Richard Bratby

Do conductors have to be cruel to be good?

The era of podium tyranny, depicted by the film Tár, isn't completely a thing of the past. How moral should our ears be?

The podium tyrant walks again: Cate Blanchett as Lydia Tár. Courtesy of Focus Features

Playing under the baton of Arturo Toscanini must have felt a bit like fighting in the trenches. There are recordings of him rehearsing in the 1930s or ’40s. The orchestra is bowling along; there’s a low muttering, and then suddenly, out of nothing, the explosion. A scream of rage: a huge, operatic, animalistic roar.

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