An Interview with Conductor Andy Anderson
Maestro Andy Anderson is known for his knowledge and expertise in a vast array of repertoire, from Leoncavallo to Lerner and Loewe. His talent, versatility and collegial attitude have helped him to cultivate strong relationships with several important organizations, including Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Nashville Opera, Charlottesville Opera and many other respected companies. His passion and dedication have made him a sought after conductor and mentor for many singers, and he recently shared some important insights with CS Music.
CS Music: What are you most passionate about when it comes to conducting?
Andy Anderson: Getting the project from the “concept” phase to opening night. I enjoy all of the research, study and rehearsals. I embrace the long hours spent in the rehearsal hall, watching a piece grow and love helping my colleagues, both on stage and in the pit. For me, it is truly a collaborative process.
I also love working with singers, the human voice and helping singers feel safe and comfortable. And I love accompanying them from the pit. When they look down into the pit, I want them to see someone who will do whatever it takes to help them have the best performance possible.
CS Music: How did you find your way into this career?
Andy Anderson: It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. Like most kids, I did dream of becoming an astronaut, but realistically, I always knew music was the only place I could ever fit in. I saw Leonard Bernstein conduct the NY Phil on the television when I was 12, and was absolutely captivated by him. That night all I could dream about was being a conductor. The next morning, I told my parents that conducting was what I wanted to do. From that moment on, everything I have done has been to help me get to where I am today. It hasn’t all been easy, but it sure has been fun!
CS Music: What are the biggest mistakes or misunderstandings that young singers often have?
Andy Anderson: A lot of people think that getting into this business is easy. Some people come from schools and families where they are always surrounded by people who shower them with constant praise. When they finally get out into the real world, the reality of not always getting the gig and not always being #1 becomes a little too much for some people. I’m always watching people. I love seeing how they interact with one another. I’m also always watching how they treat people. I’ve worked with people that were nice to me, presumably because they wanted me to hire them, but then turned around and treated a dresser or wig assistant like absolute garbage. That’s a HUGE no-no to me.
I believe that every person in this business, from the head of the company to the last usher picking up programs on the floor, should be treated the absolute same. Everyone there is working hard to make sure that the show is as perfect as it should be. When I see a Young Artist, or even a seasoned professional, acting like this, I always call them out on it. That behavior is the fastest way to ensure you that
won’t get hired by me again!
CS Music: What kind of operas are your favorite to conduct, and why?
Andy Anderson: I love conducting Puccini. I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I have conducted all of his operas, most of them multiple times. There is something about the way he constructed his music. The melody is amazing but the orchestrations are what blow me away. I am always in awe of his ability to go from a single instrument accompaniment to full orchestra and all in a matter of a few measures.
I absolutely love to conduct an opera that challenges me, mentally and physically. I remember conducting my first Wagner opera, Dutchman. The first time I opened the score, I instantly started to panic. My initial thoughts immediately turned to “What do I have to say that hasn’t already been said?” I spent months trying to find perfect tempi, perfect phrasing, perfect everything. I think I was driving my wife crazy. Finally, on the first day of rehearsal, I realized that everything I was looking for was already there. I just had to relax, get out of my own head, and enjoy the experience. It turned out to be one of the artistic highlights of my career, so far.
CS Music: Do you prefer conducting opera or musical theater? Why?
Andy Anderson: The cliché answer would be “I enjoy which ever one I’m doing at the time.” I consider myself lucky that I love both styles. I grew up listening to musicals and always thought that would be the way I would break into the opera world. I figured I would get my start in a Broadway pit and then move into the opera world. It has actually been the complete opposite. I conducted my first opera when I was 20 (Don Giovanni). I didn’t do my first musical until my 30’s.
I’ve only ever conducted musicals with opera companies. I’m often asked if I conduct a musical any different than the way I conduct an opera. I don’t think I do. I approach the scores the same way and certainly work with the singers in the same way. Sometimes I think conducting certain musicals is more challenging than some operas. Pacing underscoring, balancing the pit and stage because of voice registers, choreography, etc. If you are doing a book show with long sets of dialogue, keeping yourself engaged and constantly monitoring the dialogue to set it up for the next musical entrance can sometimes be the hardest part, especially if you are in the middle of a long run. These are the types of constant challenges that make it all fun.
CS Music: How do you prepare for an opera, and how do you make stylistic choices when interpreting the score?
Andy Anderson: I spend a lot of time doing research. I always think of the line from the first Indiana Jones film. He is standing in front of his class and tells them, “Remember, the majority of your work as an archeologist is done in the library.” I think this is so true for musicians. When I start working on a score, I always read the original source material. If it is based on a play, novel, etc., I will get my hands on a copy. After I have finished that, I read the libretto. I like to read about what was happening in the world when the composer was writing the piece.
What else was going on in his/her life? What was happening in the art world at the time? What was happening with world history at the time? All of this affects the piece and helps to define the style. After all of that is done, then I will open the score and start my analysis. I do a complete harmonic and structural analysis of the score. Basically, I take it apart to see how it was put together. After all of that is finished, I go back to the beginning and start “learning” it. I spend time at my piano playing through the score and I also spend time listening to recordings. I like to see what the great maestros have done but also take great care not to imitate them. This whole “discovery” process is my absolute favorite part of what I do.
CS Music: What advice would you give an aspiring young conductor?
Andy Anderson: First, spend time with vocalists. Learn from them. Go to their lessons and coaching. Listen to what their teachers are saying. Follow along in the music and write it all down. Also:
- Attend vocal master classes, studio classes, etc. Take what you learn and apply it toward your conducting. Are you breathing? Do you hear the vocal line in your head? Are you thinking about how the singer is modifying certain words in order to create the sound or color you are hearing/wanting/needing?
- Learn as much as you can so that you can be a conductor that knows how to support the singers.
- Look up from the orchestra and watch the singers.
- Breathe with them to let them know you have them.
- Make them feel supported and comfortable.
- Be collaborative.