As one reads and learns about Casal's activities as a conductor, one may be reminded of another great cellist, Mstislov Rostropovich, who is a wonderful cellist and conductor. Casals did his first real conducting in Barcelona, at the age of seventeen. During his career, he had the opportunity to conduct many great symphony orchestras, as well as his own beloved Orquestra Pablo Casals. In the twenties he did series of concerts with the Lamoureux Orchestra in Paris, as well as conducting the Vienna Philharmonic, and the New York Sympony Orchestra. Whenever on tour with his cello, he tried to find opportunities to conduct. Toscanini asked him to conduct in Milan, Italy. He conducted the London Symphony Orchestra regularly for years.

Casals conducting
Perpignon, France 1951

A critic writing in the London Observer in 1927 said, "Whether with the bow or the stick, he plays as if he held a responsible trust, determined that at all costs the purity of the faith shall not suffer at his hands. He refrains from anything histrionic or ephemeral; he wants the truth of it...In whatever he does he seems to aim at some invisible and unattainable ideal, and if some part of that is reached immediately to set the standard higher...This scholar-artist is the most musical musician alive today." (Quoted by Lillian Littlehales in her biography of Casals)

Littlehales also quotes Casals on conducting:

"A great conductor first of all must be a great interpreter. The main thing is to have a full and clear comprehension of the works to be performed; perfection can only be reached with hard and constant labor. There should be many rehearsals, and the conductor should always have interesting things to say."

"I make the base of my programs that which is classic, but naturally do not refuse new ideas. Owing to the character of my orchestra, and the limited number of our concerts, we can play only those works of modern composers that have survived public censorship. I enjoy the rehearsals even more than the conducting of the orchestra in public. The important thing is to communicate one's own sensations to the players, and to make one's ideals understandable. To know how to get in touch with others, to be able to convince one's men and impress one's own originality upon them, is in the highest degree a mark of capability in a leader."

Casals' remarks are not only valuable to conductors, but to all musicians. First, the music is more important than technique, though obviously a certain level of proficiency is necessary. Second, it is important to have a full and clear comprehension of the works performed. For example, it is not enough for a soloist simply to know his own part, he must know what the entire orchestra is doing, and how it all fits together. Third, Casals underlines the necessity of disciplined hard work. The professional musician is not merely enjoying himself, he is working, and he must exhibit craftsmanship in his work.

Fourth, conductors must be interesting and inspiring. Fifth, the classics must come first. Some of the modern compositions are interesting or beautiful, but they generally do not carry the technical and spiritual weight of the great works of the past. Sixth, the conductor must be a communicator. He must be understandable and convincing. Seventh, the conductor especially must have leadership. He is not there just to wave the baton, and have a good time. He is there to lead, to guide, to push, to pull, to make the orchestra into a responsive instrument in his own hands. Sometimes orchestral musicians need to learn to be followers. They may disagree with the conductor's interpretation, but he is the leader. His job is to lead. The player's job is to follow that leadership.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Marshall C. St. John