Carl Topilow, conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

A genuine love of music and the enjoyment of connecting with musicians and audiences

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

Conducting mentors and teachers – Leon Barzin and Otto Werner Mueller.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

Programming for the abilities of your orchestra and for the tastes of your audience. Judging the length of the program. Making sure that the selections chosen allow for sufficient rehearsal time by not over-programming with too many difficult pieces or with a program that is too long.

Knowing the score well enough to impart your ideas and concepts to other musicians.

Leading a fine performance which connects with the audience and inspires the musicians.

Understanding each section and instrument of the orchestra, and giving consistent, well informed, and practical suggestions during rehearsal.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Through clear gestures, effective bowings and phrasing, well prepared parts, consistent and practical tempos, creating the desired sound and mood for each phrase.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

The role of the conductor in today’s society is multifaceted. Interesting programming, efficient rehearsing, fiscal responsibility, connecting with the audience, inspiring leadership and communication with the orchestra, the staff, the board, the audience, the media, the community. The ability to identify with the musicians, understanding their needs for them to be able to perform at their best.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Puccini’s Turandot

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Cleveland’s Severance Hall

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Composers – Dvorak, Puccini, John Williams, Stephen Sondheim, and lots more. Whatever composer I’m conducting at the moment.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Preparing the musicians through thorough and engaging rehearsals to play a technically secure and inspired performance. Connecting with the audience with exciting playing and effective commentary.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Each orchestral musician needs to be aware of his or her role within each phrase – are you playing the melody, countermelody, harmony, rhythmic pulse – and the relative importance of each. Note lengths, articulation, phrase direction – listening to your fellow orchestra members and fitting your part appropriately.

The difficulties of establishing a career in music, not to put all your eggs in one basket. Have lofty goals, but also alternative plans should they not come to fruition. Finding what you need to do while working toward these goals, effective practicing, performing as much as possible, coping with audition stress, if that’s your chosen career path. Cultivating other interests, finding out if teaching is fulfilling to you.


Carl Topilow is renowned worldwide for his versatility, whether he is holding a conductor’s baton or his trademark red clarinet. He is a multi-talented virtuoso who equally at home in classical and popular music both as conductor and instrumentalist. Carl’s pops performances blend light classical, swing, jazz, Broadway, Dixieland, and Klezmer music, usually finding occasion to include a number on his array of brightly colored clarinets. His unique approach to pops programming includes extensive audience involvement and true showmanship.

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