A dear friend bought me a ticket to see the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart. When we arrived, a rather saucy, brilliant, and irreverent member of our musical community greeted us by saying, “I can’t wait to see Calista Flockhart conduct. I’ve never seen him conduct in person.”
The concert was a lovely and extended night of British music including the Britten Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, the Elgar Cello concerto, Banks of Green Willow by George Butterworth, and the Enigma Variations. The Encore was the Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Schottische Symphony. It was all very lovely and British. The Sea Interludes are always amazing, and I never seem to tire of the Enigma Variations.
After the show, my friend was asking about Calista Flockharts conducting gestures. I admitted to him that I really don’t understand what the hell most orchestral conductors are doing most of the time. I try to find the ichthus. I tap to the beat and try to comprehend the relation of the physical gesture, and I am at a loss. At that point, I normally just close my eyes and listen to the band play.
One time I watches Shaw rehearse the Brahms Requiem from behind. I couldn’t make sense of what he was doing. After the rehearsal, I went up to my friend who was the Principal of the 2nd violins. I said, “I can’t make sense of what he’s doing. What does it look like from the other side?”
She said, “I’m not watching him. I’m just following the concert master.”
So, a few days after watching Calista Flockhart, I asked a percussionist friend who plays in two professional orchestras, “Look, I know you were at the concert, and I’m not as familiar with being on that side of the orchestral baton. What was he doing?”
He replied, “I couldn’t watch him. I couldn’t make sense of it either.”
To be fair, I have worked with some amazing conductors that clarify and inspire. I’m just saying, what is the deal orchestral conductors? There is a reason that the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra can thrive. Until you prove otherwise, I want some clarity instead of arm waving.