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36

A good conductor: Provides musical leadership Unifies the ensemble in the musical moment Decides on the how of music that cannot be communicated in the score Communicates to the ensemble non-verbally At the top level of your question, indeed, there exist ensembles that perform without a conductor. These ensembles are often heavily rehearsed, and quite ...


30

There are several reason. The most basic would be “so that they could play together”. A symphonic orchestra is much bigger than a band, and being in perfect sync with the player at the other side of the stage or pit can be hard without visual cues. In smaller ensemble, such as a quartet, quintet, or even chamber orchestra, there might be no conductor or the ...


26

You ask "if most things are known in advance"---but who made those advance decisions? A conductor's role begins long before the actual performance, even before rehearsals begin. S/he makes decisions such as what tempo "Allegra ma non troppo" really means, how loud forte really is, how to coordinate one hundred people to play rubato together, how to balance ...


17

Let me try to add to the excellent answers. In general: Your question is legit, but it can be readily explained with scale. Compare: "me and my brother built a doghouse yesterday - why building a skyscraper needs an architect and blueprints?" :) More in detail: The musicians are presumably professionals who have had much practice at this point, so why ...


12

In my experience, it's best just to stop right when you notice the issue and address it immediately. If you are determined to continue without stopping, and your quick slash isn't enough to jog your memory, either stop conducting, letting your musicians continue, and actually write a note, or just don't worry about it. If you don't notice anything the next ...


12

There's a funny thing that happens when you look at more and more advanced orchestras. Across the board, the level of musicianship and technical skill increases among the players in the ensemble. This has a side effect in that more advanced orchestras need less and less information1 from the conductor in order to play together, in part because section ...


11

Traditionally, conductors of choirs will not conduct using a baton unless they are leading a full orchestra along with their choir, whereas conductors of orchestras and other large ensembles will use a baton. Using a baton is an additional skill; in programs of conducting pedagogy I've seen, all students will work with a baton in their first few semesters ...


8

A suggestion for an exercise: Select a short passage of music of say four bars that involve everyone and has room for some conducting work in terms of dynamic or tempo changes. Go through it until everyone can play it without looking at the music. Then have everyone look at you, while playing that passage over and over again. Each time you do something ...


7

From my experience as a band musician, I can say that most of the importance of the conductor is during rehearsing. A well rehearsed orchestra composed of good musicians can play without a conductor in case of necessity, but without him they would probably never be able to successfully rehearse a piece of music. An orchestra is a very complex organism and ...


7

The written notes actually miss a lot of information. If you would write down every little tempo change, every little accent, small and large scale rubato, microdynamics, articulations, etc. etc., the score would be impossible to read, and it would probably still miss something. What the composer writes down is just a skeleton of the piece and the most ...


7

Raise the stands! Seen it a zillion times. The music stands need to be set high enough that the conductor's upper body is visible just above the top edge of the music. That way they can read the music AND receive visual input from the conductor simultaneously. The problem with having to "look up" is then you get lost when you look down again.


7

First what makes a good conductor. Being a good conductor requires three things: a broad knowledge of music in general and music theory in particular, the mastering of musicality and, last but not the least, very strong management and organisational skills. I believe point 1 is obvious. A conductor must be able to look at the score and make it sound in ...


7

Édouard gave the politically correct answer, but things are a bit more complicated. TL;DR During concerts the conductor does mostly more than necessary, most of his/her work takes place during rehearsals. Turns out, experienced orchestras (not an orchestra of experienced musicians, but an orchestra that has lots of experience playing as that same ...


6

There aren't any specific rules, conductors don't need to use a baton or in fact anything, but it makes it easier for the orchestra to see the conductor's movements. Especially for those musicians further back, it just gives a nice specific timing point.


6

The conductor should always follow the soloist, not the other way around. The conductor is there to keep the large ensemble of musicians playing together smoothly. The soloist is there to take liberties and add some personal interpretation to his or her part. If it's a concerto, for instance, the conductor's job is to follow the soloist and wave his arms to ...


