Do orchestras actually need conductors?

June 12, 2014

Ivan Hewett, writing for The Telegraph:

So where does the truth lie? Is a conductor no more than a combination of timekeeper and showman, emoting like mad for the crowds? Or does he (or she) truly reveal something extra in the music, some extra ounce of expressive intensity or layer of meaning that the players might not discover for themselves?

In my experience, it’s a bit of both, and the author seems to agree. In my time as a violinist or keyboardist in our local orchestras, there were countless times when my conductor saved me from missing an entrance, helped our section shape a phrase more effectively, or managed to truly change the entire ambience of the performance through his/her actions. Members of the audience would later repeat the same thing to me from a different perspective.