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RMB Starlight Classics 2020: Behind the baton

Creative Feel spoke to Maestro Richard Cock about his role in the AfroSymphonic extravaganza that is RMB Starlight Classics.

Richard Cock maestro RMB Starlight Classics 2020

Creative Feel: American President Dwight D Eisenhower strongly believed that leadership is the ‘art of getting someone else to do something that you want done because he wants to do it, not because your position of power can compel him to do it, or your position of authority.’ Is this how conducting works too? 
Richard Cock: Well, this is more complicated because of the teamwork involved. The conductor is really welding a team together, to realise what the composer wants. We often forget that we are recreating what was in the composer’s mind, and we have to be faithful to that also… more than anything else, perhaps.

CF: What is your view of Pierre Boulez’s statement: ‘Conducting is more difficult than playing a single instrument. You have to know the culture, to know the score, and to project what you want to hear. Some conductors are well prepared but cannot transmit their ideas to an orchestra, and others are good communicators but have nothing to transmit because they are not absorbed enough in the score.’ 
RC: And there is a crucial element of psychology… that you can convince the 50 or 60 members of the orchestra that you know exactly what is going on all the time. Communication, and in a concert, non-verbal communication, is key! Also, one needs to draw on the orchestra’s experience, and sometimes hand over control to them in a performance. They have to play the music, after all, and they are all experts in their field.

Richard Cock maestro RMB Starlight Classics 2020

CF: You are seen as a mentor to Brandon Phillips, the resident conductor and principal bassoon of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. How did that come about and when did Brandon first share the RMB Starlight Classics stage with you? 
RC: Brandon was the winner of the first edition of the Len van Zyl Conductors’ Competition to which the Apollo Music Trust is a contributor. I run the Trust, which is funded to a large extent by the RMB Fund, and so it is important that we have some follow up. He has been conducting at RMB Starlight Classics for about three years now. Obviously we have succession in mind, so we are giving opportunities to several young conductors to have the experience of conducting at Starlight Classics. It is high profile, and a good training ground for young conductors.

CF: How does this ‘sharing of the stage’ work? 
RC: We do half and half, and I must say it has worked extremely well. I am always around for help and advice, and the three conductors who have been part of this training have been very receptive, and very good. They don’t often need help.

CF: Would you say that you have a similar approach to conducting or do you guide your protégé a lot? 
RC: Conducting is a very individual thing, but all three of them have been well-prepared, so I have just had to nudge them very gently at certain times. The orchestra has been very impressed by them also, and that is a good sign.

CF: How do you choose who will conduct each piece? 
RC: We break up the programme so that there is not too much going on and off to break the flow of the concert. It is a live show, and we have to make sure that the audience has a good experience too. This is made easier by the fact that I still am the MC for the concert so I can control the flow of the whole event so that people don’t notice that I am not conducting… now I am just co-ordinating instead!   

CF: And finally, if you could invite any three artists, dead or alive, to dinner, who would you ask and what would you talk about? 
RC: I would love to have any three great conductors to dinner and talk about the fact that they create a sort of magic within the orchestra, and how to communicate that magic to both orchestra and audience: let’s say for a start Bernstein, Rattle and Beecham, who did it so naturally and with humour!

More RMB Starlight Classics articles:
RMB Starlight Classics 2020: Behind the scenes
RMB Starlight Classics 2020: Behind the baton
Siyabonga Maqungo: Nurturing Talent of Note

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