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CM readers may already be familiar with the articles which proved the starting-point for this volume. Conductor Levon Parikian’s task is to bring to the wider public the life-story and thoughts on conducting of his friend Barrington Orwell, tragically killed in ‘an as yet unexplained contrabassoon accident’.

Yes, he’s a fictitious friend (though one aches to have met him!) who proves to be the vehicle for Parikian’s own quirky thoughts on conducting. Quirky, yes, but using humour to transmit all manner of acute observations on what it’s like to stand up in front of an orchestra.

You try and get a laugh out of classical music at your peril, of course – nothing, absolutely nothing, is more cringe-making than an attempted comedic approach that goes off half-cock or worse. Thankfully, Parikian’s very real skills as both writer and humourist render Waving, Not Drowning a highly entertaining read.

The book’s first section is devoted to Orwell’s pocket ‘autobiography’, taking us through the delights of his first piano teacher, Aurelia Lovejoy; his initial painful attempts at conducting while at St Umbrage’s public school; and on to studies in Germany with the renowned Professor Etwas Ruhiger. All good fun – and thus far, the general reader will probably find plenty to chuckle about.

The rest of Waving, Not Drowning, covering the gamut of aspects to the conductor’s job (from how to get an orchestra started and Parikian’s hilarious ‘gestural vocabulary’ to thoughts on female conductors, choice of stick and working with soloists) will probably most appeal to the musically initiated. But it’s none the worse for that, and the left-field approach is a smart way to transmit a few home truths and puncture the pomposity classical music is so often accused of. A flavour of Parikian’s wit? I quote the whole of his (tongue-in-cheek) chapter on working with choirs: ‘avoid’.

At this price especially, a must-read.

ANDREW GREEN Read the full review on Agora Classica

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