Andre Kostelanetz – Conductor
Andre Kostelanetz, reflecting on his career in 1979, noted that conducting provided a creative spark that composing couldn't light.1 He held distinctive views on what music should sound like and worked throughout his career to accomplish that sound both in the radio studio and the concert hall. A good conductor, according to Kostelanetz, "must be absolutely sure of himself musically. He must know the nature of every effect he asks for—its reason, its value, the means of obtaining it."2
Kostelanetz's attention to sound creation—from arrangements, to musicians, to placement of instruments and use of microphones on the stage—led to his conducting success. Orchestration became Kostelanetz's route to achieving his desired sound in the radio studio.
Kostelanetz described orchestration as painting with music. With an emphasis on strings, his popular music was lush and harmonically rich. By doubling instruments—a flute might also play the saxophone part, an oboe play the English horn part, or a double bass also play the tuba part—this sound "was big and attractive on the radio and thereby became a success on the air."3 According to composer Gunther Schuller, "Kostelanetz's symphonic arrangements were without fail little gems of perfection—creatively, orchestrationally, stylistically. Most. . .were either made by himself or based on detailed orchestrational instructions from him. . . ."4
Kostelanetz, while having a reputation for light classical music, was aware of and influenced by the musical trends around him. Swing, for example, did not escape his notice. In a 1939 interview on So you want to be . . . a conductor5 he said that although he admired Benny Goodman and other practitioners of swing, he didn't perform it because his orchestra was too large. But, in fact, his orchestra could swing. By using the Dorsey brothers, Charlie Margolis, Jack Jenney, Walter Gross and others, his radio orchestras did make tunes swing with clarinets, muted trumpets and trombones, and drums. Examples on this site include "I Got Rhythm" with the Canadian Broadcast Company Orchestra, and "Yankee Doodle," "Mikado in Swing," and "Goodnight Ladies" with his studio orchestra. His orchestra could also play the blues as can be heard in a 1944 performance of W. C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues."
One can argue that Kostelanetz's early role as an orchestrator, coupled with his work with radio sound engineers, influenced his approach to conducting later in his career. His experience that radio "requires the closest attention to the smallest detail"6 trained him to heavily manage all aspects of a program. Kostelanetz continued this focus as his career turned to guest conducting. He knew what he wanted, marked his scores accordingly, and treated his musicians as professionals who knew what to do. Instead of long, discursive rehearsals, he preferred two sustained five- to six-hour sessions (even in battle zones) where the orchestra played the music while his librarian took notes on questions or issues which Kostelanetz then remedied by adjusting the score. As he put it "I always prepare my material so there is no time lost. I think there is something unconstructive in stopping an enormous orchestra which plays so many concerts. Human fatigue is not to be disregarded! To stop everybody because the third horn should have a little crescendo doesn't make any sense."7
Kostelanetz noted that "the chief thing [about conducting] is to keep up the enthusiasm of the players."(emphasis in original)8 To this end, although he performed certain pieces regularly, he also sought out new and different works and presented old melodies in new ways to keep himself and the musicians interested and challenged.
- "Andre Kostelanetz- Gloria Hammond Echoes interviews," Bob Frank collection of Andre Kostelanetz radio broadcasts, 1932-1980, CD 7, (recorded June 1979). Mavis 2335529. [Return to text]
- "Color in the popular orchestra," Etude, Vol 62, # 12, (December 1944), 683. [Return to text]
- http://www.arkivmusic.com/classical/Name/Andre-Kostelanetz/Conductor/56504-3 External. Accessed October 15, 2018. [Return to text]
- Gunther Schuller, Gunther Schuller: A life in pursuit of music and beauty, (University of Rochester Press, 2011), 92. [Return to text]
- So you want to be . . . a conductor, (April 12, 1939). Mavis 2324462-3-1. [Return to text]
- Doron S. Antrim, "How I prepare a radio program: an interview with Andre Kostelanetz," Etude, Vol 59, # 1 (January 1941), 64. [Return to text]
- Stephen E. Rubin, "Andre Kostelanetz-middlebrow Toscanini?," New York Times, (May 6 1973) https://www.nytimes.com/1973/05/06/archives/andre-kostelanetzmiddlebrow-toscanini-about-kostelanetz.html External Accessed October 5, 2018. [Return to text]
- "Color in the popular orchestra," 683. [Return to text]
Materials on this site that document Kostelanetz's conducting include radio interviews, "Kostelanetz: An Overview," by Dick O'Connor, articlesfrom The Etude, orchestra instrument lists, corrections and notes for Portrait for Orchestra (Mark Twain), and the recordings themselves.