People often ask me “what’s the best thing about being a conductor?”
Is it the screaming girls, the unfettered power, the great music you do on outdoor gigs, the constant praise and flattery, the almost unlimited vacation time, the glamorous air travel, the way “normal” people look at you when you tell them what you do for a living, or the fact that your “instrument” is a 14” long stick of wood that costs about ten bucks instead of hundreds of thousands?
Well, as the wise man said in Spinal Tap “it’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but if I had enough sex and drugs, I could probably do without the rock ‘n’ roll.”
Actually, the real best thing about being a conductor is getting little presents on stage at the ends of concerts. To be honest, after all these years, I’m still not sure why we get them sometimes and sometimes not. Walter Weller didn’t get anything from BBC NOW at his concert on Friday, but the soloist, Steven Isserlis, did. On the other hand, the conductor the week before did get a bottle. Music directors almost never get them, but guest conductors usually do.
I tend to prefer a bottle to flowers, not because I’m a guy and don’t like flowers, but because in all likelihood I’m going to be on a plane less than twelve hours after the concert, and won’t get to enjoy the flowers for long and it seems a waste of money. For men (and perhaps this is sore point with women), the bottle has become the gift of choice these days. I’m not picky- it’s just nice when people think of you. Red wine, champagne, white are all good choices, although Rosé is maybe a bit girly for me. If you really liked working with me, a nice single malt scotch is always a treat. I’ve never been given any kind of beer- a fancy bottle of a Belgian beer is not a bad idea. I’m kind of surprised nobody’s ever given me coffee beans, but I have occasionally gotten interesting little local doodads, which I always love. The funniest one I ever got was a bottle of “wine” that I had just seen at the supermarket that afternoon on sale for two pounds (for my American readers, the cheapest bottle of wine in Britain is at least three pounds). I guess they loved the Shostakovich!
One piece of advice- I know the six year old is cute, but if they’re going to take ten minutes of encouraging them to take those flowers out onstage while the audience keeps clapping feebly, better leave it to a grown up.
Of course the best present is always a return invitation….
Seriously, it’s the screaming girls.
c. 2007 Kenneth Woods