An orchestra can flourish if it’s open to creativity and input from its members
‘Of all the people on stage the conductor is the only one who doesn’t make a sound. No one in the audience knows exactly what a conductor does. And yet it is always the conductors that are praised or criticised after a performance. It is as if he alone is responsible for the music.’ But Ronnie Bauch doesn’t have to worry. Bauch is a violinist in an orchestra that has been proving for 30 years that you don’t need a conductor to make beautiful music.
When Bauch joined the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in 1975 he saw it as an experiment. A number of musicians from New York wanted to perform an orchestral repertoire as chamber music. In other words, without a conductor. They figured that the crucial ingredients to success were adding their own input, taking responsibility and maintaining mutual respect for one another. Their orchestra was to be a self-directed organisation. In Bauch’s words: ‘We wanted to stimulate creativity and amazement in a system that also enforces a certain discipline.’
Their efforts were clearly successful. For years, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, of which Bauch has since become director, has been touring through North and South America, Europe and Asia, with New York’s Carnegie Hall as its official home base. The orchestra has received various awards and has been a source of inspiration for various musicians to try playing without a conductor.
‘There’s nothing wrong with a conductor,’ Bauch says, laughing off the insinuation that conductor’s are simply musical parasites. ‘It’s a fantastic experience to play with a good conductor that sparks your enthusiasm. But if you play with a conductor that isn’t so good – and that’s the case for most musicians – it can be frustrating.’
Orpheus Chamber Orchestra rotates its leaders. From a standing group of 28 musicians, one is appointed to take the lead for a piece of music, while the other musicians maintain their right to continuous input. Bauch believes this system ensures variations in performances. ‘After all, a conductor always works alone. He will do better with some pieces than others, but musicians normally have no opportunity to reproach the conductor. Our orchestra has such a deliberative structure.’
It sounds like something out of a popular handbook for managers. Bauch can understand the comparison. ‘I can see how Orpheus could offer inspiration on how to be a modern manager. But isn’t it really always important to remain open to creativity and individual input?’