The great and true conductors know what their mission is, but it is sad to note how many there are of another sort entirely.
At the moment I am in the midst of reading a wonderful book written by an immensely gifted Dutch conductor, and am planning to present a review of it in the next post on this site. Knowing the author personally as well as having had the occasion to enjoy his work adds to my delight at all the eminently sensible, inspiring things he has to say — yet, oddly, I find myself nearly overwhelmed with sadness and even despair that the contrast is so pronounced between this man’s nature (and that of those relatively few like him) and the hordes of would-be conductors haunting orchestras everywhere. Still stronger is my conviction that the aspiring leaders who need such a book and should take it to heart will either never come across it or will not be capable of understanding it and believing that its wise words apply to them.
The emperor’s new conductors, expensive at a dime a dozen
Forgive this longtime orchestra violinist, who, though not in the least affected in her playing by the horrors to which she has been exposed, feels the need to react to some of the musical injustices she — together with her put-upon colleagues — has had to endure. Audiences attending concerts cannot possibly realize what is taking place when an orchestra is doing its best in spite of the circumstances; all self-respecting orchestras ignore and work around conductors who are incompetent, with fairly decent and even remarkable results most of the time, despite the huge obstacle facing them. Well-known (well-rehearsed on other occasions) music plays itself, in a sense, if allowed to, the problem often being someone who insists on getting in the way.
Great conductors are humble, in service to the music and the musicians
One can feel, first of all, the humility of the conductors who recognize the genius of the composers whose works they are privileged to interpret. Secondly, a true maestro is aware of his debt to the players and will give them everything they need, every step of the way through. This post is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of what constitutes greatness in conducting. It is, rather, a short and puzzled lament that there could be so many who long to stand in front of an orchestra for all the wrong reasons — a subject that continues, and will be continued, in the long term all over (alas), and in the short term in this space.