The Image of the Conductor


Simon Steen-Andersen (1976- )

AMID (2004)

The Politics of the conductor



Score Analysis

In this article, we will observe at a micro level how specific values and value hierarchies influence performance practices and the social relationship between the conductor and musicians in new music ensembles. Our study is based on a context based score analysis of AMID (2004) by Simon Steen-Andersen (1976-), an in-depth interview with the composer, and a performance practice pragamaticaly developed in rehearsal and performances of AMID with an advanced student ensemble of the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. We will contribute to this relatively new direction using experimental artistic and sociological research.

Composer Simon Steen-Andersen deployed the 'image of the conductor' in at least two of his works, Black Box Music (2012) and AMID (2004) to meet his artistic needs. In AMID, which is also examplary Steen-Andersen's charateristic gesture-based hyper-concrete writing, the conductor finds themself locked into a highly prescribed score with little or know room for impromptu gestures and spontaneous artistry. Artistic co-director of Nadar Ensemble, Pieter Matthynssens, described this use of the conductor, and especially its movement repertoire, as funtioning as an 'extension of the musicians'. 


In order to determine a conductor's performance practice for AMID and works of a similar genre, I conducted a single-piece case study that took place in three overlapping phases: First, I began with an analysis of the score and then conducted an in-depth interview with the composer. Lastly, together with two other conductors, we prepared AMID and collectively rehearsed and performed the work with an advanced student ensemble from the Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp. These three steps contributed to a studied, informed, and tested conductor’s performance practice specifically for AMID.


Below, the reader can find my score analysis and in-depth interview with the composer. I also present two articles that deal with the results of the score analysis from two slightly varying perspectives. The full case study was presented live at the Chigiana International Conference in Sienna, Italy in 2020 and I have included a recording of that presentation below as well. Finally, I have included a live recording of the entire piece performed by Nadar Ensemble that can serve as reference for the reflective material. 

Conductors are performers that must utilize and are limited to movements to facilitate the sounds that audiences perceive as music. Composers, artistic directors, and concert organizers today are growing more attentive to the conductor’s repertoire of ‘normal’ movement, its potential as artistic stimuli, and are framing it to enhance the audience’s perception of a piece or program. In his compositions AMID (2004) and later, Black Box Music (2012), Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen (1976-) deployed the ‘image of the conductor to play on the audience’s expectations’. [1] In this analysis, I will examine the role of the conductor in the first of these (later to be termed) ‘hyper-concrete’ works, AMID. [2]

AMID is scored for seven musicians all employing strictly notated movements. Steen-Andersen has created a scale for each musician from full sound potential (100%) to the musicians’ lowest sound potential (0%). The piece begins in unison and establishes a frame of building up and releasing tension, inhalation and exhalation. As AMID progresses, a dance between polyphonic passages and freezes in motion appears. Steen-Andersen describes it as a ‘movement piece’, in which he used gesture-based notation instead of the more traditional result-based notation. For the conductor this is especially relevant, as according to the composer, ‘If you have a movement piece, you may not realise it right away, but every movement becomes a part of the piece’. [3]

This score analysis will systematically catalogue the composition’s modular cells and subsequently, the conductor’s movements. The particularities of the piece and its score are first briefly explained, followed by a short description and definition of gesture that will be used throughout the remainder of the analysis. I will then detail the methodology and measurable trends that the analysis revealed. I made this analysis as the first step in a larger case study. Therefore, besides the measurable trends, I will not draw any intermediate conclusions from this analysis per ipsum.

[1] Simon Steen-Andersen, interview by Thomas R. Moore, November 10, 2019.
[2] Simon Steen-Andersen, “Behind next to Besides,” RTRSRCH 1, no. 3 (March 2010): 54–57.
[3] Steen-Andersen, interview.

download paper via: AMID

download paper via: The Policitcs of Conducting

published in Music & Practice, vol 9 (2021)

alternative download link

presented at the Chigiana Conference 2020 Re-envisiaging Music: Listening in the Visual Age, 11 December 2020




Case Study 1


Case Study 1



The Image of the conductor

Composers, artistic directors, and concert organizers of new music are today arguably growing more attentive to the conductor’s repertoire of ‘normal’ movement, its potential as artistic stimuli, and are willing to frame it to enhance the audience’s perception of a piece or program. To develop a performance practice that would be adaptable to this relatively new direction, I conducted a case study that delves into one exemplary work, AMID (2004) by Simon Steen-Andersen (1974- ). The case study proceeded in three overlapping phases: score analysis, an in-depth interview with its composer, and rehearsals and a concert with an advanced student ensemble. The newfound AMID-performance practice suggests new values at play, thus prompting an urgency to contextualize the insights in value-sociological terms. The work of sociologist Luc Boltanski and economist Laurent Thévenot compiled in their book On Justification provided an apt framework to pars the performance practice into useful value regimes.

Simon Steen-Andersen (1976- ) and I met for coffee in a trendy hipster hotel bar in Berlin in November 2019. Two of his pieces really challenge the role of the performing conducting, AMID (2004) and Black Box Music (2012). Simon was kind enough during our conversation to go in to great detail about compositional techniques and the use of both conductors and musicians in those two pieces.

download interview via: Hacking Musicians' Movements

forthcoming publication in Chigiana Journal of Musicological Studies

alternative download link

AMID by Simon Steen-Andersen (2004)

Nadar Ensemble