During one of her summer holidays in Salzburg, Margaret Thatcher spent a day with Herbert von Karajan. The Prime Minister got on famously with the supremo of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Leading a government and conducting an orchestra confronted them with many of the same daily quandaries. According to Richard Osborne’s biography of Karajan, what Thatcher specifically wanted to know was how a conductor creates a sense of ensemble in an orchestra and then controls it: through force of will or through persuasion?
As indicated by the incorporation of the word ‘alchemy’ in the title of Tom Service’s study of the relationship between six major orchestras and their chief conductors, there are no straight answers to be had here. In fact, with orchestras such as Spira Mirabilis currently proving that with some extra