Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast: Making Art Work

#242: Timothy Redmond (Conductor) (pt. 1 of 2)

October 02, 2023 Nick Petrella and Andy Heise // Timothy Redmond
Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast: Making Art Work
#242: Timothy Redmond (Conductor) (pt. 1 of 2)
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

This week on the podcast is part one of our interview with British conductor, Timothy Redmond. He’s a regular guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Manchester Camerata, and Professor of Conducting at the Guildhall School of London and a visiting tutor at the Royal Academy of Music. Tim is also the Principal Conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Know The Score ®concerts and Co-Creator of Royal Albert Hall’s My Great Orchestral Adventure.™ Passionate about training future conductors, is the co-founder of the international conducting course "And Other Duties." 

In this episode:
From his early training as an oboist to becoming a respected conductor and professor, Timothy takes us behind the music, offering vivid insights into his passion for contemporary pieces and his approach to designing educational concerts worldwide.

Journey alongside Timothy as he recounts the delicate dance of earning respect as a young conductor. Listen closely as he shares the importance of reading the room, earning respect, and not merely imposing ideas. Get an inside look at his first experience conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and how he mastered the art of managing large crowds. As Timothy peels back the layers of his craft, we delve into the complexity of stepping in as a cover conductor and the accompanying challenges.

The world of recording orchestras is no less fascinating. Timothy takes us into the heart of Abbey Road Studios, recounting his experiences recording with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Natasha Marsh. He illuminates how the recording process has evolved over the last century and the unique demands of recording different genres. As he shares invaluable tips on earning respect from lauded ensembles and the essential role of connecting with the audience, prepare to have your curiosity ignited by the captivating world of orchestras. Join us on this magnificent musical journey with Timothy Redmond!

Announcer:

Welcome to the Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast. Making Art Work. We highlight how entrepreneurs align their artistry, passion and vision to create and pursue opportunities to capture value in the arts. The views expressed by guests on the Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast are solely their own and do not necessarily represent the views of the podcast or its hosts. The appearance of a guest on the podcast, the venture they represent or reference to any product or service does not imply an endorsement or recommendation by the podcast or its hosts. The content provided is for entertainment and informational purposes only and does not constitute business advice. Here are your hosts Andy Heise and Nick Petrella.

Andy Heise:

Hi Arts Entrepreneurship Podcast listeners. My name is Andy Heise and I'm Nick.

Nick Petrella:

Petrella, we're really excited to have conductor Timothy Redmond on the podcast. He's a regular guest conductor with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Manchester Camerada and professor of conducting at the Guildhall School of London and a visiting tutor at the Royal Academy of Music. Tim is also the principal conductor of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra's Know the Score concerts and co-creator of Royal Albert Hall's my Great Orchestral Adventure. Passionate about training future conductors, he's the co-founder of the International Conducting Course and Other Duties. We'll link to all of his websites in the show notes so you can learn more about Tim and what he's been doing. Thanks for being with us Tim.

Timothy Redmond:

It's a great pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

Nick Petrella:

Let's start by having you give a thumbnail sketch of your career after you graduated from Music College.

Timothy Redmond:

I studied as an oboist and as a conductor and I did those two things side by side for a few years and I'm very glad that I did. But gradually the conducting took over and I lived for many years in the theatre. That's where I got my training, assisting great conductors, learning on the job and coming out the other side fortunately I hope employable. Since then I've gone on to specialise in contemporary music, particularly contemporary opera, but also education. I've designed and presented and conducted education concerts all over the world and, as you said in the intro, created a show for the Royal Albert Hall that's been running for the last six or seven years.

Andy Heise:

Tim, was there a singular music experience in your life where you said, okay, that's what I want to do?

Timothy Redmond:

It's a great question and I think the answer is by the time I'd started the obo, at about the age of eight or nine, I thought, yeah, this is what I want to do. But even from that stage, I wasn't specific about doing one thing. I knew I wanted to be a musician and that, I think, has been a driving force through all the things that I do. I'm a musician first, which is expressed through different things, whether it's playing the piano or designing a show or conducting an orchestra. It's being a musician. And I got the bug early and sure. I asked myself could I do anything else? Should I do anything else? But the answer came no. So I stuck to my guns.

Andy Heise:

Yeah.

Nick Petrella:

Conductors travel a lot for engagements with different ensembles. What routines do you have when preparing for conducting an ensemble that maybe you've never met before?

