The CONDUCTOR plays a vital role in interpreting a composer's intentions and communicating these to the orchestra and the audience.
As we know him (or her) today, the conductor is a relatively modern phenomenon.
In classical times, it was normal practice for the leader of the orchestra (Konzertmeister) to give indications of tempo with his bow, whilst the director (Kapellmeister) sat at his harpsichord to supply the harmonies of the figured bass. When the keyboard instrument disappeared from the orchestral pit, the way was open for the virtuoso conductor to rise to the position of pre-eminence he occupies today.
There are, however, a few conductor-less orchestras that have achieved considerable distinction. The American orchestra Orpheus plays to a consistently high standard, as (closer to home) does the Northern Chamber Orchestra. But to play without a conductor requires exceptional musical rapport between the players as well as placing additional demands on the leader. For these reasons the repertoire of such orchestras tends to be restricted to smaller chamber compositions.
The conductor of The Alderley Edge Orchestra is an ex-officio member of the orchestral committee and plays an important role in planning each concert season.
'I first joined the Orchestra soon after I started to learn the Horn while still at school - a long time ago now! Although I had played in the school orchestra, the experience of playing with an orchestra of adults was something that really showed me what music was all about. It is an experience I have never forgotten, and for which I have always been grateful.
'Apart from a year or two spent in other parts of the country while I was studying for my professional qualifications (as a Solicitor) I have been a member of the Orchestra ever since then, initially as a horn player, and then more recently as conductor. I have also conducted elsewhere on occasions, but never on a regular basis. I still play the horn regularly,
both in another orchestra, and in chamber music ensembles which meet in my home and in a village hall not far from where I live.
'I suppose that music must be my favourite hobby - it brings enormous pleasure to my life, and is a marvellous relaxation from making a living. I think it is true to say that all the other members of the Orchestra have similar feelings about this - although we strive constantly to improve our standard of performance, we do so in an atmosphere of friendliness and fun, and we do not regard it as a failure if occasionally we do not sound like the Berlin Philharmonic!
'Our repertoire has, over the years, always concentrated on what I would describe as the mainstream classical and romantic middle European tradition. This is broad enough to ensure that pieces do not come up again for quite a number of years, and narrow enough to avoid the increased technical difficulty of many modern compositions and the problem of lack of clarinet parts in much early music.
'We have always had only a small brass section, with two horns and trumpets, and we do not normally use trombones. This is a deliberate choice, mainly because the hall in which we rehearse is not really big enough to accommodate the sound of a large amount of heavy brass.
'Over the years, I have arranged special parts for the two horns for many of the standard repertoire pieces (including all the Brahms and and several of the Dvorak and Schumann symphonies) which are scored for four horns and trombones; these include the essential bits of all four horn parts and also trombone cues. Our two horn players have to work very hard as a result, but they seem to thrive on it!
'We have for many years, in the final weeks of each season, had great fun playing through pieces which we do not expect ever to be able to perform for one reason or another. In recent years, these have included two Mahler symphonies (Nos 1 and 4, my wife singing the solo soprano part in the latter), Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherezade (in which we much enjoyed the solo violin part played by our then leader, Sarah Ledbury) and even Stravinsky (Jeux de Cartes). We find that, without the worry and pressure that having to perform these works in public would bring, there is enormous pleasure to be had from trying them out - you learn a lot about them from within so to speak, so that when you hear them played in concerts by professionals you can appreciate them much more. The fact that these pieces contain passages that are far too difficult for most if not all our players, is not a problem at all!'