The orchestra really enjoyed our concert last week with Juanjo Mena, one of our favorite guest conductors. We played an unfamiliar piece, the Fourth Symphony of Carl Nielsen, along with a violin concerto by Rodrigo (Jon Carney was the soloist) and Ancient Airs and Dances by Respighi.
Being a really good conductor requires so many talents; maybe it is like being the president. The conductor has to know the music as well as anyone else on stage, and then translate that knowledge into body motions and facial expressions that convey to the musicians just how to perform it. He/she has to know when to exert strong leadership, and when to let the orchestra go a bit on its own. In rehearsal, she/he needs to be showing/teaching us the piece and listening carefully at the same time to know where to stop and rehearse. (This is where some conductors fall short; they may have good ears, but it seems they almost forget that we still need them in rehearsal for difficult entrances, tempos, for the character of the music, etc.)
The nice thing is, if you missed Mena last week, you get another chance to hear us with him in mid May. We will be performing Brahms 3rd Symphony and Strauss' Don Juan along with the Schumann Piano Concerto on May 13, 14 and 15. Come see a really great program with one of our favorite guests!
Funny story about Don Juan: when I was in college, learning the piece with the Eastman Philharmonic for the first time, our conductor, David Effron, said about the attitude needed at the beginning of the very virtuosic piece "be glad you're a violinist!" I always think of that whenever we play this exciting, difficult piece, and it makes me smile.