And then there were ten… After yesterday’s mammoth day for the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra when the 20 round one candidates had to wow the jury in only 15 minutes, today they have a more in-depth 30 minutes each in which to work in more detail, covering a concerto plus one of two contemporary pieces. After a brief warm up with their soloist they’ll appear in front of the panel of world class conductors and musicians to show how they can navigate these difficult pieces of repertoire, help the orchestra to play together and give a convincing rendition.

What are the jury going to be looking for today? In the concertos (either Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto or Schumann’s Cello Concerto) the conductors will need to guide the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra as they accompany the soloists. ‘Accompany’ really is the key word here – they need to be playing not before the soloist, not behind them, but totally with them, whilst never overwhelming them. The soloist must never feel pushed or that they are dragging the orchestra behind them. As many of the orchestra will not be able to hear the soloist as they are playing, it is the conductor’s job to show meticulously with his hands where the soloist is speeding up, slowing down and to instantly alter the balance of the orchestra so at no point do they overpower them. They should be always supporting them in moments of excitement and helping to build the very complex picture which makes up the concerto.

Then they will work on one of two contemporary pieces – either P-Paranoia by Duncan Ward or As though birds by Elizabeth Ogonek. This kind of work needs a master of architecture on the rostrum, helping the orchestra navigate a journey which is not as obvious as the Romantic repertoire with its soaring melodies and emotional climaxes. Both these works create a dramatic soundscape with constantly changing solo lines which the conductor must make sure are heard. The danger is that works like this will just seem like noise. A good conductor will enable the ear to pick out the startling imagery which is hidden in the orchestration and to create a really exciting performance in which the audience will feel totally immersed.

This is the last day that the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra will play for the conductors, as tomorrow the three finalists will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra at its home next door in the Barbican Centre. But it’s lovely today to see them building a rapport with the students of the Guildhall School who are maintaining an impressive level of concentration throughout this feat of orchestral playing. Some of the players are keeping their own score cards, some are routing for particular conductors, but they’re all learning just how much a difference a conductor makes to a performance. Can an orchestra play without one? Often. But a good conductor can add the drive, shaping and excitement and secure framework in which musicians can create something truly magical.