Musicians play better when they follow the conductor instead of each other, according to a new study.
Alessandro D’Ausilio of the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa watched two conductors each lead five Mozart excerpts played by eight orchestral violinists.
By analysing the movements of special infra-red reflectors attached to the bows, Dr D’Ausilio determined how closely each violinist's movements were aligned to the conductor's stick-waving, and how closely to the other violinists' sawing.
Musical experts were then drafted in to mark each performance qualitatively.
Results from three of the five performances were inconclusive.
But when it came to the remaining two, the judges preferred the version where the musicians followed the conductor more, and each other less.
The Economist, which aired the study, reckon this proves that "baton-toting despots, like the late Herbert von Karajan, do add value—but only if they rein in the uppity musicians in front of them".
Of course it does nothing of the sort - how closely musicians follow a conductor has nothing to do with his personal manner, and everything to do with how much they respect him. But what it does demonstrate, in its quasi-scientific way, is that musicians play better when they keep an eye on the maestro. As conductors from time immemorial are fond of telling them.