What does the conductor do?

David Amado, Music Director, with the Delaware Symphony Orchestra

An orchestra is not just composed of musicians and their instruments, but also includes a conductor.  The conductor of a symphony performs many of the duties that the director of a movie performs—communicating to the performers how their parts fit with one another, and how to best express the meaning and character at every moment. This is done through a combination of gesture and words in rehearsal, and, of course, only gesture in performance.  The end goal is to be at the right speed, in the right character, at the right volume, and with the right quality of sound at every single moment.  When those things work, the traffic-cop quality of conducting (keeping things happening simultaneously) falls into the background as the more important responsibility of shaping the music guides us all into place (audience included!).

Although the conductor plays no instrument, he or she is critical if the group is to perform with excellence.  The conductor unifies the performance, setting tempo or pace; the conductor listens critically to achieve the appropriate sound of the group, controls the interpretation of the music, and thus interprets the composer’s intent.