Q: I appreciate classical music, but when it comes to conductors, I don't get it. I recently watched the piece on "60 Minutes" about Valery Gergiev, and his credentials seemed very impressive. What I don't understand is that when I see an orchestra performing, I seldom see the musicians paying any attention to even the most animated conductors. Please tell me what I'm missing.
Wendy Lindberg, Germantown
A: Well, this is pretty far from the Olsen twins (about whom I deeply long for a question -- hint, hint), so I poked my head over the cubicle wall to drag Philip Kennicott, The Post's culture critic, into this answer. Take it away, Sunshine:
Kennicott: What Wendy's missing is one of the subtler mysteries of authoritarian rule. The Great Leader gets his picture plastered everywhere while the worker drones continue with their drab lives unmolested, so long as they never step out of line. If you want to understand the depths of seething musical rage, look up a little movie by Fellini called "Orchestra Rehearsal" (1978), in which the workers cast off their chains (or violins) and rebel against The Man.
If conductors are not particularly accomplished musicians, they don't get much respect and, as you've noticed, the musicians pay them little mind. Conductors with real musical genius, however, will inspire musicians, and on the rare occasion you find a good orchestra matched with a great conductor, you'll see everyone -- musicians and audience -- on the edge of their seats.
The only other time conductors matter is when orchestras are playing music they don't know and need someone to give them cues. To the audience, the musicians' behavior might seem rather like commuters on a train line they don't know very well: They'll look up, from time to time, with a glance of curiosity, sometimes fear and often annoyance, but they will look up because they hate to miss their stop.
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