What is a conductor supposed to do (and not to do)
Well, last month I spent a week teaching at the Bard Conductors Institute. It was absolutely fantastic, as it always is when I go back to that special place. And, as usual, when you teach you learn – a big plus.
What daunted on me during this week – and later on reading some questions on the web – is that a lot of people, some students included, do not have really clear what the purpose of a conductor in an orchestra is. The most common misunderstanding is that a conductor is there to beat time in nice clear patterns, so that the orchestra can understand where they are. Add some dynamics to it and some show-biz gestures and you’re ready to go.
That is simply wrong.
Typical conductor’s patterns for 2/4, 3/4 and 4/4
Patterns are not conducting
Patterns have nothing to do with conducting. Patterns are dry, meaningless exercises which the orchestra – any orchestra – does not need. So, why is it that patterns are the first and sometimes only thing you see when you watch a conductor? It’s the basic, rawest piece of
Conducting patterns are very easy to replicate and understand, but they defy the purpose of a conductor, transforming him/her in a live metronome: you can even see patterns being endlessly mirrored with two hands. Honestly, do you think that in a Mozart’s symphony, for example, players will not be able to count to 4?
The answer is quite obviously no: orchestras today can play almost anything without a conductor. Players do not need a beat, they need a pulse. A pulse is what makes the orchestra start, speed up, slow down. It’s not
Which brings us back to our first question. Having established what isn’t the purpose of a conductor (a time beating machine), what’s the other option? What’s the real point of an orchestra conductor?
To shape the music.
By the way, if you are a conductor I suggest reading Farberman’s book on conducting technique: it’s simply brilliant. Or even better, follow his course at Bard College and Serembe’s course at the Italian Conducting Academy.
Sound, breathing, gestures, technique: they all come from the same place, the score. Any breath a conductor takes, any movement he/she makes, has an impact on the orchestra players and on their sound. This simple concept makes a real difference when someone steps on the podium.
No shape means no music, no music means no emotions.
No emotions…: then what’s the point of being on the podium?
I’ll leave you with two of the greatest conductors of all times. No patterns. No bs. Just music.