Is Claus Peter Flor "A Crazy Man?"

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Ralph
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Is Claus Peter Flor "A Crazy Man?"

Post by Ralph » Wed Sep 13, 2006 10:50 am

Richly expressive

Timbres, textures and balances excite conductor

06:50 PM CDT on Friday, September 8, 2006

By SCOTT CANTRELL / The Dallas Morning News

A crazy man up there flings his arms violently from side to side. Then he crouches, making shushing gestures with his hands and mouth. Next thing you know, he looks as if he's clubbing someone to death.

Claus Peter Flor, principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony, uses podium antics that are musically functional: They bring out the best in musicians.

Actually, Claus Peter Flor is very much in control – although he certainly counts as a character. Starting his seventh season as principal guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, he's leading the first two weekends of the DSO's 2006-07 classical series, with performances tonight, Sunday and next week.

With his wildly animated face, enormous mane of salt-and-pepper hair and plummy German accent, the 53-year-old conductor would be Central Casting's idea of a crazy professor. But his podium antics are musically functional: They achieve a gut-gripping intensity and a vividness of characterization, color and texture all but unparalleled among living conductors.

To hear his concerts is to wonder just how he gets this visceral excitement, this richness of detail. So I sat through all four of his 2 ½ -hour rehearsals this week at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. Herewith, random impressions:

Tuesday morning

10 a.m. After a couple of announcements, the orchestra tunes to the oboe's A. Mr. Flor, in untucked white polo shirt and dark trousers, hair even wilder than usual, appears out of nowhere on the podium.

"I wish you a great season," he says, smiling. "Good audiences, nice music, some conductors who can help." Then he dives right into Sergei Prokofiev's ballet music for Romeo and Juliet.

Looking at tubist Matthew Good, the conductor cups his left hand to his ear. The tuba gets a little louder.

"Watch!" he bellows to the strings.
GuideLive.com/Extra

Review: Music, DSO a glorious union under Flor's direction

A moment later, "We have to fill the atmosphere here – not too loud, not too soft – like an organ."

Then he's asking timpanist Kalman Cherry to use harder sticks, to get a harder, brighter sound; but he wants softer ones for the bass drum. Rare's the conductor so fastidious with timbres, textures and balances. This drives some DSO musicians crazy, but it makes for riveting performances.

At a quiet cadence, Mr. Flor simply drops his left index finger to signal exactly when an inner note should change.

When the music gets angry, violent, the DSO is too polite for him. "This is bloody music," he says.

Elsewhere, to the violins: "Not louder – energy, energy ." The compact conductor radiates energy. He has a way of coaxing pianissimos, at the threshold of audibility, that make your eyes pop out and your hair stand on end. He gets one of them after that deafening dissonance early in the "Montagues and Capulets" movement.

For the lively violin skitters in "The Child Juliet," Mr. Flor wants a kind of wide-eyed eagerness. "It's a child," he tells the violins. "She has no idea what's going on in her life. Without any makeup – you don't need makeup."

Soon, he's bouncing on the spring-loaded stool like a giddy youngster. Later, going for an earthier effect from scurrying violas, he says, "Like gypsies: wine, garlic and violas!" Sure enough, that's the effect he gets.

In "The Death of Tybalt," Mr. Flor whips up sheer desperation. "It's a fight," he tells the orchestra, "these two guys with knives. It's your life."

Later, to sluggish horns: "Jump onto the same train, please. You're behind."

In "Romeo and Juliet Before Parting," to cellos: "Sing! Sing!" In "Romeo at the Grave of Juliet," he wants a charged hush: "Cry without tears. This is so private."
[Click image for a larger version] Barbara Davidson / DMN
Barbara Davidson / DMN
A distinctive mark of Mr. Flor's performances is a rare attention to dynamic nuances, especially quiet ones. "I don't want to do a 'shhh' in performance," he says, "but I will."

Wednesday morning

More work on Romeo and Juliet. Lots of conductors just use their left hands to mirror their right-hand beat, and to give occasional cues. Mr. Flor's left hand lives a whole expressive life of its own.

It gradually rises and reaches out to coax a broad crescendo. Then it's fluttering to prompt – what? – maybe more energy, but not volume. An index finger points at a second clarinetist to bring out an inner voice. For a decrescendo, the conductor brings an outstretched palm closer and closer to his chest.

