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I was watching a performance of Ravel's Bolero, conducted by Gergiev:

And I noticed that instead of a baton he was holding a toothpick:

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Why is he holding it instead of a baton? Is there anything implied towards the orchestra?

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See here.

The rumour is that Gergiev started using a toothpick to conduct because his movements whilst conducting were so violent that he was in the habit of losing his grip on the baton and it would go flying into the audience or the orchestra.

  • The story of a conductor loosing grip like that is probably from Daniel Turk of the Hallé Orchestra in the 1800s. – DarenW Sep 27 '16 at 8:33
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According to someone claiming to be an assistant conductor for Gergiev one year, "I'd guess that he prefers to have nothing or nearly nothing in his hands but wants something there to hold onto and give some focus to the shape of his right hand."

Whether or not Gergiev lost grip of batons in his early career is something I couldn't verify in a brief search, but it's believable. There are several stories told of other conductors losing batons, or injuring themselves with batons, at SlippedDisc which includes an answer to the question "Didn’t Solti once stab himself in the head with his baton while conducting Figaro?" (Ouch!)

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    Slightly related: Notice how Klaus Tennstedt's entire podium came crashing down (during Siegfried's Funeral March, no less) at 5:52. But, he didn't lose his baton! :-D youtu.be/Us3NFFJhFPg?t=5m45s – pr1268 Sep 27 '16 at 21:53
  • Also: I read not too long ago that Gustav Mahler misplaced (or forgot to bring) his baton, so he conducted with a spoon. Can't find the specific link at the moment, but I believe it was during rehearsals for his 8th Symphony (Sept. 1910). – pr1268 Sep 27 '16 at 22:00
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    Somewhat related: in 1687, Jean-Baptiste Lully died of gangrene after stabbing himself in the foot with his conducting baton, which of course was dangerously longer back then. – Stephan Kolassa Sep 28 '16 at 12:47
  • @StephanKolassa It was in fact a staff, not a baton, i.e. it was designed to be tapped on the floor. Stabbing your own foot with a baton would be quite an accident! – Kilian Foth Nov 6 '18 at 8:17
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As for Lully, the fact is that on that time conductors didn´t use batons: the rule was using a long (and heavy) staff, which was beaten in the floor to mark the tempo - and if it was not enough, he was conducting a Te Deum to celebrate Louis XIV´s recover from a serious disease. Legend says that Jean-B could had be saved if his leg would be amputated, but he refused to authorize this operation because it would render him unable to dance...

  • "in that time conductors didn't use batons: the rule was using a long staff": but one of the words for staff in French is in fact bâton. – phoog Dec 1 '18 at 0:03

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