To “play-direct”

Leif Ove Andsnes play-directing; photo from PragueCulture blog

Leif Ove Andsnes play-directing; photo from PragueCulture blog

Over here in the world of classical music terminology, we need a new verb. Or at least a verbal expression: something to describe that very common practice of conducting an orchestra or ensemble while playing one’s own instrument. Many pianists do it, violinists too: it’s not at all unusual to see a soloist either nodding his head or gesticulating with her body to direct the accompanying ensemble while their fingers are busy making music on a keyboard or fingerboard. These flexi-omni-musicians will snatch opportunities during a performance to go into full-blown conductor mode whenever they know they have a lot of rests coming up on their sheet music, as Leif Ove Andsnes is doing in the photo above. But there’s no good single verb to capture this very skillful practice (at least not in English.) “Conducting from the keyboard” is one way of describing it, but as well as being a mouthful, it’s only appropriate for pianists — and technically it suggests that they’re simply conducting while sitting or standing next to a piano: there’s nothing in that phrase to suggest that the musician is actually playing at the same time (although we understand that’s what is meant.)

The French have come up with a great solution: the Orchestre de chambre de Paris has coined the term “joué-dirigé” and made the ‘play-direct’ technique an important part of its work with musicians. Its program dedicated to this art, “l’Académie de joué-dirigé” (the Paris Play-Direct Academy), is described on the orchestra’s web site, and translates into English as follows:

The opportunity to develop the art of being both musician and conductor with the orchestra is a unique artistic experience. Having direct contact with the musicians in the orchestra, working jointly on the style, articulation and balance, learning the gestures… so many elements combine to instill a concerto with the true spirit of chamber music.

The Orchestre de chambre de Paris has made the ‘Play-Direct’ technique one of the mainstays of its work with many great musicians like Thomas Zehetmair, Maxim Vengerov, Stephen Kovacevich, Heinrich Schiff as well as Joseph Swensen, Jeffrey Kahane and François Leleux.

For its third edition, the academy accompanies a selection of high level violinists towards orchestra conducting and offers them an intensive training on the Play-Direct technique under the valuable guidance of Kolja Blacher.

Glossophilia is proposing that we borrow this term from the nifty French and adopt it. Let’s make play-directing common currency in standard English as well, shall we? Maybe even without the hyphen: playdirect? If the French can do it, why can’t we?

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Hat-tip to John for pointing out joué-dirigé.

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