What Makes a Good Conductor?

My life as an orchestral musician has been spent mainly on the concert platform, behind the footlights, and I suppose conductors come across to me differently to the audience on the other side.

There is a certain personal magnetism, electricity, penumbra, radiation or telepathy, call it what you will, that seems to exude from a really great conductor.
There are many fine conductors who set a good tempo, have a good stick technique and can accompany a soloist well but who do lack this personal magnetism.   I don’t want to drop names  but a few conductors including Victor de Sabata, Beecham, Bruno Walter, Furtwãngler and Nadia Boulanger certainly had it.  Others that I met who possessed it included Anthony Eden, Laurence Olivier, Jiddu Krishnamurti and David Bohm, the theoretical physicist.

De Sabata was able to send shivers down one’s back, especially in such pieces as the Dies Irae from Verdi’s Requiem or the Witches Sabbath in Berlioz’s Fantastic Symphony.  Those bulging brown eyes of his seemed to mesmerize us all.

Some conductors attempt to fake this magnetism or try to coax the atmosphere by dancing around on the podium, hectoring the orchestra whilst indulging in pyrotechnics, but however hard they try; if they don’t have it, they don’t just have it!


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