Timothy Redmond:

If I've never met a group before. What I try to do is get to the hall early, just sit in the auditorium and listen. I listen to the energy, the sound, the conversations, the warm-ups that people do. I just watch, preferably in the shadows, but usually somebody spots me and goes hang on, he's the conductor. But from doing that I sense the vibe of the orchestra, how energetic they are, how tired they are, what they've been doing, how they speak to one another, what the acoustic of the hall is like. All of these things are best done from a listening perspective rather than a doing perspective. So that's what I do. If I'm going somewhere for the first time, I often do it the same if I'm going back to a familiar place, because I love the sound of concert halls and theatres. I love them when they're empty and I love the feeling of people musicians, coming into them.

Andy Heise:

I can imagine ensembles having personalities and spaces having personalities that maybe they change over time, maybe they don't.

Timothy Redmond:

Oh, absolutely. In an ideal world, you've been to see other people's concerts in a venue before you do one yourself. In a perfect world, your rehearsals take place in the concert venue. That's wishful thinking, it has to be said, for a lot of ensembles. But yes, that idea of the space having a personality and the ensemble having a personality, it's one of the most captivating things about this business, because it's a group of people coming together to do the thing that they've chosen to do or the thing that has chosen them. There's a lot of compromise in being in an ensemble and, with that, a lot of pride about how the ensemble is built, and it's a great privilege, as the conductor, to come and work with those groups.

Nick Petrella:

So when you're rehearsing a piece, if you're in a different venue than when we're, the performing venue is going to be, or when you're rehearsing a piece that you played before in a different venue, how much Wait do you give the actual venue? In other words, it sounds like you're using it as a collaborator the venue. Do you change things?

Timothy Redmond:

Oh for sure. I mean look, there are two, there's two parts of that, isn't there? There's the. If you know the space already, you go in there with an advantage. But what I often do is, if I'm in a space that the orchestra knows and I don't, I ask them how does that feel? What can you hear? What does it sound like? I spend a lot of time as a student conductor going and listening to other people's rehearsals and sitting in different parts of the halls and it's a revelation to just be reminded that the perspective is so different if you're sitting at the back of the hall or right at the front, whether you're a violinist or a trombonist, and I've never forgotten that. How important it is to see it from everybody else's perspective. So that comes into what you've just asked about judging the hall. If you're rehearsing somewhere where you're not performing, you're not gonna get hung up on it too much because things are going to change. But the most important thing is that the orchestra can hear themselves and you make an assessment of how they listen to one another, and that's gonna be. That happens wherever you're playing.

Andy Heise:

Yeah, and so, as a conductor and educator, how do you spend most of your work time? Is it conducting and rehearsing, or is it doing orchestrations and arrangements, or teaching, or something else entirely? I?

Timothy Redmond:

wish I could give you a pie chart that divided that up perfectly and I could say, yes, 23% of my time is doing. Listen, I have always, I've always enjoyed doing many things and for me that is bringing all of those many things to teaching is one of the most exciting things that I do, and so I continue doing them and I do all of those things that you've just said. A little bit of orchestrating I write things from time to time, I study things still, of course, but the majority of my time is still spent doing it myself, conducting, rehearsing, all of those things. And I tend to teach for the weeks when I am at home in London and then I'm on the road for quite a lot and my students half forget who I am, and then I come back and sneak in another few classes. So it's always changing. I think. More and more I'm realizing that the shows that I create for young audiences take up more of my brain space. I told you in that initial conversation that I spent many, many years in the theater and that love of theater I bring to the shows that I write for young audiences. And that is a very multifaceted task and I try and factor in quite a lot of writing time in my schedule for those and that's a relatively new thing in the last five, 10 years, but it's something I enjoy enormously.

Nick Petrella:

Tim, is it difficult for young conductors to earn respect from well-known orchestras, and what was your approach the first time you were standing in front of the LSO?

