From the current issue of Choir & Organ
To the uninitiated, conducting can seem like a bit of a soft option. What do these conductors actually do to earn their money? After all, it’s the players and singers who are doing all the work, and as Sir Thomas Beecham notoriously said, as long as the performers start together and finish together, no one gives a damn what goes on in between.Or do they? Watching a recent TV programme about Karajan, I was reminded of the only time I saw him conduct live: I’d started the Beethoven symphony relaxing back in my seat, and by the last chords found that I had gradually moved without realising it, till I was sitting and leaning as far forward as possible, right on the edge of my seat. Far from being little more than a human metronome to keep everyone together, or Wrong Note Detector in a rehearsal, it is the conductor who makes or breaks a piece of music; whose job is to live with it and let it mature within; to seek out the spirit of the composer’s intentions yet also bring their own unique dimension to it; to convey that to the performers, and draw from them an expressivity that transforms the music from being just an awful lot of notes (however meticulously played) into something that touches our souls. This is an interactive process – ‘conducting’ in the same sense that electricity is conducted.