March 11, 2011
Conductors spend quite a bit of time during the average concert season making speeches about the music they're performing with their orchestras before audiences. In principle this is a good idea. It helps to make concert halls and the music directors that inhabit them seem warmer. It also makes the music seem more approachable.
Special skills are needed in a music director to make these speeches work. All too often, the monologues seem dull and perfunctory, with language that comes straight out of the program notes. If you listen to a music director speaking about a piece that he or she is about to conduct, you really want to hear about their personal connection to it. You want to sense their enthusiasm for it above all.
Body language is also key: I know conductors that address the audience hunched over their microphones with their heads mostly bowed to the ground. That's no way to connect with a crowd.
Orchestras should take some time to have their MDs work with public speaking experts. A few short sessions would doubtless make a big difference.
And if this is not possible, then the conductors might be better off sticking to conducting and not speaking at all.