6

In my experience as both ensemble member and conductor I believe that there is considerable benefit to separating the role of the conductor from the other musicians. During rehearsal, a conductor should focus all attention to the ensemble and helping them stay together, balance parts, etc... It takes considerable mental and physical effort to play an ...


6

In orchestral music, tempo often varies a lot, and it's much harder for a large group of players to speed up / slow down together than it is for them to just keep going at the same speed, so a single source of 'pulse' is useful here. Édouard mentioned the size of the orchestra making it hard to hear - one reason is that an orchestra pit can be 20 metres or ...


5

I have no experience in conducting, but I assume what works for your own instrumental performance will work here, too. When you're really in doubt, I would definitely try to record the performance and listen to it again when you can totally concentrate on it. You'll have more "space" to analyze and the next time you'll be more prepared.


5

I would say that the best way is to try to go through the whole piece at least once, marking each issue to address with a small but noticeable sign in the conductor's score (I would recommend a circle), so that later you can study each of them by its own, and with the proper musicians. Be careful, though. Don't fall into the trap of trying to correct every ...


5

The soloist should do all of those things. You don't necessarily have to look straight at the conductor though. Peripheral vision can be enough to see the movement of the hands and baton. If you just listen instead of watching too, there's a good chance you'll miss something and not be together with the ensemble. However, the conductor also needs to ...


4

The best way I've seen conductors solve this problem is by "changing it up" with their conducting. I've played in bands for a long time, and I've found nothing more effective. For example. In the middle of a piece, change the tempo. When a small percentage of the students actually catch what you're doing, they'll follow you. The others, when hearing that ...


4

In addition to having eyes to see the conductor, most professional orchestra players have ears with which to hear one another, and, being able to win an orchestra audition, tend to be excellent musicians with a great sense of rhythm and time. To put it simply, if the orchestra is not in need of timing information from the conductor, the conductor is wasting ...


4

Lots of the points have already been made, but regarding the need for the score I'll give an example which illustrates the point. I play in a guitar orchestra of 25 - in our last rehearsal our conductor added no less than 16 new instructions to the score for a piece that is only a few minutes long - including what tone to play (dolce, ponticello, ...


3

One useful way of looking at it is that the orchestra is a single musical instrument, and the conductor is the player, playing the orchestra. While the notes and durations are written on the sheets, the conductor indicates to the musicians the exact timing and articulations of important melodies. Sections that have long rests may receive a cue when they ...


3

I used to play first violin for a strathspey and reel orchestra and from that limited perspective: There is no way I could have conducted in rehearsal or otherwise - always too busy making sure my part was correct! You need to have the capability and vision to concentrate on the whole orchestra, and that could just be difficult to find in an individual ...


3

A conductor is a vital part in any orchestra. He or she provides leadership and helps unify the sound to make great performances. There's no standard method for conducting, but as you can imagine, for a musician is quite hard to make all the decisions by himself or herself while another musician could differ, so the conductor has the final word. In ...


3

I can't speak about CV advancement, but I would add the following to @Fabricio's list of what makes a good conductor: Knowledge of how all instruments work and are played, e.g. will two alto flutes playing in unison be heard above the viola section playing sul pont? Will it be different when the hall is full instead of empty? Experience with the mentality ...


3

"...is there a rule conductors use for ritardando in terms of (a) its rate, (b) its change in rate, and/or (c) the relationship between the final tempo and the tempo of the piece?" Not that I'm aware of. Such a rule would be of little value, because -- unless you're practicing with a drum machine, or other device that permits varying tempo -- there's ...


3

Conductors are not actually required; there is a long history of conductorless orchestras. However, having a conductor is certainly useful for the reasons stated in the other answers. It's also worth noting that the conductor often has a leadership and training role in the orchestra -- so it's a bit like asking "why does a basketball team need a coach?" As ...


3

A conductor provides different things at different levels of musician skill. At the lowest level of skill, they keeps time and tempo for you. As you learn to keep your own time and tempo, they begins to provide dynamics. As you learn dynamics, they provides key cues. It is not uncommon to have a long pause followed by a sharp note in many instruments at ...



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