Gosh – this is where it can all go wrong! Let’s just say that it has occasionally been known for musicians to form the opinion that conductors are big-headed and egotistical, based on their etiquette in the concert. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not. It is vital to remember that without the musicians it wouldn’t be much of a concert, so it is really important that we take care to acknowledge their very crucial contribution.
It’s certainly possible for conductors to create a bad impression in and around rehearsals, but the musicians will be most sensitive to things that occur when the public is present. Accordingly, observing the correct etiquette as you walk on stage, acknowledge the audience’s applause, and leave the stage, is an easy thing to get wrong which can undermine otherwise excellent work. Very often, inexperienced conductors simply forget to think about this and realise as they walk onstage that they don’t know what to do when they get there! Throw in a soloist or two and a living composer and the possibilities for innocently causing offence increase.
Forgetting to acknowledge a composer who is in the audience is by far the most common mistake I’ve seen. In one high-profile concert at a major international conference, the programme consisted of four works by living composers, all of whom were in the audience. The conductor failed to acknowledge any of them, being slightly too caught up in his own role in the proceedings.
Here’s a little video that we had fun making, which gives some examples of what to do and what not to do. As always, there will be cultural differences and specific situations where different rules might apply, but if you follow this advice you should avoid annoying anyone too much! (Special thanks are due to the very talented young Chinese conductor, Yi Wei, who very sportingly took on the role of egotistical maestro who ignores his musicians. He’s not like this in real life, but it’s surprising how many are.)