Timothy Redmond:

Goodness, is it difficult for young conductors to earn respect from great orchestras? Well, I think, probably the very short answer is yes, unless. So all right, one of the great advantages of getting a little older is that the age average ratio changes. So instead of being one of the youngest people in the room, suddenly you're in the middle and then, oh goodness me, you're ever so slightly older than the majority, and that does change things. So I think one of the important things being a young conductor is to listen to the room and don't go in there imposing your ideas unless you've sensed that they are welcome. A great orchestra plays everything and has played everything. Therefore, statistically, it's pretty likely that collectively, the orchestra has played everything about a hundred times more than you've conducted it. Therefore, if you go in saying I have the answers, at least a raised eyebrow will be the response, perhaps even more than that. So, on the other hand, of course, a young conductor can get the respect of an orchestra if they deserve it, if they've earned it, and one of the things that I'm fascinated about whilst teaching is how to hold on to the musicianship of an individual or the being a musician of a conductor, because, let's say, we've all been through conservatoire. We've practised the violin, the piano, whatever it is. We have mastered something by and large, and that, with it, holds respect. And so I ask my students, what would happen if you were playing chamber music with these people, you know, instead of conducting them? How would you think differently? How would you invite collaborative responses rather than saying I want it like this? And I mean Simon Rattle, who describes these things better than most, says that for the first few years of being conductors it's like you've got ear defenders on that. You cease being able to hear anything and then gradually, gradually, gradually, your ears open up, and it's only at that point where you're actually listening to what is in front of you, that you start to have a real use on the podium. You've got to go through the painful process, for sure, but yeah, that process is an interesting one. The other part of your question what was it like first conducting the LSO? It was actually in a masterclass with Pierre Boulez and it was on the Schoenberg piano concerto and it was glorious. I mean that experience of just lifting your hands and inviting this sound, this kind of glow that came in front of me. Goodness me, now I'd already worked with plenty of professional orchestras at that stage, but there was something about this extraordinary ensemble and how they played together that definitely inspired me, terrified me, probably a little bit. But then, a number of years later, I started working with them professionally and we've never stopped and it's been a great privilege of mine to work as much with them as I do.

Nick Petrella:

Yeah, that's great.

Andy Heise:

So, tim, you seem very comfortable with public speaking. I've listened to some other interviews with you and seen some video snippets and that sort of thing. Is that something that you enjoy and did it come naturally to you or did you have to work at it? And I'm guessing your time in the theatre again maybe had something to do with that as well?

Timothy Redmond:

Yeah for sure, I have always been happy talking in public, and I come from a family of people who talk in public or broadcast or lecture or act or perform, and so maybe that bit's not so much of a surprise. But oh my goodness, do you have to learn? You really do, and I've learned a great deal by just listening back to. Well, what did I sound like, how did those words land? And listening to an audience I mean, goodness me, how many times have I said that already in this conversation? But listening to the response is absolutely vital. When I was younger, I did a lot of outdoor concerts to thousands and thousands of people, and that's a really interesting one controlling a crowd of five or 10,000 people, kind of getting them excited, then letting the adrenaline drop. How do you then deliver a quiet piece of music before building them up? And that was an education in itself. But so too has been working with actors and singers and listening to how they control their voice and words and intent and the poetry of it. Really, I think conducting opera I'm thinking about text all the time and how a composer sets text is just one version of the many possibilities that could have been, and so it's our duty, in preparation, to consider the words on their own and think well, it may have had a different shape or shade or so on.

Nick Petrella:

Have you ever been in a situation where you were a cover conductor and had to jump in at the last minute, and what was that like?

Timothy Redmond:

Yes, I have A couple of times it's happened to me in the theatre, but rather more memorably and publicly, it did happen to me once in front of 10,000 people in Trafalgar Square, where I had been the rehearsal conductor for a London Symphony Orchestra concert and I was covering Valeri Gagyev, who is rather famous for a busy schedule, shall we say. Anyway, his helicopter wasn't landing until the concert was due to start and so I went on stage. I went on stage and, yes, that was an interesting experience. He did arrive in time to conduct the concerto, but we swapped. We did a couple of pieces each.

Andy Heise:

Wow, Imagining the helicopter landing and like comes this guy running up to the stage, absolutely.

Nick Petrella:

Something out of James Barn.

Timothy Redmond:

It was a little the helicopter did not land in Trafalgar Square, it has to be said. He was driven there.

Andy Heise:

He parachuted down. That would be nice.

Nick Petrella:

Yeah, but you had already been conducting for a while then, oh yeah.

Timothy Redmond:

Yeah, that wasn't an early experience. Look the jump in stories. The Bernstein one is the most famous one, where he goes in and conducts the New York Philharmonic and it's a glorious success and his career is launched. The point about being an assistant conductor in the theatre is there's a great likelihood that you're going to have to do it at some point, or you take over the run of shows, which is the night. You know that's a controlled way of doing it, but honestly, as long as you're prepared, it's not too big a deal. The scary one is where you don't know the music and I always try to avoid being in those situations.

