The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Do symphony orchestras really need conductors? A comparative study done by NPR determines the answer. Plus, Candid Concert Opera performs Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio” next Saturday night.

December 2, 2012
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ALERT: Next Saturday night, Dec. 8 — NOT Sunday, Dec. 9. as originally and mistakenly posted –, at 7 p.m. in Capitol Lakes Retirement Community, 333 West Main Street, Candid Concert Opera (below) will perform a concert version (edited and without costumes or sets) of Mozart’s opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” The concert is FREE, although a donation of $12 is suggested. Codrut Birsan will conduct and English supertitles will be used.  For more information and reviews, visit www.candidconcert.org.

Candid Concert Opera Fledermaus ensemble
By Jacob Stockinger

Sure, you sometimes see and hear successful performances by chamber orchestras without a conductor, though it often seems they have a principal violinist or someone else who gives cues and maintains control or balance.

But the question remains: Do symphony orchestras really need conductors to perform at their best?

And if they do, what kind of conductor do they need most? A more authoritarian one? Or a more laid-back and collaborative one? (Below is a photo by James Garrett of The New York Daily News and Getty Images of Leonard Bernstein conducting a rehearsal of the Cincinnati Symphony in 1977 in Carnegie Hall.)

leonard-bernstein

Famed maestro Herbert von Karajan once said he only need to convey four words to conduct: faster, slower, louder, softer.

But music is complex and symphony orchestras are big organizations.

NPR recently did a comparison study that was reported by its science reporter – which is a nice way to bring science to bear on the arts.

Here is the story – the unidentified music, by the way, comes from the first movement on YouTube of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor (at bottom in a performance by famed perfectionist conductor George Szell) — and what the experimenters found:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2012/11/27/165677915/do-orchestras-really-need-conductors


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