01 What do the movements of the hands mean?
Conducting is communicating with the musicians in different ways. During rehearsals the conductor explains and discusses the piece in between playing. The hands of the conductor show the pulse, and phrasing of the music. There is a basic conducting technique to show time signature but in the end it is more than that. The conductor forms the music with his gestures – it’s a mix of showing tempo, beat and expression – a mix of technique and playing music without an instrument.
02 What is the conductor’s mission during rehearsals?
The conductor must be well-prepared in advance to be able to convey his intention of how the piece of music should sound, as well as to respect the composer’s will. During the rehearsals it is the conductor’s task to listen attentively to what the musicians are playing – it’s about shaping sequences of notes (phrasing), sound balance, intonation, articulation and expression. On one hand, the conductor must bridge both, his own interpretation and meticulous analysis of the piece, and the musicians’ input. On the other hand, the style of the orchestra and its tradition of sound play an equally big role.
03 How to become a conductor?
There are different ways to a conductor’s career. The most common one, is to study conducting at the university and start right afterwards to work as an accompanist in rehearsals at theatre productions. Here you would be responsible to support the music director and rehearse with the soloists and the choir. If you are lucky, you get the chance to conduct the theatre’s orchestra during such rehearsals or you might even get the possibility to act as a temporary replacement of the music director. If you do a good job this can be the start of your career.
Another option is to become an assistant of a prominent conductor. As an assistant, you are responsible to help with preparing music material and sometimes to conduct the rehearsals. In either case, it is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Some have been discovered and promoted by talent-hunters in the most unexpected moments. In the end it could also be a mix of all the ones mentioned.
04 Do musicians even look at the conductor?
This is a frequently asked question. The short answer is yes. Working on a piece of music with an orchestra is a process involving many people but ultimately guided by the conductor. In the rehearsals and during the concert, everybody on stage must be very attentive. The musicians watch the conductor at the same time they are looking to the sheet music. Thanks to peripheric view the musicians recognize the movements of the director. After practicing many hours, they also know many parts by heart and do not have to follow the score note by note, therefore making it possible to look at the conductor’s instructions for longer.
05 Why is a conductor so important?
The conductor’s profession appeared when the orchestras became bigger and bigger. Before that, the leader of the orchestra played the cembalo (former version of the piano) and directed the musicians only when necessary. At the time, the concertmaster (leader of the first violins) also played a very important role in the leadership of the orchestra. In the 19th century more instruments were developed, and the orchestrations of composed music became more expansive. It became progressively difficult to coordinate the large number of musicians while playing in the orchestra on your own. Therefore, it became a common practice to install a conductor to arrange both, rehearsals and concerts.
An easy way to see it is comparing it to a company – there must be somebody who is responsible for the performance and leads the employees to achieve the best result possible. Throughout communal work and cooperation. The bigger the company the more important is the organization of the leadership, the smaller the more responsibility each of the employees can take.