What is He Thinking? — Part 2

During a concert, a conductor’s high level of concentration focuses primarily on the two technical relationships I wrote about in Part 1 (November 24, 2007).  But he (or she) is only human, and music is a collaborative, human art form.  The image of conductor as prism opened a door to three other relationships he has on the podium but as support to the technical:

3.  The conductor’s relationship with the orchestra: a long-standing music director will have more of a relationship with the orchestra musicians than a guest conductor, but there will be a working relationship of leader for both.  The most important aspect of this relationship in my mind, especially for performance, is the establishment and building of trust, and this is achieved in rehearsals.  A conductor earns the musicians’ trust by being a good musician, knowledgeable, well prepared, being able to communicate effectively (both verbally and with the baton), and being dedicated to and focused on the music.  In other words, doing his job well.  The musicians earn the conductor’s trust by being good musicians, disciplined, cooperative, ready to work and focused on the music.  Just as the musicians listen to the conductor, he also needs to listen to them.  Trust between conductor and orchestra affects the confidence of each during concerts.  They all want the same thing: an excellent performance of the music.  Trust and confidence enhances performance.

4.  The conductor’s relationship with the music: his knowledge of the music as well as his emotional response to it.  For example, In Perceval, Evan conducts a symphony composed by his godfather and mentor, so his relationship with this music is deeply personal and emotional and it can trigger memories for him, feelings.  Surrounded by the music on the podium, his feelings can range from not liking it at all to being deeply moved by it.  His emotional response, however, needs to be controlled so it doesn’t interfere with concentration.  He might have fleeting memories, images, emotions, evoked by the music (or provoked by it in Evan’s case) but his focus on the podium remains on the music.  (The orchestra musicians will have their own relationships with the music, also.)

5.  The conductor’s relationship with the audience: for the audience, the conductor is like a guide and host to the music and concert experience.  When he walks onstage at the beginning, is he welcoming, confident, including the orchestra as if introducing them to the audience?  Does he frown or smile?  Does he run to the podium as if afraid of the audience or walk purposefully at a steady pace?  For the audience, when a conductor is on the podium, he becomes a visual representation of the music (although in talking with conductors, I have never heard them express this idea).  He’s the guide on the journey of listening to the music, cuing instrument entrances, changing the tempo or meter, increasing the volume, clarifying the phrasing, and so on.  The best conductors I’ve seen are relaxed and confident on the podium, a little bit showmen and communicate in their demeanor that they’re happy to be there and every audience member is his and the orchestra’s honored guest.  He’s the guy (along with the orchestra he’s leading) who opens up the possibility for the audience to have a relationship with the music or not.  In return, the audience owes him their quiet attention and, at the end, their raucous appreciation (or not).

These five relationships opened up all sorts of possibilities for describing Evan on the podium in chapter 1: to show him moving, thinking and feeling, and revealing just who he was as a person and musician, his background and his present, giving me what I needed to introduce him in a memorable way.

For an excellent article on what’s expected of a conductor, i.e. a “job description,” check out “Traits and Skills of a Music Director” under the Artistic Interest area of the American Symphony Orchestra League website (www.symphony.org).


2 responses to “What is He Thinking? — Part 2

  1. Very informative! I did know how difficult conducting an orchestra is before I read this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks. Conductors work hard. My challenge was to be able to imagine their human experience on the podium and describe it writing about Evan Quinn conducting a concert in chapter 1, use it to reveal his character and motivations. Even so, a conductor’s primary focus while conducting is always the music.

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