The Importance of Chemistry Between Conductor and Orchestra

A conductor is a motivator—his main job is to "bring everybody together and to get them to cooperate."
  • Transcript


Question: How important is the chemistry between an orchestra and its conductor?

Alan Gilbert: I think it's a unique relationship because the conductor is an essential part of the equation.  The orchestra is obviously an essential part of the equation.  The medium is sound, and the conductor doesn't make sound, so already that's strange because the conductor is clearly an important factor in the way a performance goes, but the conductor doesn't actually make the sound.  The musicians, the players on the stage, make the sound.

So, motivator is part of it, but there is definitely a craft to conducting, so the ability to show things in a way that the orchestra can respond in a good way... there is a technique involved.  It's not just that the conductor is only motivating the... the conductor is definitely in the performance.  I don't know that there's another dynamic that I can think of that is quite comparable.  A lot of managers are interested in what conductors do.  There's actually a little cottage industry of conductors who do consulting and go speak to businesses to show what the model is because people seem to find it very interesting, the dynamic between the conductor and the orchestra.  The conductor both leads but also what I try to do, anyway, is to lead in a way that takes into account what I'm being offered at the same time, so there's definite traffic both ways.  I try to lead in a way that is taking into account the result of what I'm provoking, so there's a lot happening all at the same time.  I think that can be a good lesson for managers to really... to expect something from the orchestra but then to use that expectation to create what you're asking for at the same time.  It's kind of a constant circle of... a transfer of energy.

Is it hard to make a unified sound with so many disparate musicians?

Alan Gilbert:  I think it is hard, and that's after all what I think is my main job is to try to bring everybody together and to get them to cooperate and to have a way with a particular piece or a particular composer.  That's one of the things I'm most pleased with, actually – the way things are going.  I feel that there's a really defined and clear stylistic difference, depending on which piece the orchestra's playing, which composer the orchestra's playing.  What I try to do is in the rehearsals really go for a certain kind of sound.  I think the sound itself is the most interesting thing that we deal with as musicians, and I'm trying to help the orchestra, which is of course great already and is amazing at playing lots of different music.  I'm trying to make it more specific so that for example, when we play Mozart there's a certain type of sound that we go for on the strings.  It might be a lighter bow stroke or a faster bow stroke.  I mean, the technical things are not important or interesting, but they're ways to adjust the sound, and I think that it is important to have a distinct sound for Mozart or even a particular piece of Mozart.

Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman