Richard Bratby, writing for The Spectator, mulls over the issue of bad behavior by prominent classical musicians. While there are plenty of horror stories about operatic divas and stellar instrumentalists, conductors have been exemplars, for intemperance (Arturo Toscanini), cruelty (Fritz Reiner) and sexual predation (James Levine).
Bratby writes that “the podium tyrant walks again in the person of Lydia Tár – the fictional conductor played by Cate Blanchett in Todd Field’s movie ‘Tár.’ ” (An updated tyrant, he notes, in that the character is an American woman.)
He traces the tradition of conductor as tyrant and orchestra musicians as lowly underlings to their respective status in the royal and aristocratic court orchestras and opera houses of pre-modern central Europe. For their conductors, “autocracy had been part of the job description,” Bratby writes:
I haven’t seen “Tár.” Even though it’s a film about classical music, and not many of those get made, fictional tyranny doesn’t seem enticing when there’s so much of the real thing around.