Andy Heise:

Yeah, what's it like making recordings with an orchestra? It seems like it could be a daunting task, and do you have to change anything about the way you conduct or the way the orchestra performs? And maybe a more technical question is it a bunch of takes that are spliced together, or is typically what we hear, one sort of performance?

Timothy Redmond:

Oh well, all of those things that you've just said, really how to describe it. I mean, I'd made quite a few recordings as a sort of you know growing up, not on a professional level, so I knew the form. But the first professional recording I made was with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a singer called Natasha Marsh in Abbey Road Studios, and that was a pretty cool place to be, it has to be said. But the one thing that you realise straight away is that the sound of the studio is not the sound that you listen to when you buy the CD or if anyone does that anymore, but going to listen in the booth and listening to what it's like with the reverb and all the post-production magic that goes into, that is an education in itself. And now, over the years I've spent many, many hundreds of hours in the studio recording all kinds of music in all kinds of ways, and you guys will know the format. And so, as a conductor, I suppose if it's a classical project, then you're looking for the longest takes possible for kind of satisfying musical integrity, if you like. But we all know that editing makes the final product more enjoyable, removes glitches, and I mean how we behave as musicians has changed so much over the last 100 years because of high fidelity recording, and we just don't tolerate errors anymore. I once listened to a fabulous radio program all about recordings of a string quartet and it was the Dorsak Quartet and a very early recording was played by a quartet that had been heard and coached and approved of by the composer, and it was all over the place in many respects, but the spirit of the music was undeniable and gradually your ears allowed for the limitations of the recording technology and the small glitches of ensemble and intonation and you just enjoyed it for what it was.

Andy Heise:

Yeah.

Timothy Redmond:

But that's not how we listen. Generally, we expect perfection, and so the recording process has to factor that in. And when you work with a regular recording orchestra or a radio orchestra that's just used to working with the red light on, it's extraordinary how they do that, just like eyes down, focus, concentrate, concentrate, make it fabulous the moment that the light's going on. If you're doing a more commercial session and you're working with click track and everybody's got click conductor and musicians that's a very different thing. Now you still need the artistry. You're still an interesting one. I always think with click, even with the best session musicians is the first time you hit in a cellarando, everyone overshoots. Just doesn't matter, it's just what we do. It's the adrenaline response that you get. And then you go okay, no, no, now I understand it and you go back. So as the conductor, you are using all your usual skills of predicting how an orchestra is going to respond to a moment, aiming for that place that you know we should be heading, and then collecting everybody on one musical journey so that the click doesn't define the quality of the performance. And this isn't recording, but I've done many, many live shows where only I have had click and maybe pro tools to look at, and so I have the control in my ears, but nobody else does. So I have developed a way of conducting that nobody would guess that I've got a metronome in my ears because it looks as organic as ever, but there's this division that's going on the whole time. This kind of clarification of where you need to be.

Andy Heise:

Yeah.

Nick Petrella:

It's probably easier, I would imagine, if you're the only one making sure that they're following, because you're gonna sell a rondo.

Timothy Redmond:

Absolutely, unless there's any element of rhythm section or a repeated pattern that drives the music. And herein comes an interesting one as the conductor, I mean, you know as percussionists that you are in control, you are in charge. You know Conductors sometimes like to think they are, but as soon as there's a regular rhythm going on, that is the thing that defines the performance. And so, actually working with a great kit player or Latin musicians where they are regulating the groove, as the conductor you are part of that and you encourage everybody to be part of it, but you are not dictating it in the same way, and so those skills are very transferable to the studio, I find.

Andy Heise:

Yeah, it's great. You know, I have some experience recording like rock bands and things like that, so I suppose the approach to it isn't all that different. But it's just I'm just imagining, you know, thinking you know. Anyways, I just I've never been a part of a recording session with a full orchestra in a sort of a controlled environment, I mean it is.

Timothy Redmond:

The principle is exactly the same. If it's symphonic music being recorded as that as a whole, then it's got much more to do with our general performance experience. But if it's anything commercial and you're doing stems and you're doing overdubs, then frankly it's precisely the same as recording a rock band where you're separating everything out or the drums are in one location, you know guitar and so on.

Andy Heise:

Right, yeah, and so are those commercial things for like movies or soundtracks or yeah, commercials whatever.

