I had a conversation recently with a retired violinist-conductor, whose many years on both sides of the podium gave him an interesting perspective. “I can assure you,” he said, “the conductor does not have more impact on the performance than the concertmaster.”
But articles on concertmasters are few and far between. I can imagine a fascinating study comparing the concertmasters of various orchestras and what they bring to each orchestra’s sound world and interpretation. Why have I never read such an article, yet every day I read about the men and women who stand on the podium and don’t play a note?
Don’t get me wrong – great conductors are wonderful beasts, and their impact on orchestras is undeniable.
But our fascination with conductors often seems out of proportion to their roles in shaping the music. Why is that? Is there a process of identification taking place? I suppose if you don’t play an instrument, it might seem easy (it’s not) and gratifying to imagine yourself waving your arms around in time to the music. Surely it’s easier to imagine mastering that skill than mastering the intricacies of the violin.
Or is it the baton itself, the wand that seems to magically pull forth lush sound with each wizardly stroke? Do we have an innate desire to believe in supernatural powers, a desire gratified by the visual-aural confluence of a maestro cutting an enormous swath of sound?