January 02, 2015
Setting the Standard


A big thank you to guest blogger, Val Vadeboncoeur, Idea Champions Director of Training, for this inspiring post from the world of classical conducting.

In March, 2011, the editors of BBC Magazine asked 100 of the world's finest orchestra conductors to choose who they thought were the three best conductors of all time. From these 300 selections, the magazine compiled a Top 20 list. The conductor at the very top of that list was the eccentric genius, Carlos Kleiber (1930-2004.)

The choice was not entirely surprising; Kleiber had been highly regarded throughout his career, which began in 1954. What IS interesting is that Kleiber conducted less often than any comparably long-lived famous conductor in musical history; a grand total of 96 concerts and about 400 opera performances only, numbers that most full-time working conductors achieve every three years or so.

A notorious introvert and a perfectionist, Kleiber found the art of conducting brutally difficult, mostly because he set inhumanly impossible standards for himself, often despairing that despite eliciting great performances from the finest orchestras in the world, they were not as perfect and wonderful as he imagined the scores to be in his own imagination. He worked entirely as a free-lancer, never wanting to be the principle conductor of any orchestra, although he was often asked.

He was demanding, insisting on much more rehearsal time than any other conductor, and very expensive to hire, charging unheard of fees...and getting them. He was also unpredictable, often cancelling his conducting dates at the last minute, a classical music Sly Stone. He could speak about music and conducting with great insight and humor for hours on end with his closest friends, but gave only one five-minute public interview his entire life.

He combined the meticulous analysis of the German music tradition with a joy and spontaneity that seemed to come from his upbringing in Argentina, where his famous conductor father, Erich Kleiber, had taken his family to escape the Nazis.

Fortunately, his art has been captured in a number of fine recordings and concert videos of live performances. Here he is in action.

One of the lessons we can take from Kleiber's life and career is the vital importance of setting your own standards... and setting them as high as you possibly can. Instead of settling for competence, or being better than the next guy, why not try to be the very best at what you do... and not just the very best in the world at present but the very best EVER?

How much more would you have to love your work to set your bar at the highest level possible? How much more effort would you have to commit to? What would it take?

Kleiber's lifelong wrestling with the achievement of perfection might inspire us to look at our own standards, and those of our team and company. Where, in our work, could we be the best of all time? What is that one thing that we can do better than anyone else? And why wouldn't we want to try to do just that?

Idea Champions

Conducting Genius

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at January 2, 2015 04:23 AM

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