The Importance of Chemistry Between Conductor and Orchestra

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

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

So, motivator is part of \r\nit, but there is definitely a craft to conducting, so the ability to \r\nshow things in a way that the orchestra can respond in a good way... \r\nthere is a technique involved.  It's not just that the conductor is only\r\n motivating the... the conductor is definitely in the performance.  I \r\ndon't know that there's another dynamic that I can think of that is \r\nquite comparable.  A lot of managers are interested in what conductors \r\ndo.  There's actually a little cottage industry of conductors who do \r\nconsulting and go speak to businesses to show what the model is because \r\npeople seem to find it very interesting, the dynamic between the \r\nconductor and the orchestra.  The conductor both leads but also what I \r\ntry to do, anyway, is to lead in a way that takes into account what I'm \r\nbeing offered at the same time, so there's definite traffic both ways.  I\r\n try to lead in a way that is taking into account the result of what I'm\r\n provoking, so there's a lot happening all at the same time.  I think \r\nthat can be a good lesson for managers to really... to expect something \r\nfrom the orchestra but then to use that expectation to create what \r\nyou're asking for at the same time.  It's kind of a constant circle \r\nof... 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 \r\nwhat I think is my main job is to try to bring everybody together and to\r\n get them to cooperate and to have a way with a particular piece or a \r\nparticular composer.  That's one of the things I'm most pleased with, \r\nactually – the way things are going.  I feel that there's a really \r\ndefined and clear stylistic difference, depending on which piece the \r\norchestra's playing, which composer the orchestra's playing.  What I try\r\n to do is in the rehearsals really go for a certain kind of sound.  I \r\nthink the sound itself is the most interesting thing that we deal with \r\nas musicians, and I'm trying to help the orchestra, which is of course \r\ngreat already and is amazing at playing lots of different music.  I'm \r\ntrying to make it more specific so that for example, when we play Mozart\r\n there's a certain type of sound that we go for on the strings.  It \r\nmight be a lighter bow stroke or a faster bow stroke.  I mean, the \r\ntechnical things are not important or interesting, but they're ways to \r\nadjust the sound, and I think that it is important to have a distinct \r\nsound for Mozart or even a particular piece of Mozart.

Recorded on June 18, 2010
Interviewed by David Hirschman

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

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