In the past days I have been away, and had a great time in Liechtenstein. It was only a couple of days, but packed with new impressions, meeting old friends, enjoying music, being re-hypnotised by the immense beauty of alpine nature during a 5hr mountain hike, and enjoying the company of a full symphonic orchestra over beers at night. And somewhere in there I had even time to think about KM, on leadership and cooperation to be more precise, a bit, thoughts and observations I’d like to share here.
On the first night in Vaduz, Liechtensteins capital of 5 thousand people, I watched the Drents Symphonic Orchestra practice the pieces they would perform the next day. One piece would be played by a mix of this orchestra and musicians from another German orchestra. So I watched the two orchestras practice, and also the two conductors.

Otto Berg - 2048x1536 - 704Kb - 2003/05/30

What got me thinking was the difference between the two conductors. One conductor was trying very hard to get the orchestra to do the piece technically perfect, and without missing a note. He treated the orchestra as his personal instrument, pointing out errors, and demanding their best efforts. The other took a completely different approach: he described what he would like to achieve, and how he wanted things different by eloquently painting a picture of the desired result, and exaggerating examples. He was direct in pointing out things that could and should be done better, but also very direct in his praise. He was having conversations with the musicians in the orchestra during rehearsal, being asked to make his point clearer, asking musicians their opinion, never forgetting that these were not professionals. Without it ever becoming unclear who was the decisionmaker, he was working together with the musicians towards a well defined goal.

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The effect this had on the musicians was evident. Under the first conductor everybody did their bit and that was it. At the end of the piece they would stare in front of themselves. Under the other conductor people had all kinds of facial expressions during play, and looked and smiled at eachother afterwards, some congratulating others on some part or other of their effort.
The next day at the concert the difference was even more clear. The first orchestra played their music, good, but uninspired. The second orchestra started out on a different key: the conductor walked up, and said to the orchestra “Now let’s make some music together.” “Have fun.” And they did, not hitting al the notes right, but making music. A group of people creating something that was bigger than the sum of their individual scores. The audience picked it up too. They were nodding towards eachother, and moving to the front of their seats.
My partner played as a stand-in on oboe, in this concert, and I had never heard her play in an orchestra before, only at home playing solitary. After they were done playing Puccini’s earliest known composition for orchestra, Preludio Synfonico, she came down from the stage with misty eyes, moved by the beauty they just created together. And it was. Simply beautiful.
Some more pictures: (or go see them all)

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P30531041rustbijhut5.JPG - 2048x1536 - 649Kb - 2003/05/31…..p3052909burgvaduz4.jpg - 2048x1536 - 667Kb - 2003/05/29

One reaction on “Conducting a knowledge transfer

  1. You get all this from going to a concert? I can’t wait until you attend business meetings! Great description of a very soft process in action.

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