Almost all musicians, at all levels and throughout life, can turn their instrument into a kind of alter ego of their personality and musical sensibility. Over time the sound of the instrument turns into the perfect ambassador of the musician's thought, absorbing the human experience, emotions, technical development, and other features related to the performer. Over time the musician, always keeping his instrument with him and having the opportunity to refine himself, succeeds in becoming a unique and solid indissoluble entity. It was time ago and it is so today.
Unfortunately, these opportunities today are not granted to the conductor, for the simple reason that he rarely has his own instrument available with which to grow and develop his personal idea of sound, phrasing, and spirituality. No orchestra likes to become the projection of the personality of a conductor, because this requires a constant, daily presence which implies sharing of thought, subjugation and, above all, a constant effort, commitment and concentration. Even the lucky ones, the “principal” conductors, are victims of a vicious cycle that forces them to tour, performing with orchestras alien to their sensibilities and a tour de force not very worthy of such men. The constant turnover of musicians, perennially free-lance even in the most renowned orchestras, prevents the consolidation of an orchestra and conductor sound print of their own. Perhaps, not many are aware that today the greatest orchestras in the world do not rehearse anymore. Do you have a concert lasting three hours? If you're lucky, you get an hour of rehearsal, the dress rehearsal, and immediately after, the concert. What is left for a conductor in search of "something" that is not the cachet, the momentary glory and the social success? Nothing, apart from the taxi waiting for you to take you to the airport to repeat the same sad and inglorious performance the day afterwards. The London Symphony are already in excited trepidation because Sir Simon Rattle, their future permanent conductor from 2018, has already said he wants to return to have three days of rehearsals for each concert. It is practically an attack to the status quo, to the world and castes of the "disposable", to the money machine and a slap to the mediocrity of high levels.
Nowadays the conductor, if he is a conscious musician of the real reasons of music, must make do with standard results, maybe of good technical level, but ephemeral and fleeting. His continued presence is no longer welcome to orchestras and he, the victim of historical circumstances, finds himself the last "undemocratic" figure in a "democratic" world to which he, like it or not, is subjected to. But this also concerns those instrumentalists, real sensitive musicians, who would expect moments of spiritual elevation and instead find themselves in a luxurious worker’s function. An exceptional musician, called as a free-lance addition to the Royal Philharmonic, told me about a rehearsal of Mahler's Second Symphony with a famous but now tired and world-weary conductor. When at the end of a rehearsal, having performed it in bits and pieces, he asked his companion next to him when they would do a full rehearsal, his reply was: "Ah, but we have already played it a hundred times, and we know it!" And so it was: a concert without real rehearsals.
Mahler thanks for the polite attention and Music mourns for the humiliation undergone.