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The Experience of a Conductor

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From Notes of Seven Decades by Antal Dorati

"As an orchestra conductor I learned a great deal during my time with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. It was first of all invaluable as experience. The daily grind of unmemorable rehearsals and performances gave me a background of practical routine which so few of my young colleagues shared." page 157

"During that time I learned how to face the best and worst orchestras, how to give unmistakably clear visual signs, how to rehearse a great deal of music in a short time, how to speak little and convey what is necessary in an authoritative yet casual manner, to react fast and decisively to what one hears, to anticipate and possibly forestall difficulties."

page 157

In 1938 The Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo went to Australia.

Dorati writes in his memoir that on arrival. as the conductor, he was told by the director of the Tait Company:

“...the orchestra is yours. Please do with it what you want, rehearse as much as you wish. You have a completely free hand over all musical matters.”

I was enchanted. This was the real New World, I said to myself.

How really new it was, I found out at the first orchestra rehearsal. I met a group of very nice people who knew nothing about orchestral playing at all.

As I gradually came to understand, there was no surplus of superior instrumentalists in Australia at that time. The best were employed by the ABC, which had its own orchestra in each of the larger cities, and there were very few left to choose from after that.

My decision was quickly made. I picked out the four or five players who
any quality and drew up a schedule according to which every member of the orchestra would work nine solid hours every day, Sundays, included. First in small groups, led by my selected few and with myself going from one group to the other -- thus my own working hours were some sixteen per day -- then the entire orchestra together, starting from scratch -- in every sense of the word -- and progressing step by step.

With two weeks the Tait brothers were near bankruptcy, and the orchestra was capable of giving adequate performances of the first two programmes to be presented.

The success was overwhelming. The Ballets Russes conquered Australia in a day. And the standard of the music was especially noted: it was the first time, apparently, that orchestral playing of an adequate quality had been heard in Australia in connection with opera or ballet. (Concert performances were different.)"

page 162

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Thank you for those quotes, innopac. Dorati's memoir sounds well worth reading.

Australia was indeed far behind the times, culturally speaking, in those days. Theatre performers like Gielgud and Olivier had similar experiences.

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When thinking about the Ballets Russes traveling across Australia in 1938 it is important to consider the implications of population numbers and the distances traveled.

The population of Australia in 1938 was 6,935,909.

The population of Great Britain (round numbers) was 46,000,000.

The population of the US in 1938 was 129,824,939.

In area, Australia is slightly smaller than the US. See comparative

I just dipped into the sections on the Ballets Russes and haven't read the whole memoir but my sense was Dorati was very happy to move on from conducting ballet.

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