Master class

Marek Janowski, conductor and teacher

Private music lessons

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Cast

Marek Janowski — Teacher, conductor

Olivier Dejours — Conductor (student)

Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France

Gürzenich-Orchester Köln

Düsseldorf chorus

Chœur de Radio France

Olivier Bernager — A collection by

François Manceaux — A collection by

Program notes

This masterclass shows Marek Janowski, who, in the purest tradition of German conducting, hands on the baton to the young Olivier Dejours, who has since become a noted conductor in his own right.

Marek Janowski was music director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France between 1984 and 2000. A product of the German tradition who has worked with that country's leading orchestras, he has absorbed what they had to teach him about formal rigour and poetry. For this private music lesson, which has remained his only incursion into the realm of pedagogy, he chose two works emblematic of his repertoire: Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony and Beethoven's Egmont Overture. Filmed in 1989 at the Maison de Radio France (in the now demolished Studio 103) and in Cologne Cathedral where he was conducting the Berlioz Requiem, Marek Janowski dispenses interpretative advice to the young conductor Olivier Dejours, soon to make a name for himself in contemporary music.

The supreme artistry of the director Michel Follin in this inspired film is to leave intact the image of the conductor, that master of music par excellence and emblematic figure of western civilisation. The teaching of conducting remains an enigma for everyone, since its technique can be summed up in just a few rules which, even then, not all its practitioners agree on. For Marek Janowski, it is experience that makes a conductor. To be sure, the background is important: one must first be an all-round musician, play at least one instrument, be an excellent sight-reader, a good accompanist, and above all be gifted with that urge to communicate with others designated by the hackneyed term "charisma". He gives Olivier Dejours sterling advice: no convoluted analyses or poetic metaphors; beating time, for example, is a way of keeping the orchestra informed, nothing more. We are far from the metaphysical reflections of Celibidache or other, less inspired guru conductors...

How to prolong a rest, interpret a rhythm, unfold a melody, make an instrument or a group sing? These are questions that are at once poetic, analytical, and above all practical. Marek Janowski takes the structure of the music as the basis for his work, reading between the lines and drawing out the subtlest details before transmitting his personal alchemy to the orchestra. This is why we find him around a table with his pupil. Eavesdropping on the dialogue between them, we perceive that they are seeking out the concealed intentions of the music in order to avoid going off on the wrong track, which would be catastrophic in front of the orchestra. The conductor is guided by his concern for concrete realisation, and it is always questions of musical balance that elicit his most incisive judgments. A purely intellectual reading of the score distorts its realisation, because, he reminds us, one must constantly adapt to the vagaries of concert halls, but also to the personality of the orchestras and choirs one conducts. Here, for example, we see him battling with the reverberant acoustics of Cologne Cathedral.

To single out the essential elements: that is the secret of clarity. But after that one still needs to have the resources to carry out one's intentions. "How do you hear this passage?" Taking his cue from the pupil's reply, the maestro, like the gifted pedagogue he is, suggests the best way to carry out his aims. Thus, little by little, we spectators understand how art depends on these tiny details that make all the difference, and when we see the two men in front of the orchestra like two pilots taking the controls by turns, one more experienced than the other, we can at last measure the difficulties of the conductor's trajectory. The result is a unique moment of musical interpretation and pedagogy through intelligent use of images.

Private music lessons: twelve hugely influential programmes broadcast by French television between 1987 and 1991. The guiding principle for Olivier Bernager and François Manceaux was to capture the art of the leading performers of our time, live in concert but also and above all in a teaching environment.

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