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Conducting, Not Directing

A simple definition of the art of conducting could be that it involves eliciting from the orchestra with the most appropriate minimum of conductorial (if you will, choreographic) gestures a maximum of accurate acoustic result...Almost all of us are to one extent or another variously inept...most of us are too tall or too short, our arms are too long or too short, or to stiff or too loose, or too something.... But that physical expression is but the exterior manifestation of what we know and feel about music (the score). All the physical, chorographical skills in the world will amount to nothing if they represent an insufficient (intellectual) knowledge of the score and an inadequate (emotional) feeling for the music - in other words a knowledge of what to represent, of what to realise.

Certainly it takes a healthy ego to develop the courage to stand before an orchestra of seventy five or eighty musicians, to impose his or her musical/interpretative will on that orchestra, to in a sense dominate those musicians, and to "dare" to interpret the great masterpieces of the Western tradition. However, the important goal for all of us, is to win them to our side so that most of them think about the music in the same way as we do; we then invite them to make music with us, rather than imposing our interpretation.

It was my nature to fall in love with every beautiful detail of a composition and try to reproduce them with all of the intensity of expression of which I was capable, and thus neglect the synthesis and unity of conception which are the main points of an authentic interpretation. My enthusiasm for detail was stronger than my capacity for subsuming them under a higher order. Bruno Walter

Interpretation does exist of course, you never have a totally objective reading of a work, given that you perceive it yourself and thus put something into it, and I don't think this subjectivity is necessarily detrimental to the text. Pierre Boulez

In my view, the only way to conduct is to conduct with a purpose. If I hear something that has remarkable moments but no special design, it leaves me unsatisfied. Pierre Boulez

A melodic phrase needs to be articulated. If we're talking about phrasing in general, lets talk about articulation, because articulation does indeed relate to a particular phrase, but also to a rhythm, to a form or a segment of form. It also related to the delineation of timbre and the delineation of polyphony.

We do not need to conduct the beats - the players will normally develop a corporate feel for the pulse. We do not need to conduct the dynamics, except to control - the players should respond to the printed page

We do need to conduct the phrasing and the overall architecture - no player can know exactly what his or her part in the structure of the movement is at any one time, only we, with the privilege of the score and our study, can develop this.

Orchestras, like aeroplanes, do it by themselvesHerbert von Karajan


Toscanini once commented that at a first rehearsal a conductor should always listen with an open mind to the way solo players handle their important passages before making suggestions or criticisms.

There is no performance of genius possible without temperamentFelix Weingartner

...the conductor's first priority is to serve the music, to be a medium, a vehicle, through which the work of art is revealed and expressedGunther Schuller

...When Wagner conducted, the players had no sense of being led. Each believed himself to be following freely his own feeling, yet they all worked together wonderfully. It was Wagner's mighty will that powerfully but unperceived had overborne their single wills, so that each thought himself free, while in reality he followed the leader, whose artistic force lived and worked in him.Felix Weingartner on Wagner

By dint of diligent, indefatigable practice he had so infused into the orchestra his own conception of the works as to get a perfection of ensemble at that time unknown. ...The orchestra seemed to be a single instrument, on which Bulow played as on a pianoforteFelix Weingartner on von Bulow

...if we have the music inside our bodies it doesn't matter if the first beat isn't straight down. It doesn't matter if the left hand doesn't operate as independently as we would like it to. Be only in the service of the music, not the service of the technique.Leonard Slatkin

...the band director/conductor must possess insights into creativity, expressiveness and music, human and spiritual values.Frank Battisti