The word “orchestra” encompasses a lot. Chamber orchestras are those that have 50 or fewer musicians, whereas “symphony orchestras” or “philharmonic orchestras” have anywhere from 50 up to 100 people in them. Needless to say that such large groups of musicians working together to produce a coherent, smooth and technically sound piece of music live is a difficult task to accomplish; regardless of how masterful their skills are if you take them individually, it does not immediately mean they will be able to do a good job playing together in sync.
This is where a conductor comes in. For those not at all familiar with classical music, the role of a conductor might seem dubious because it might seem difficult to put tangible value on their work. However, a conductor is arguably the most important part of a successful orchestra performance since it is them every single musician turns to for guidance during a lengthy performance. There are some that have earned a name for themselves over the years, so let’s find out who they are.
Lorin Maazel (1930-2014)
Ever since he was a child, this famous American conductor exhibited extreme abilities and skills when it came to hearing, understanding and playing music. On top of conducting orchestras, himself was a violin player as well as a composer. What made him exceptional in the field of conducting was not only his photographic memory which he employed to memorize scores for entire pieces, but also his exceptional baton technique. He viewed conducting as a highly individual experience between the conductor and each player in the orchestra, where the conductor needs to accommodate each musician’s needs so that they can relax and focus on the tone.
Nadia Boulanger (1887-1979)
She made her conducting debut at a very young age, when she was 24, and ever since then impressed the world with her astounding conducting techniques and even more importantly, her nurturing teaching style. She helped bring to fame many of those who were seen on the classical music stage in the 20th century, including Aaron Copland and Elliott Carter. She must also be given credit for rising into fame as an established leading figure who was also a female at times where the social circumstances and odds were not stacked in her favour.
Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977)
This English conductor with Polish roots amazed the whole world during his career that lasted as close to a full century as it can get; he kept conducting up until his death at the age of 95. He is well known for his appearance in Disney’s “Fantasia”, a 1940 animation film. In terms of conducting technicalities, he was famous for his free-hand conducting technique that rejected the traditional baton with distain – a pretty revolutionary approach to conducting!
Mirga Grazinytė-Tyla (1986-)
At least one up-and-coming talent had to make this list, and this is the conductor to do it. Grazinyte-Tyla, a young Lithuanian conductor, was named Music Director of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2016 and ever since them her career and fame have exploded in growth and prominence. She has left audiences at awe while conducting as a guest for famous orchestras such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and is one of the most prominent living conductors.