Examining the role of an orchestral conductor

Posted on: October 3, 2019

“There’s one question I hear again and again. Why does an orchestra need a conductor? And what, exactly, does a conductor do?” writes Anne Midgette in Tuesday’s (10/1) Washington Post. “No figure in classical music is more iconic than the conductor, or more misunderstood. The authoritarian figure on the podium, waving his arms and demanding that everyone follow him, is the embodiment of the worst sides of patriarchal classical tradition. Yet the conductor also is the ultimate communicator…. A conductor develops a vision of how she wants a piece of music to sound, and then tries to transmit that vision to 80 or 100 players…. One of the visual pleasures of a live orchestral concert is watching the conductor and seeing what kinds of gestures he makes and what difference … those make to what you hear…. In the documentary ‘The Art of Conducting: Great Conductors of the Past,’ … a timpanist with the Berlin Philharmonic recalls … [a rehearsal] when he suddenly heard an audible shift in the orchestra’s sound…. [Conductor Wilhelm] Furtwängler had walked into the room. ‘It was his personality alone that created a new sound—just by being in the room,’ the timpanist said.”

Posted October 3, 2019