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rebbel's avatar

Music question: Who do conductors think they are?

Asked by rebbel (29445points) November 10th, 2011

I sometimes watch culture talk shows on television where there is talk about the way a certain conductor conducts his orchestra to perform a certain symphony.
The one conductor wants a certain passage to sound loud(er) where an other wants it to sound soft(er), or where one plays a part fast(er), the other plays it slow(er).
Assuming that the composer meant his piece to be played in a (his/her) specific way, who do conductors think they are to violate the meaning of that composer?
Are they artists too?
Do they want to measure themselves with the great minds that composers are/were?
Or am I simply missing something important?

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7 Answers

janbb's avatar

I guess an analogy could be made to a director of a play and its playwright. While the playwright has put in stage directions, there is still room for the director to interpret the play and give the actors instructions on how he wants the play performed. While a composer will label the parts of a piece “adagio”, “allegro” or “forte” for example, there is still room for the conductor to interpret how slowly, quickly or loud s/he wants it played in relation to the other parts.

marinelife's avatar

There is a lot of room for interpretation in sheet music as it is written. Conductors are the interpreters, if you will, of the composer’s mindset.

They are also the absolute boss of the orchestra. yes, they are artists and have the egos to match.

mazingerz88's avatar

GQ, I’ve wondered the same thing myself. Wish there’s a jelly who plays in an orchestra to give us that unique perspective.

Ok, so apparently there was a time in the past where a conductor even ended up dying after a performance . Here. And the link has quite some other useful info on the history and significance of conducting.

SavoirFaire's avatar

When a composer writes music, he knows it will be interpreted by whoever performs it. Interpretation is one of the elements of art. You can’t have 100 separate interpretations and wind up with a decent sounding performance (at least not in most cases), so the conductor is the one who does all sorts of research and comes up with an idea for how a particular performance or set of performances will sound.

Conductors are fully-fledged musicians. They go through the same basic training as other musicians, including performance lessons, and then go on to specialize in what is really a rather complicated skill. I had to take some conducting classes when I was majoring in music composition. My experiences in those classes gave me a great amount of appreciation for what professional conductors do. They are definitely artists, and I definitely respect them.

Zaku's avatar

They think they are the man with the plan.

Yes, they are musical artists, arranging a performance of a musical score. A score does not convey all of the information about how to play everything. The composer and individual musicians also do their artistic parts.

harple's avatar

They are the s/he who must be obeyed!

I play in an orchestra, and the conductor’s guidance is vital. When a pianist plays a piano piece, as a musician they make decisions as to how fast they play, how loud/soft etc, with the guidance of the composer’s written directions.

Imagine an orchestra of some 70 different musicians all making their own interpretations of the composer’s written directions. It just wouldn’t work. The conductor is needed to be the final word.

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