Timothy Redmond:

All of those things really. I mean it's just a fascinating sort of little, it's a niche part of what I do, but, as I said earlier, I find that thing of doing a lot of different jobs Well fascinating but very helpful. And a lot of people are surprised when I say this, but as somebody who conducts a lot of contemporary classical music for want of a better term my way of working there is the way of working there has been informed a lot by work in the studio and commercial stuff. Just that idea of precision and space and transparency, working with a producer, listening to a mix. There's all kinds of transferable skills there. And I think also it makes you very comfortable when somebody says, oh, by the way, there's a click here or there's some pads here, there's some overdub and we need to do the choir and take it down a quarter, and you go, yeah, sure, it's fine done that. But yeah, I mean I've done a little bit of movie stuff, a little bit of commercial stuff and a lot of stuff in the background where, yeah, you just do whatever jobs happen to come up.

Andy Heise:

And your note about perfection I think is interesting too, living in the age of auto-tune and those sorts of things. For vocals you listen back to old recordings of whatever anything that was recorded on analog and there's some out of tune background vocals and things and that's part of the character of the moment and that sort of thing. So it's just an interesting approach.

Timothy Redmond:

Absolutely, but I mean so. I'm always fascinated by the kind of the sporting analogies to musicians. And if you're a tennis player, you practice for many, many, many hours every week serving and getting aces, and if you were to get 30% aces in a game, people would think you were really good. If you were to play more than half a percent of your notes wrong as a musician, everyone would say you're really bad. You know, a soccer player that doesn't score a goal is still rated as a great soccer player, but a singer who misses a note or whatever it might be, we have extremely high standards of what is a minimum, what is a minimum level of performance or whatever it might be. It's interesting.

Nick Petrella:

Well, if they recorded sporting matches right and everybody had a goal, and it's really what it is, because I think recording just caused so much pressure. I'm not gonna name names, but the one that comes to mind. There's a recording many years ago, like from the 1920s Mio was conducting Creation of the World and you listen to the intonation, you listen to the timing, it's like oh wow, you wouldn't sell anything like that today.

Timothy Redmond:

I know I know Well. It's interesting, isn't it, that on the one hand, we're aiming for this kind of sonic perfection and, on the other hand, we listen to most things on a phone speaker on YouTube where you can't really make out much. So we have a funny approach to all of this. But you're right, I mean, it's informed us hugely in terms of our approach.

Nick Petrella:

So you're as comfortable conducting an orchestra as you are conducting opera. What should young conductors do to best prepare themselves for those same opportunities?

Timothy Redmond:

To prepare yourself for an opportunity. You've got to speak the language, you've got to understand the vocabulary, and it's no good saying I want to be a conductor, well, I want to do an opera. That's a nice aspiration, but you have to ask yourself why. So what is it about that that you love? What is it about that that you think you could do that would make other people want to play for you or sing for you? What is it that you can do that would make other people want to listen to your performance? So there's a lot of searching to be done about that and if you've asked yourself those questions and answered them you know honestly and got to some kind of answer, then you're ready to have those experiences. Let's say you've done your study. You've conducted some student groups, you've done some master classes, whether or maybe not even done a masters yet, but you're moderately competent. What I always advise young conductors is if they're going to go to see somebody else's rehearsal or performance, have a reason to be in the room. Just give balance notes. Can you help with the bowings in the library? Is there anything, maybe moving things around on stage? I mean, you're not going to do that with a major orchestra, but maybe you will somewhere else, finding a place in this ecosystem and just understanding that you have a small part to play and in the process of that, you're going to absorb and watch and listen and observe everything that's going around you. That's not a bad approach. You don't want to impose and you don't want to feel well, why am I here? You know I'm in the middle of an empty auditorium and this is all happening and I'm on my own. Have a conversation, make some friends. But I think the first piece of advice I always give conductors is if you want to be a conductor, put something on, because if you can persuade your friends to play for you and it goes well and you do another show, then you're halfway there already. You've got to start by being persuasive. It's not enough to want to do it as a conductor. You're the only silent person in the room, so you've got to have something about you or your ideas or your approach that makes people think I'm going to give up my time for a pint or a fiver or whatever it might be, or just because I love this piece of music, have a passion, have an enthusiasm and know how to share it.

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Timothy Redmond
Earning Respect as a Young Conductor
Recording Orchestras
Persuasion and Passion for Conductors