As career paths go, being an orchestral conductor generally doesn’t make many top 10 lists. For starters, its hard work. Not only must conductors know and understand each piece of music the musicians will be performing, but it’s physically challenging as well: conductors stand for the duration of the performance, and, more often than not, have their hands over their head. They need to stay in the game mentally, too, focusing on what’s needed and what’s happening next instead of allowing the music to wash over them.
Still, with all that work, many men and women yearn to be conductors. And it turns out that one of the best places to learn the craft is through the University of South Carolina’s Conductor’s Institute. More than 1,000 conductors, both novices and veterans of the podium, have participated in the world-renowned Institute since Maestro Donald Portnoy founded it 30 years ago.
“Most people only see the conductor from the back, so they have no idea what goes into it,” says Portnoy. “There’s almost a secret language between a conductor and the orchestra.”
If you’d like to see what goes on behind the scenes, consider attending one of the Institute’s daily podium sessions, which run from 9 a.m. until noon and 1:30-3:30 p.m. on Friday, June 19, and Saturday, June 20, at the Koger Center for the Arts. The sessions are free and open to the public and will feature music from Tchaikovsky, Sebelius, Brahms and Columbia’s own Dick Goodwin.
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“If it’s a small audience, you’ll be able to go onto the stage and see how the conductors communicate with the musicians,” Portnoy said. “It’s a fascinating program.” For more information, visit sc.edu/music.
Katie McElveen, Special to The State