Age and AmbitionIt happened again, I got a call from a symphony orchestra asking me to come and conduct; this time it was the Slovenia Philharmonic Orchestra in Ljubljana, Slovenia. It's happened so many times, it always goes something like this:
"Hello, Mr. Roger Bobo? We were wondering if you are free to come and conduct our orchestra April 5 to 15 next year, are you available those dates?"
"Thank you. Yes, I'm sure those dates could be arranged with no problem."
"That's very good to hear; we are wondering without any advanced warning if you might have any idea of the repertoire you would like to do?"
"Yes, that's a question I don't need to think about; I would like to do Adagio for Strings by Barber, a concerto, depending on the soloist, and after the intermission, I would like to do Mahler's first."
I was ready for what came next; I've had heard it so many times.
"Oh,.. uh, . well, since you are a tuba player, we were thinking we might let the strings have a break that week and that you could plan a brass concert and perhaps work with our brass section on some of our repertoire for the following season."
I already knew what I was going to say; it would be a clear YES. Although I would prefer to conduct the full orchestra, a turning it down would be out of the question.
"Sure, that would be wonderful..."
That's it, that's how it goes and in my effort to be realistic it's become obvious that at age 68 I should not look forward to a fulfilling career of conducting the major symphony orchestras of the world. It's not as though I never had a chance, twenty-five years ago I conducted a week of children's concerts with the Los Angeles Philharmonic; reality has to be faced again, I wasn't ready. Since then I have had abundant experience in conducting and although I feel ready now. I don't expect any greater frequency of engagements, when they come I will gratefully and happily accept. But another thing I have to face is that that chronic ambition still burns deep inside me and, of course, I know it would be a tragic waste of time and energy if I reflect on what might have been. Certainly, my career cannot be viewed as a failure and I find myself quite content and fulfilled in my teaching, working with the various ensembles at the Musashino Academy of Music and the few conducting engagements I'm offered.
My love for symphonic music is not without some pain and frustration, however. During my last years in service in service with Los Angeles and even now during my occasional concert attendance I have suffered by observing blatant conductor incompetence; I suppose saying that I was embarrassed would be considered more politically correct but I still have to say that I am appalled by many of the young conductors I have seen who do not know the score, do not know the orchestra nor have developed a readable baton technique, and sometimes all of the above. Well, I've said it, now I will let it go, it's time to move on.
In truth I would still like to conduct albeit I am quite content with what I've got. Just in case anyone wants to engage me I submit the following concert:
Adagio for Strings - Samuel Barber
Concerto for Two Pianos- Francis Poulenc, Pianists: Katia & Marielle Labèque
First Symphony - Gustav Mahler
I know the scores and how I want to treat them, I know the orchestra very well and I have a reasonable readable baton technique.
Enough introspection, I have enough work to do and it's work I adore. We keep learning in this life and I look forward to that process continuing. The more we learn the better we can teach and I've believed for a long time teaching is the most important thing we can do; I hope to keep getting better at it.
Roger Bobo, August 15, 2006, Tokyo