As a professional conductor, I am happy to share some thought here and also
look forward to what fellow conductor Joel Lazar has to say.
Jeff Grossman wrote:
>Hello, everyone. I am interested in what you guys have to say about
>conductors. Specifically, what is it that makes a good conductor?
Clear and concise instruction from the podium in rehearsal, thorough
knowledge of the score, a clear beat pattern that is devoid of excess
showmanship for its own sake, and an the ability to get singers and
players to bend to his or her will and enjoy doing it.
>Why do some conductors have the ability to immediately connect with an
>audience or orchestra, and others immediately turn us away?
For the same reasons that we find some people humorous and others
obnoxious. It is a matter of the gelling of personalities.
>Is it necessary to be somewhat of a tyrant to be a good conductor?
Definitely not. It is however necessary to insist that the musicians work
together to bring off the conductor's concept, and that rhythmic accuracy
and vitality and intonation and the like are at standard.
>Must one play every instrument well, or is it only necessary to have
>working knowledge of all instruments?
Neither. A good conductor knows how the music should sound. It is
offensive to a musician to be told how to play his instrument. I do not
play any orchestral instrument. My performance degree is in voice. I
merely tell the players how I want the music to sound (usually by singing
it to them) and ask them to do what it takes to make it happen. I do on
occasion tell singers how to do what I want, but I am a singer myself and
so I have the proper credentials to do so. Furthermore, I often work with
amateur singers who need instruction from time to time.
>And how does the level of orchestra influence this standard? Obviously, a
>conductor at the high school level has different things he needs to do than
>the conductor of a major symphony orchestra. But to what degree does this
>alter his working style?
Greatly. The High school director is first a teacher. The
professional symphony conductor is past that stage and is concerned with
the interpretation of the score. He can assume that the orchestra he
is in front of is professional and proficient on their instruments.
>When you hear an orchestra that sounds particularly good or bad, do you
>think the conductor gets the credit for it? All the credit, or just some?
A great deal of the credit and the blame. If the conductor's concept of
the piece is wrong, or he chooses incorrect tempi, uses excessive dynamic
shifts and rubato, the orchestra will sound bad. I think, for example,
that the Chicago symphony sounded awful in the later Solti years because
the brass played to hard and the strings had no warmth. The Philadelphia
Orchestra during the Stowki/Ormandy tenures was a fabulous instrument
because these men knew how to create a "sound".
I am sure that this will start a lively discussion and I look forward to
reading and participating in it!