As a violinist who has played under the batons of Bernstein, Kleiber, Karajan, and countless other legendary conductors for over half a century, I must take issue with Tom Service's statement that "the last thing the best conductors do is to force a group of musicians to do their bidding." I am thinking of Toscanini, Szell, Reiner, Muti, and the multitude of gifted Met guest maestros who were definitely not considered "Mr. Nice Guys" in their attitude on the podium. Moreover, if you ask 100 orchestra members what quality is most vital for a maestro you will get 100 different answers. My personal experience is that asking a musician his favorite conductor is like asking a mouse its favorite cat.
Mr.Service correctly observes that musicians would not tolerate a lack of inspiration from a conductor. Yet he is skating on thin ice when he attempts to define the alchemy of "cosmic" performances. Whether or not the mystical contagious energy flows between a maestro and his musicans out of love or hate or fear is irrelevant. What counts is does the audience feel it as well, and what is missing in Mr. Service's analysis is certainly the most important quality for a conductor to inspire the musicians and thrill an audience---charisma.
(Retired violinist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 46 years)
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