The conductor making all the difference

Dane Lam began by giving us an insight as to what a conductor actually is.

A conductor, we were told, “can make all the difference or no difference”, depending on whether they are any good or not, but listening to the opening phrase of Beethoven’s Heroica symphony from different performances over a century we all understood that directive decisions by a conductor could make exactly the same music sound very different.

Interestingly, the word conductor in English seems to be somewhat unique in denoting a conduit, one who conducts energy, whereas in other language the terms used mean simply ‘director’ or ‘boss of the orchestra’. This idea of being a conduit is clearly crucial to Lam, as this is where the energy, and spirit (and in terms of his faith spirit and energy seem to be the same think, or at least closely linked) comes into his practise. What takes place is an exchange of spirit and energy, between the audience and the musicians, and indeed the composter whose work Lam must interpret. He must attempt to understand the composter, perhaps historically and culturally, then make decisions about which instruments should be prominent where, and about volume and tempo.

The difference between the ideal in the conductors mind and the reality of what sound is actually produced by the orchestra is also where faith comes in, Lam prays before rehearsals, he “tries to be open to intuition and spiritual guidance”, to enable him to work with his musicians in creative collaboration. He tries to show rather than talk, and showed us examples of other conductors, with very different styles, drawing the passion and beauty out of the climactic parts of Mahler’s Resurrection symphony, sometimes gentle, sometimes more visceral and impassioned. We may have been left with a sense of wonder in our own lives, as to how we could be conduits, how we could participate in the beauty of creation, and convey truths about the glory of the resurrection.

By Sally Fraser 

Photo credit: Dane Lam wesbite