Do conductors make a difference? Do these highly paid wielders of the baton really change the sound of the orchestras they lead? Two concerts I heard in New York in the last week of February suggested an answer to these questions. In the first concert, at Fisher Hall on February 25, I heard the New York Philharmonic, conducted by its new music director, Kurt Masur; in the second concert, at Carnegie Hall on February 28, I heard the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by its frequent guest conductor, Lorin Maazel. The result of my concert-going was proof, hardly necessary but nevertheless somewhat surprising, that conductors do make a difference.

To demonstrate the truth of this old adage, I should begin by telling the reader something of my history of hearing these orchestras in these halls in recent years. Over the past decade and more, I have heard the Philharmonic, in Fisher Hall, conducted most often by (in alphabetical...

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