Discover Conducting

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The great thing about playing air guitar or conducting in front of the mirror is that when you stop, the music carries on. 'Well, conducting's just about standing up and waving your arms around, isn't it?' said one of Maestro's celebrity novice conductors. Wrong.

The conductor's job is to have a vision of the piece; to set the tempo, control and mix the sound from each musician, and to keep everyone together when the music moves. Good conductors combine technique, a repertoire of interpretative gestures, verbal skills...and a bit of charisma helps too.

Here, you can enter the world of conductors: find out their views on music, rate our top ten conductors, play the conducting game 'Maestro protégé', add your own comments and stories, and find out more about becoming a conductor.

Start by watching Sir Roger conduct the BBC Concert Orchestra in Bizet's Carmen Prelude...

Famous Conductor Quotes

  • “God tells me how the music should sound, but you stand in the way.”Arturo Toscanini

  • “Here are two golden rules for an orchestra: start together and finish together. The public doesn’t give a damn what goes on in between.”Sir Thomas Beecham

  • “When I am with composers, I say I am a conductor. When I am with conductors, I say I am a composer.”Leonard Bernstein

  • “There are a million things in music I know nothing about. I just want to narrow down that figure.”André Previn

Have your say

Thank you for all your contributions. The comments system is now closed but you can still read conductor quotes sent in by other people.


David Pearson, Belper, Derbyshire
Sir George Solti was rehearsing the Covent Garden Opera House Orchestra the day after he had received his British citizenship. The soprano was Hungarian and soon both he and she were embroiled in a blazing row which ended when she stormed off. Solti grinned at the orchestra and said “see, bloody foreigners!”

Lisa, Edinburgh
Here are some remarks made by Eugene Ormandy, while he was the maestro of the Philadelphia Orchestra. His musicians enjoyed his use of the English language so much that they began writing down his comments …. “Percussion a little louder.” (“We don’t have anything.”) “That’s right, play it louder.” “I was trying to help you, so I was beating wrong.” “Why do you always insist on playing while I’m trying to conduct?”

Beth, London
Neville Creed in a London Phil Choir rehearsal…, ‘No, no it’s Al-le-lu-IA, half of you can’t seem to get off the “lu”… must be terribly frustrating….’

Oh dear the usual crop of offensive Beecham quotes, what a rude ignorant man he must have been.

Michael Williamson, Cambridge
I can’t remember who it was and it isn’t really a quote, but there was one conductor rehearsing an amateur choir who were not watching. He picked up a banana and conducted with it for quite a time before anyone noticed.

Simon, Telford
To a colleague in an orchestra from the conductor Bramwell Tovey: “That sound is only required in certain pieces, none of which have been written yet!”

Jeremy, Fairburn, Yorks
Dr Roy Massey, at a Hereford Choral Society rehearsal: “Coming to a rehearsal without a pencil is like going to a football match without a beerccan”. (And later, rehearsing with a new chorus, glowering fiercely: “Have you all got pencils?” Pause. “Oh good, because I’ve forgotten mine!”)

David, London
I think it was Leonard Slatkin who said, “80% of the orchestra think they can conduct better than you, and the other 20% actually can!”

W Joy, Birmingham
When working with Paul Daniel, I was convinced he was on a diet, as for the week of rehearsals he conducted, I counted at least 20 metaphors of likening the music to foodstuffs.

Mark, Nottingham
A quote from a conductor i once played under: “A conductor is a musician like the rest of the orchestra, the only difference is their instrument is the orchestra.”

James, London
An all time favourite… can’t for the life of me remember who it was although I have heard it used many times as an icebreaker in a rehearsal: “Now come on boys, when you first come in I want you to blow me against the back wall.”

Piotr Adjani, Windsor
Sir Thomas Beecham was once asked if he had listened to any Stockhausen. “No,” he replied, “but I once trod in some.”

Lindsay Thomson, Suffolk
Two from Stephen Cleobury, rehearsing 400 amateurs in Stainer’s Crucifixion: “Always bring three pencils to every rehearsal: one for yourself, one for the person on your right, one for the person on your left.” And, “It is better to sing sharp than out-of-tune.” I use both these mantras myself …

Andrew, Maidstone
Michael Thompson, conducting 70 french horn players at the 2005 English Horn Society concert - “Nobody is going to be impressed by 70 horns making a big noise. They might just be impressed if we can make a very small one.” Every amateur orchestra should take note!

Tabitha, expat
Thomas Beecham: While rehearsing Aida on stage, one of the camels forgot its house-training. The great man pointed to it and said: ‘Disgusting, but Gad, what a critic!’

Johan Gutenberg/Bruinerwolde
Toscanini is said to have remarked, at an overly enthusiastic percussionist: “If I only could have beaten my wife like that, I wouldn’t be divorced by now.”

Lindsay Thomson, Suffolk
A chorister at Gloucester Cathedral was asked for his thoughts after a gruelling rehearsal: “Mr Sanders says we’re doing it for God. But sometimes we think we’re actually doing it for Mr Sanders …”

Stephen - Expat
A conductor to me as a chorister, aged 10, rehearsing some Mozart: “So you are one of God’s Little Angels?” My Mother to the conductor: “I wish God would make his angel tidy his room.”

Dirk Wickenden, Maidstone
When once asked what a conductor does, conductor Gordon Houssein of the Sevenoaks and Tonbridge Training Band (a wind ensemble) said, ‘I wave my arms about and hope for the best.’

David Freedman, London
Sir Thomas Beecham to a hapless female cellist: “Madam, you have between your legs one of the most beautiful things known to man and all you can do is sit there and scratch it.”

Harry, Market Harborough
“I find little in the works of Beethoven, Berlioz, Wagner and others when they are led by a conductor who functions like a windmill.” - Franz Liszt

Jez, Byker
And the oldest joke in the book … What’s the difference between an orchestra and a bull? In the case of a bull, the horns are at the front and the rsehle’s at the back … (Sorry!)

Alan, Glasgow
Beecham stories are legion. He once described Herbert von Karajan as a “musical Malcolm Sargent”. When told that Sir Malcolm Sargent (aka Flash Harry) was touring the Far East he commented, “Ah, Flash in Japan!”

Wayne, Newcastle
A Bernstein quote: “Technique is communication: the two words are synonymous in conductors.”

J Elliott, Cheltenham
Denis Wick to the orchestra (especially the strings, who aren’t used to thinking about breathing) having lifted the baton to rehearse: “Breathe with me”.

B Nikisch, London
Sir Thomas Beecham, of Herbert von Karajan: “A sort of musical Malcolm Sargent.” Karajan, of singers: “I give them as much freedom as they like to do exactly what I want.”

Denis Kearton, London
Another favourite Beecham quote of mine is: “The English may not like music but they love the sound it makes.”

Otto Bruno, King's Lynn
My favourite Beecham quote is “Why do we employ so many third rate foreign conductors in this country when there are so many second rate English ones to choose from!”

Nesh, London
I’d like to offer this personal paraphrase by Gustav Mahler - “Everything is written in the score. Except from the really important things.”

Lucas, Cambridge
A favourite conductor quote, by Richard Strauss: “Never, under any circumstances, look at the brass - it only encourages them.”

Top Ten Conductors

Who do you think is the greatest conductor ever? We’ve whittled it down to our ten favourites, now you have your say…

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Conducting - what's the score?

Put your conducting questions to Maestro’s music consultant Peter Stark, read an interview with him, and find top conducting tips from the Maestro mentors.

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