This week sees the 91st birthday of Sir Neville Marriner. That’s ninety-one, yes you did read it right, and still as active as ever. In light of this remarkable achievement, I am writing this week about what makes a good conductor and speculating as to why so many have had such successful and long careers.
It is no myth that a good conductor can make an unbelievable difference to an orchestra. But before we delve into specific conductors, I would like to clarify just what I mean by a “good” conductor. Everyone will have differing opinions on what makes a good conductor; so much so, that the attributes a conductor has may make one person see them as a good conductor, and another as completely awful. Every opinion we have is subjective, especially on a subject such as music. It still astounds me that two people can walk into a concert hall to hear a performance and they can walk out with totally differing opinions of what they just heard. Despite sitting in the same position, hearing exactly the same performance, they still feel differently about what they just heard.
Anyway, back to what I actually aimed to write this blog about…
Our own patron, Sir Roger Norrington, celebrated his 81st birthday a month ago; granted, he is still 10 years younger than Sir Neville, but it is still an incredible feat. I had a conversation with one of our players after a rehearsal with Sir Roger in March. I asked her how the rehearsal went and her reply was just brilliant:
“The rehearsal was fantastic. It amazes me that Roger still manages to bring something new and fresh to the orchestra whenever he conducts. I’m not even sure what he does, but he works magic and everyone around him reacts in such a special way.”
I think this is fascinating to hear; to think that an 81 year old can still bring a fresh outlook on a piece of music more than 200 years old is astonishing. He has always been an innovator, thinking outside the box with his unconventional musical views in the eyes of the western world (interestingly, he of course would say they were conventional).
With these two legends of the conducting world still going so strongly at the ages they are, it begs the question – is conducting the healthiest profession? There have been many greats who have lived well into their 80s and 90s over the past century; Leopold Stokowski (95), Arturo Toscanini (90) and Sir Adrian Boult (94) to name but a few. It has been said on numerous occasions that conductors are healthy due to the amount of physical effort involved; conducting Mahler's 8th symphony, for example, means 80 minutes of arm waving, baton flicking and body swaying.Not only do they use physical effort, a lot of mental preparation is required in the lead up to a concert; conductors spend hours searching through scores, meticulously marking in notes. It really is a full body workout that rivals some you would see in a gym...!
To finish though, I would like to focus very briefly on Leonard Bernstein, who lived until his 72nd year (granted, not quite the 91 of Sir Neville but still a fair age). If I could go back in time to watch a concert in which he was conducting, I would without a hesitation. I find him fascinating. My favourite conducting video of his on youtube, though, is one where he actually doesn’t conduct with his hands at all…enjoy!
This is actually the last blog I will write for Southern Sinfonia, as I am off to pastures new. Thank you all for taking the time to read my musings over the past 8 months; I hope you have enjoyed at least one of them!