Mark Wigglesworth


Applicants Wanted? A Conductor’s Job Description.

The musicians of one particular orchestra were asked to write down what they wanted from a conductor. Their collated response reveals a daunting job description:

‘A conductor needs good baton technique, rehearsal technique, musicianship, knowledge, interpretation, an ability to communicate, to stretch and challenge people, make the performance better than the rehearsals, be inspirational, have a good ear, clear thinking, reliability, competence, rhythm, expressive face, structural sense, ability to accompany, sense of style, suitability for repertoire, originality, knowledge of string bowing, an ability to collaborate, analyse and solve difficulties, explain why things need to be repeated, empower people, train people, make people listen. They must not talk, over-rehearse, under-rehearse, or be musically detached.

‘They must have good manners, humour, respect, approachability, enthusiasm, encouragement, humility, positive spirit, patience, leadership, sincerity, audibility, creativity, an awareness of everyone, self control, strength of character. They must be relaxed, self confident, empathetic, punctual, motivating, polite, authoritative, realistic, interesting, charismatic, persevering, committed, well-dressed, even tempered. They must be good at English, popular with audiences, and show chastity, poverty, and obedience to the score.

‘They must not be egocentric, intimidating, sarcastic, rude, boring, nervous, bullying, ugly, smelly, over-familiar, detached, pedantic, cynical, insecure, blinkered. They must not change things for the sake of it, glare at mistakes, or hit the stand.’

The implication is that only a superior being could possibly be considered appropriate. It reminds me of the joke about God conducting his Choir. One angel says to another: ‘He’s OK – it would just be better if he didn’t think he was Herbert von Karajan.’

The instant reaction to these requirements is how on earth can a conductor please the entire orchestra. But conducting is not a popularity competition. And though it is important that players enjoy the rehearsals and performances, if that is the goal in itself, there is no way it can be successful with every player. However, one thing I think every musician would agree on wanting from their conductors is sincerity. They tolerate a great deal that frustrates them when they feel that the conductor is at least working from the heart. To be disingenuous is perhaps the only unforgivable failing, as it carries with it the suggestion that players are not intelligent enough to see through it. Whatever you do or don’t do, whoever you please or annoy, you have to be yourself. Or at least you have to be true to yourself – which is perhaps not quite the same thing. To be yourself would be to express the multitude of contradictions that make up every human being. These characteristics need simplifying if they are going to offer clear and inspirational leadership. But though that refinement will vary depending on the particular situation, it should never stray from the truth of who you are. Though you may routinely not tick every box on every musician’s wish list, you will at least gain the respect from being motivated by an honest desire to serve both the music and the musicians themselves.

© Mark Wigglesworth

Back to writings