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11/16/95: How do you evaluate another conductor’s performance? What is most important?

A conductor must do two things: In the rehearsal time allowed, he must structure the work for the audience and orchestra. That is, he must choose the proper tempi and lay out the score to show the dynamic and emotional climaxes. These climaxes sometimes occur at the same place but, in longer works, usually do not. Secondly, he must allow the players in the orchestra to perform at their best. This is accomplished by:

  • The “ear”—balancing elements of the orchestra so that the important lines are clearly heard (without forcing).
  • Cultivating good intonation—although an occasional accident can happen in performance.
  • Technique—clean attacks, of course, but technique also influences mood. For example, conducting larger note values (one instead of three beats per bar, or two instead instead of four) tends to give a smoother execution while conducting smaller note values (explicitly beating more of the notes) usually gives a more energized, accented account even at identical tempi.
  • Tempo—holding a very steady tempo or being flexible with it as the music or situation (e.g., an unrhythmic soloist) requires. This is an important enough element of technique to be discussed separately. (Wagner emphasized tempo as the bedrock of conducting technique, by the way.)
Taste influences all of these, of course. But taste is cultivated, too.

(While I have used the male pronoun here none of this is meant to exclude some very fine female conductors.)

©1995 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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