So, Jorma Panula, what makes a great conductor

So, Jorma Panula, what makes a great conductor


norman lebrecht

November 16, 2019

The Finnish maestro maker, 90 next year, is asked what he looks for in young talent.

Charisma, he says, comes first.


  • Rob says:

    Never heard of him.

    • CJ says:

      He is well known to be the maestro of the maestri!

    • PJL says:

      second most famous teacher of conductors after Musin, surely?

    • Bruce says:


    • Novagerio says:

      Just some enlightenment to Rob:

      Prof.Jorma Panula has practically trained all finnish conductors born after 1950. He has throughout the years also had students from all over the world, of course. A major competition for conductors holds his name, and it takes place in finnish/ostrobothnian Vaasa.
      As a conductor he did among other things the first complete cycle of Mahler symphonies in Finland, when holding the position of chief conductor of the Helsinki Philharmonic 1965-72. He has also premiered some 1.000 compositions.
      Other positions were Turku Municipal Orchestra 1963-65 and the danish Aarhus Symphony Orchestra 1973-76.
      Between 1973-94 he was professor of the conducting department of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, and he held two more professorships in Stockholm and in Copenhagen.
      His pedagogic philosophy is simply put “don’t talk, show what you want!”
      Maestro turns 90 on August 10th next year.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Quite interesting, thanks for posting these. What I find fascinating is what Panula looks for in a conductor as opposed to what players want, what the board of directors wants, and what audiences like. Almost mutually exclusive. Charisma is that one essential ingredient today, and unfortunately is something you’re born with. Too many conductors out there rely on it and don’t spend enough time on stick technique or training their ears.

    • John Borstlap says:

      But I don’t think ‘charisma’ is very common nowadays. The best conductors have both an excellent and clear technique AND charisma – in the sense of: being in the music and a natural way of expressing what they want to hear.

  • Pacer1 says:

    Finally a posting with content and substance! And it’s about what makes a conductor effective and competent. The greatness comes in the individual musical genius, and you can’t teach that.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    It’s no coincidence that many of today’s top conductors come from Finland, thanks to Panula. Like Swarowsky in Vienna and Musin in Russia – they may not have been great conductors, but they sure know how to make them.

  • Karl says:

    Dont talk but show…..
    the hallmark of a good conductor. To do so it needs that bit of added value called charisma.

  • Micaela Bonetti says:

    Chapeau bas, Maestro!

  • Tamino says:

    Charisma is not a positive discrimination factor these days in our schooling systems.
    The system promotes conformity. It’s the late stage of capitalism, and the schools are set up to create work bees on all levels of education.
    Chances are, if you show traits of charisma early on, they will prescribe you some pill against it.
    Panula has to live with what ever sneaks through the system.