"Shhhhh!" he hisses. What Mr. Flor does most is tell musicians to play softer. On autopilot, musicians tend to get louder and louder. Mezzo-piano becomes mezzo-forte, or more. A distinctive mark of Mr. Flor's performances is a rare attention to dynamic nuances, especially quiet ones. "Dolce, dolce!" – Italian for "sweetly" – is another frequent command.

Thursday morning

For the last rehearsal, Mr. Flor runs through the music in concert order. After a lot of stopping and starting in earlier sessions, this one goes in much longer takes. But, immediately, you sense the heightened time pressure. Symphony orchestras are rigidly unionized, and rehearsals go strictly by the clock, down to mandated breaks.

But, starting with Wagner's Meistersinger Overture, the orchestra sounds far surer than it did Wednesday afternoon. It's absorbed most of Mr. Flor's detailed directions, but he's still shushing here and there.

Another priority is getting shortened notes precisely short enough. "Don't forget staccato," he says at one point. "I know you played staccato, but it wasn't short enough."

From Wagner, it's on to the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2, with Alex Kobrin, winner of the 2005 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. This calls for several huddled conferences, when Mr. Flor and his boyish, bespectacled soloist work out details of a tempo or transition. Others involve concertmaster Emanuel Borok, who then passes on details of bowing, articulation and vibrato to the rest of the first violin section.

Finally comes the Prokofiev. Mr. Flor is still wrestling with volume inflation. "I don't want to do a 'shhh' in performance," he says, "but I will."

The rehearsal ends a few minutes early. Now, it's in the hands of fate – and inspiration and professionalism. And in Claus Peter Flor's wildly expressive left hand.

"That you so very much," he says at the end. "Great job."

E-mail scantrell@dallasnews.com
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jbuck919
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Re: Is Claus Peter Flor "A Crazy Man?"

Post by jbuck919 » Wed Sep 13, 2006 12:57 pm


With his wildly animated face, enormous mane of salt-and-pepper hair and plummy German accent,
Zis ist vas moscht dishturbing of all ist.

I am having a little trouble understanding why anyone cares who the director of the Dallas Symphony ist, I mean is. Are they preparing a performance in anticipation of another presidential assassination?

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

hautbois
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Post by hautbois » Wed Sep 13, 2006 1:18 pm

His renditions of Bruckner's 5th symphony and Ravel's Le Tombeau de Couperin in the end of the Malaysian Philharmonic's previous season was stunningly beautiful. Thumbs up for Flor, despite the hair and all. :lol:

Haydnseek
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Post by Haydnseek » Wed Sep 13, 2006 1:31 pm

I enjoy his Mendelssohn box set with the Bamberg Symphony (which is a terrific bargain too):

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davidreece
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Post by davidreece » Wed Sep 13, 2006 2:51 pm

I am having a little trouble understanding why anyone cares who the director of the Dallas Symphony ist, I mean is. Are they preparing a performance in anticipation of another presidential assassination?
Dear jbuck919:

Those of us who live in Dallas care very much indeed, thank you. The fine musicians in the Dallas Symphony care a great deal. The crack about he Kennedy assasination, to which I presume you refer, is one of the most crass remarks I've read on this board. You should be ashamed.

Ralph
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Post by Ralph » Wed Sep 13, 2006 2:53 pm

Haydnseek wrote:I enjoy his Mendelssohn box set with the Bamberg Symphony (which is a terrific bargain too):

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*****

Agreed. Definitely worth having.
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"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

david johnson
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Re: Is Claus Peter Flor "A Crazy Man?"

Post by david johnson » Thu Sep 14, 2006 5:13 am

jbuck919 wrote:

With his wildly animated face, enormous mane of salt-and-pepper hair and plummy German accent,
Zis ist vas moscht dishturbing of all ist.

I am having a little trouble understanding why anyone cares who the director of the Dallas Symphony ist, I mean is. Are they preparing a performance in anticipation of another presidential assassination?
?? dallas is a great playing group.

dj

Barry
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Post by Barry » Thu Sep 14, 2006 1:23 pm

I've read generally good things about the DSO over the years. They may not quite be competitive with the first-tier orchestras, but they are nothing to sneeze at.
"If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this is tea, please bring me some coffee." - Abraham Lincoln

"Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed." - Winston Churchill

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http://www.davidstuff.com/political/wmdquotes.htm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pbp0hur ... re=related

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