Meet the ‘it’ conductor

Meet the ‘it’ conductor


norman lebrecht

February 24, 2015

Musicians of the Met orchestra are getting out more and more on their website.

We particularly liked this dinner interview with one of their conductors, Pablo Heras-Cassado, a man seemingly without pretensions. Asked why he doesn’t use a baton, he gives a straight answer:

‘I am left-handed. I tried holding the baton with the right, then the left, but neither was me. So I said, forget it. If I am not myself, what is the point of being on the podium?’

Read the full interview here.



  • Una says:

    Sir Mark Elder is also left-handed, hence why he has such an expressive left hand when he conducts.

  • John Borstlap says:

    A silly and uninteresting interview with an interesting conductor.

    • SDReader says:

      “He reached over and picked at my fries.” Ooh!

      • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

        I can understand that too well, because I like to have post performance suppers at Cafe Luxembourg each time I am in NYC. Their fries are to die for (I prefer them the Belgian way, with mayonnaise rather than ketchup). Disclosure: I, too, “reached over and picked at [my supper companion’s] fries” – a quite irresistible urge at this restaurant, at least for me and Pablo, and entirely forgivable. So, if you are ever in NYC, please DO have a meal at Cafe Lux, and go for the fries!

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Wish he was coming to LSO they need someone young and hungry with a lot to offer.

  • herrera says:

    Why do we revere conductors qua conductors?

    Once upon a time, and still true in jazz, the conductor was the composer, and we revered his compositions.

    Now we revere the length of his baton. Or if he waves it around in public with his left hand or right hand.

    I’d prefer to see more batons of color, different shapes and sizes.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The evolution of the baton is interesting and has, like the violin, finally found its definite shape and weight and color. Its length varies though, according to conductors’ spatial occupational range: a short one for wildy gesticulating young conductors, a long one for the old who prefer to only set the wrist in working once installed on the rostrum.

      In the 17th century, the baton was large as a spear, with which could be banged on the floor, and with a sharp point at the bottom so that it could also be used as a weapon against players who refused to look to the conductor. After Jean Baptiste Lully hit his own foot by accident and died of it, the shape shrunk considerably to a heavvy stick, sometimes with frills at one end. There are stories that Wagner sometimes used a small hand axe, but German musicologists still don’t agree on the matter. In the 20th century, the thin, light, white sign post became standard, in spite of Toscanini’s attempts to get a heavier model produced (he regularly broke the baton during rehearsels to demonstrate its feeble material). Some 20C conductors, suffering from overworked arm muscles, preferred to lead the orchestra merely by hand, because they discovered that this frightened the players sufficiently to make them pay attention:

    • John says:

      Musicians need to actually see a baton if the conductor is using it, so colored batons can’t just be part of some fashion statement.

      • Herrera says:

        Batons should not be fashion coordinated, but they should correspond to the piece being played.

        So a psychedelic one for Symphonie Fantastique, one on fire for the immolation scene from Die Walküre, a blue one for Blue Danube, green one for the Pastoral Symphony, except during the storm movement, when the baton should be dripping wet, or when the birds come out to sing, then robins should perch on the baton.

        But that’s it, nothing too extreme. It has to be tasteful.

  • Milka says:

    A sad example of some people that inhabit the world of music.Plunged the depths of
    banality …so he leads a busy life so do many of us .
    Since when was beating time creative ?Notice Ms. Kwon was not too reticent in
    presenting us with a photo of herself which speaks volumes . It is funny if nothing
    else .

    • John says:

      I don’t know this conductor at all, but I daresay that Bernstein, Karajan, Kleiber, Toscanini, Stokowski, et all, did a bit more than beat time.

      • Milka says:

        Except for Bernstein as a composer and Stokowski tie in with Bach , Karajan , Kleibers
        one and two , Toscanini and a host of other time beaters are all memories if that , even
        the great Celibidache .You are correct in the observation that conductors do more
        than beat time ,they spend much energy in perpetuating the mystique that they are
        creative souls and in tune with the composer at hand . Remember someone had to think
        and put down on paper the creative thought that allows the wand wizards to ride to fame and glory by just following the written instructions .

        • Gary Sharovsky says:

          Milka, that is SO true.
          Conductors in general are vastly overrated. It’s ridiculous how much credit critics give them for supposedly “interpreting” the music and for how the orchestra sounds.

  • Peter Phillips says:

    I seem to recall that Paavo Berglund was also left hander. There used to be a left handed viola player in the CBSO. She had obviously had her instrument restrung and the bridge reversed. The sight of one bow pointing away from the others was oddly unsettling.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Reading about baton-length obsessions and other visual aspects makes me wonder how poor old, shaky, Klemperer could have produced all those great performances. Is it possibly because he never spent a second of his time on his his hands, his hair, his profile LOOKED and focused instead on the INSIDE and meaning of the music?

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    On an epitaph for a church music director somewhere in the English country side: “All his life Stephen beat time, Now time beat Stephen” – perhaps not quoted as exactly written. Came upon it many years ago in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung.

  • John Kelly says:

    These conductors may be “memories” but they are darn good memories……… much the same way as great actors of the past are – and immortalized on celluloid, or, in the case of conductors, on CD or whatever.

    One thing I can assure you, if any of them were simply “following the written instructions” then we wouldn’t need any of them. Stokowski called the “instructions” little black marks on the paper. A place to start, certainly not a place to finish.

    • Milka says:

      And Berlioz a little higher on the music scale than Stokowski had this exchange with
      Lipinski a famed violinist and a Berlioz favorite,the violinist got himself into a deep lather &discussion with
      Berlioz on how to interpret the the famous “viola “part .He notes in his diary that the Berlioz response was “Just play it as written ” ,nothing more .
      Of course we need them but not to the degree they think ……..