The boom on our stage makes playing at those delicate dynamics risky, not because they won't be heard, but because one spoil sport can ruin it by creating a domino effect of booming sound. It takes great discipline to continually control our volume on such a boomy stage. Let's hope we remember to override our "survival of he loudest" instincts tomorrow night.
Fischer's background as a woodwind player was evident in the constructive comments he made to the winds and brass, often suggesting we use "more support" in the articulation, or to "project with support rather than volume".
His general demeanor reflected his elegant European background. I don't ever remember a conductor who was able to single out individual musicians for criticism without causing personal offense. Yet his deferential tone didn't prevent him from chiding, with just a hint of irony, whole sections of the orchestra for failing to note a suggestion made to another section. In other words, despite politeness, he meant business.
His sincere desire to serve the music served him well in gaining the full respect (at least from my point of view) of the musicians.