The conductor—tuxedoed, imposingly poised above an orchestra, baton waving dramatically—is a familiar figure even for those who never set foot in an orchestral hall. As a veritable icon for classical music, the conductor has also been subjected to some ungenerous caricatures, presented variously as unhinged gesticulator, indulged megalomaniac, or even outright impostor. Consider, for example: Bugs Bunny as Leopold Stokowski, dramatically smashing his baton and then breaking into erratic poses with a forbidding intensity in his eyes, or Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, unwittingly conjuring dangerous magic with carefree gestures he doesn’t understand. As these clichés betray, there is an aura of mystery around what a conductor actually does, often coupled with disbelief that he or she really makes a difference to the performance we hear.
The Silent Musician deepens our understanding of what conductors do and why they matter. Neither an instruction manual for conductors, nor a history of conducting, the book instead explores the role of the conductor in noiselessly shaping the music that we hear. Writing in a clever, insightful, and often evocative style, world-renowned conductor Mark Wigglesworth deftly explores the philosophical underpinnings of conducting—from the conductor’s relationship with musicians and the music, to the public and personal responsibilities conductors face—and examines the subtler components of their silent art, which include precision, charisma, diplomacy, and passion. Ultimately, Wigglesworth shows how conductors—by simultaneously keeping time and allowing time to expand—manage to shape ensemble music into an immersive, transformative experience, without ever making a sound.
About the Author
Mark Wigglesworth is an internationally renowned and Olivier Award-winning conductor. He has written articles for the Guardian and the Independent and made a six-part TV series for the BBC entitled Everything to Play For. He is currently the principal guest conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
“If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on in the mind of that person on a rostrum waving a white stick at up to one hundred musicians, Mark Wigglesworth’s The Silent Musician: Why Conducting Matters is the book for you. But, more than that, it’s also rich in musical insights and phrased with wit and elegance. Need I say more?”
— Stephen Hough
“An illuminating account of what it means to be [a conductor], how it feels, what’s required and why it’s a misunderstood job that has the potential to enrich and terrify in equal measure. The most fascinating sections are those in which Wigglesworth discusses the relationship between conductor and orchestra, one that can be fraught with struggle and blessed with joys. His later musings on music itself—our relationship with it and how we listen—go way beyond the book’s premise of ‘Why Conducting Matters,’ and you feel all the more enlightened for it. Four stars.”
— Michael Beek
“Wigglesworth is especially thoughtful on how attitudes to conductors have shifted over time. He wisely reminds us of how short a history the role of conductor has, explaining why the conductor became necessary in the 19th century to generate a ‘narrative in performance.’”
— Literary Review