I’m not hoary
25 Mar 2011
Inside the Classics

The topic is conductors again over at the Washington Post, as Anne Midgette discusses Muti, Levine and the importance of the conductor in the whole scheme of things. All of which is fine, although, frankly, I get a little tired of the discussion about the mystique surrounding conductors and whether they really do make a difference.

The closing paragraph, though, caught my eye:

Give me a choice between a hoary authority figure, standing up before an orchestra and beating time, and a group of engaged musicians working to take the responsibility of making music together, and I’ll pick the latter, on paper, every time. In practice, though, there’s a problem: I always leave Orpheus’s concerts thinking that they’d be even better if only they played with a conductor.

It plays to the archetype of conductor-as-silver-haired-dictator, which I find less and less the case these days (Dudamel, anyone?). But, more to the point, it posits an either/or scenario; either it’s the hoary time-beater or it’s engaged musicians who might have done better with some conductorial guidance. From my perspective, the optimal collaboration is conductor as musical impetus/mood creator and musicians as willing and emotionally vested participants in a musical voyage that requires the participation of everyone. Which, honestly, is not an impossible scenario.

Musicians out there, what do you think? What leads to the best music-making? And audiences; what difference does it make to you?

<February 2020>

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