A conductor waves a wand and without a word, 100 people create perfect harmony. At every moment, a conductor transmits a huge amount of information instantly and accurately to a diverse group of people with individual skills, experiences, hopes, fears, egos and mortgages. For two hours, not one word is exchanged between leader and followers. And at the end, when the conductor turns to face the auditorium, the audience will often leap to its feet, cheering and clapping.
In what other profession do we see this kind of wizardry?
At my next class, Feb. 11, we will look at how a handful of well-known conductors lead their orchestras, and what their vastly different styles say about leadership in general. Riccardo Muti dictates every note and phrase. Richard Strauss sticks closely to the score. Herbert von Karajan closes his eyes, making the musicians guess his intentions. Carlos Kleiber revels in his players' contributions and Leonard Bernstein lets them do their very best.
Here's a preview. Carlos Kleiber is one of the greatest conductors of all time. Born in Berlin in 1930, he conducted very little, "only when his freezer was empty," quipped Herbert von Karajan. But, musicians adored him because he allowed them to shine. He died in 2004. Note his enjoyment of the musicians.
David Stabler is a pianist, writer, dad and cyclist. He's working on a novel based on his childhood years living in Africa and just finished riding across America with his brother this summer.