Orchestral conductors are responsible for keeping two different large, often unruly groups of people in line--the orchestra and the audience. A perfect performance can be ruined by a cell phone, an unstifled cough, or ill-timed applause.
Writing in the Threepenny Review, Wendy Lesser describes observing Simon Rattle leading the Berlin Philharmonic in a rehearsal at Carnegie Hall. Along with adjusting the group's sound for an unfamiliar space, Rattle warns the players of the relative rudeness of New York audiences. During the performance, a loudly coughing audience member throws the orchestra off, and Rattle, between movements, kindly but firmly explains to the audience how important it is to avoid such disruptions. Later, Lesser admires Rattle's warmth and ease with a schoolchildren's dance ensemble and with their parents, many of them fish out of water at a classical performance. Conducting, it turns out, requires not only tremendous musicianship and leadership but also great diplomacy and grace.
- Steve Thorngate