Rules for young conductors

For those of you who ever wonder what, exactly, a conductor does (and for those who are just curious), we offer you Rules for Young Conductors by the conductor and teacher Pierre Monteux. These won’t answer every question you might have about conducting, of course, but they will give you insight into some of the challenges and pitfalls of the profession. At the end, I append a video of Monteux in his 80s conducting the Chicago Symphony as evidence that he followed his own rules.


by Pierre Monteux


  1. Stand straight, even if you are tall.
  2. Never bend, even for a pianissimo. The effect is too obvious behind.
  3. Be always dignified from the time you come on stage.
  4. Always conduct with a baton, so the players far from you can see your beat.
  5. Know your score perfectly
  6. Never conduct for the audience.
  7. Always mark the first beat of each measure very neatly, so the players who are counting and not playing know where you are.
  8. Always in a two-beat measure, beat the second beat higher than the first. For a four-beat bar, beat the fourth higher.


  1. Don’t overconduct; don’t make unnecessary movements or gestures.
  2. Don’t fail to make music; don’t allow music to stagnate. Don’t neglect any phrase of overlook its integral part in the complete work.
  3. Don’t adhere pedantically to metronomic time — vary the tempo according to the subject or phrase and give each its own character.
  4. Don’t permit the orchestra to play always a boresome mezzo-forte.
  5. Don’t conduct without a baton; don’t bend over while conducting.
  6. Don’t conduct solo instruments in solo passages; don’t worry or annoy sections or players by looking intently at them in “ticklish” passages.
  7. Don’t forget to cue players or sections that have had long rests, even though the part is seemingly an unimportant inner voice.
  8. Don’t come before the orchestra if you have not mastered the score; don’t practice or learn the score “on the orchestra.”
  9. Don’t stop the orchestra if you have nothing to say; don’t speak too softly to the orchestra, or only to the first stands.
  10. Don’t stop for obviously accidental wrong notes.
  11. Don’t sacrifice ensemble in an effort for meticulous beating — don’t hold sections back in technical passages where the urge comes to go forward.
  12. Don’t be disrespectful to your players (no swearing); don’t forget individuals’ rights as persons; don’t undervalue the members of the orchestra simply because they are “cogs” in the “wheels.”

Listen to this: Rondo

As we discussed in a previous post on the Minuet, classical music doesn’t always have to be as hard as it seems to be. With some simple listening tips, the arcane (seeming) can often become clear.

Let’s take a look at the “rondo.” It is defined as a “musical form in which the first section comes back to frame episodes” (in “The Penguin Companion to Classical Music”). It’s sort of like a pop song, in which the chorus keeps coming back. The word “episodes” in this case just refers to the material in between the returns of the rondo main theme; the episodes are sections where the composers go on little musical adventures.

Rondos end up having forms like this: ABACABA, the “A” being the returning main theme and the other letters being episodes.

Let’s say no more, and listen to a rondo, the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Here’s a map, with timings to the video above.

Section A: The main theme of this rondo is heard right at the beginning.

Section B: The first episode starts at 34″.

Section A returns at 2’06”. Notice the pre-echo of the theme before the return.

Section C (second episode) starts at 2’39”.

Section A returns at 4’18”.

Section B (the first episode varied) returns at 4’51”. It leads to solo piano cadenza at 6’23”.

Section A returns in the orchestra at 7:07. The rest is coda, or epilogue.

Audio: Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, first movement

Here’s one of the earliest recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with Arthur Nikisch conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1913. Don’t let the primitive sound put you off; it’s a fascinating interpretation, notable for its extremely flexible approach to tempo.

Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony open the season with the work this week.

Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’: Opening chords

This video presents a chronological survey of the first two chords (E-flat major) of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, as heard in recordings from the 1920s to the present day. You will notice not only different tempos, but also different tunings (the three orchestras using original instruments are the lowest), acoustics (Toscanini’s are especially dull) and instrumental balances. The people who put this compilation together may in fact have too much time on their hands, but it was well used here, and we thank them.