Maestro Boris Brott is one of the most internationally recognized Canadian conductors, holding major posts as music director in Canada and the United States. He enjoys an international career as guest conductor, educator, motivational speaker and cultural ambassador. Currently, Mr. Brott is Conductor and Music Director of the New West Symphony, California, The McGill Chamber Orchestra, Montreal and Principal Youth and Family Conductor of the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada. Maestro Brott is Artistic Director of Brott Music Festivals.
Maestro Brott was gracious enough to sit down with "Classics Alive" for this interview.
Have you conducted both youth orchestras as well as professional orchestras? How are they different and what challenges do you find with each?
Yes. I have conducted both professional and youth orchestras. There is no easy answer to your question, because, believe it or not, standards of performance can be better in a great youth orchestra than in a mediocre professional one!
I look at my task as a conductor as that of team leader. My challenge in any situation is the bring a score to life in rehearsal and performance; to inspire the best from the people with whom I am working. Positive reinforcement is more important than criticism in this task. In a professional orchestra, one takes for granted a certain accomplishment and knowledge more so than in a youth orchestra. In a professional orchestra, more is left up to the players. My challenge in each is to create an atmosphere where the players can be inspired to play with more commitment and a higher standard than they ever thought possible.
What is your role as artistic director? Do you make programming decisions, do you choose the musicians who play in the orchestra, do you keep track of the budget, do you sell the tickets?
My role as Artistic Director can be different with different orchestras. In some I make all the programming decisions, in others this is done by a committee. I have a pivotal role in the hiring of musicians, but again, this is often dictated by a collective agreement (contract with the musician's union) which gives a committee from the orchestra the rights to choose or greatly influence the choice.
I do not sell the tickets or necessarily keep track of the budget but the decisions of repertoire and guest artists and the standard of the orchestra, which is my responsibility, can impact greatly on ticket sales.
When you come back to a piece that you have conducted after several years, do you find that your interpretation has changed? Can you give an example?
The more time you spend with a score and the more familiar you get with it as well as the maturity of time can greatly affect how you interpret the same score. Also, the influences you come under in hearing other performances can greatly influence you.
I have conducted Beethoven's 9th symphony many times. My interpretation of the last movement has changed greatly over the years. The recitative in the last movement, for example, I used to take very freely and also very slowly as I interpreted the word "recitative" to be paramount in my consideration. After hearing a performance by John Elliott Gardiner and the Academy of Ancient Music where the tempo was markedly fast (as indicated in Beethoven's score - though some may believe his markings a misinterpretation of the metronome......). I found the faster tempo much more exciting and less ponderous so I now adopt a different approach more like the Gardiner interpretation, but at the same time taking into account a "recitative" feel .
What is the job outlook for graduating students who want to play in a professional orchestra?
There are excellent jobs out there for superior musicians. The standard however continues to rise so you have to be really an excellent performer and have good experience to get and keep a job with a great orchestra. If you are looking for wealth - professional Classical music is not the place to find it.
What is the most important skill for a musician to have who is just starting to play in an orchestra?
The ability to play and listen at the same time is a most important skill and is a great requirement in an orchestra or chamber ensemble. Playing in an orchestra requires a combination of different skills - playing your own part to a high degree of excellence, listening to the other parts around you and "fitting in" -- all the while being always aware of the conductor, the section leader, and watching their gestures.
Remember too that the art of ensemble playing is that of anticipation - following a conductor or other musicians is in a way reading their minds!! Once you hear it - its too late to follow it as you will always be behind!
Playing at the back of an orchestra, can be more difficult than playing at the front of a section. It's similar to steering a "hook and ladder" fire engine!
What advice do you have for young musicians who are interested in pursuing a career in music?
Determine that this is absolutely the profession that you DESIRE with all you heart. Recognize that it will be highly challenging and financially frustrating at times, but that doing something you really love sometimes has a price.
Seek and obtain a first rate general education so you are ready for all eventualities. Take advantage of all opportunities to perform with orchestras of all types and play as much chamber music as you can. Hone your sight-reading skills.
Does your orchestra sponsor programs for young people? What types of events or activities do they have for kids?
The New West Symphony has a number of programs designed for children. Our "Adventures in Music" is a series of concerts we give where we invite schools to come to our auditoriums to experience our orchestra "live" in a program designed as an introduction.
We also have a music van that goes out to elementary schools where kids can try out different instruments. Our Discovery Artist program offers auditions for accomplished young musicians. Between 3 and 7 of these musicians are selected by a jury to have an opportunity to play as soloist with our great orchestra.
How do you see the future of classical music?
The future of our kind of music is as great as we can make it! Its challenging now particularly in America. But in Asia the love of classical music is growing by leaps and bounds.
What specifically do you think about right before a performance?
I go to a special space of quiet deep inside of me. I try to relax and concentrate my energies to my mind. I breathe very slowly. When I walk on stage I feel energized and looking forward to sharing what I do with my audience.
How do you hear so many instruments all at the same time? Can you hear individual mistakes as you are conducting?
The answer to both is YES. How I do it I am not at all sure. Its a talent I am blessed with and which has been honed through years of studying the music, knowing it well and listening.
Is it hard being a conductor? Do you need to be able to play all the instruments to be a conductor?
It is challenging to do anything well. And in your mind you never reach your own expectations. I love the constant challenge of what I do. I don't find it "hard" I find the challenge sometimes frustrating but always fun. I don't play all the instruments I conduct at all well. I know how they are played and what they should sound like and what they might do to improve how they play. A great teacher does not necessarily have to be a great performer.
Do you need to practice conducting? What does your practicing involve? How long do you practice conducting per day?
My "practice" consists of learning the composer's score really well - almost from memory as there is no time to read and listen and interpret all at the same time. I spend many hours each day studying and learning.
What instrument did you start with? Was there a particular person or event that inspired you to start conducting?
I started as a violinist and learned the French Horn, viola and piano too. I was born into a family of musicians and heard music played around me for all of my life. I was inspired to become a conductor by my father and a number of great musicians who I observed at work. Igor Marevitch, Pierre Montuex and Leonard Bernstein were my most important mentors.
What career do you think you would have pursued if you hadn't studied music?
Probably Medicine - though I studied law as an adult. I have a thirst to always learn new things.
Thank you, Maestro Brott for spending time with us.
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