So this is more of a general music question than string specific, but its something that has always confused me.
What is the difference between a music director and a chief conductor?
Thanks on what may be a silly question
The distinction is usually between "music director" and "principal guest conductor". The music director is theoretically administratively in charge of the orchestra, musically, in addition to their podium time. The principal guest conductor is someone who routinely comes in to conduct, but does not have the administrative aspects -- i.e. doesn't choose new players, plan the overall arc of seasons, etc.
Some orchestras are self-governed, i.e., don't work for an external board or suffer under a music director. Or, they might have a source of power that is not the conductor. Walter Legge's Philharmonia Orchestra was like that. He tapped Karajan, and then Klemperer to be his man in charge for much of the recording and performance activity, but made it clear that they also worked for him. The London Symphony has had a variety of people in charge over the years, but rarely if ever a music director as we think of the role.
I think I meant a principal conductor and a music director. Thanks
Principal conductors may conduct Stockhausen and Cage.
(Actually I'd better be careful - I had a principle biochemist superior who likes listening to Stockhausen (and probably Cage))!
Asked if he had ever conducted any Stockhausen, Beecham said, "No, but I once trod in some."
When Fritz Reiner was asked about his job, his answer was something like "30% conducting and 70% business management". For more complex performing arts, like opera or motion pictures, the job is split between a producer and a director. But for many american orchestras we expect the music director to do both. That might explain why some orchestras run into financial trouble, many skilled conductors do not have a career, and many prominent conductors have surprisingly poor or idiosyncratic baton technique.
The Music Director makes even more money for doing even less conducting,
Lots of orchestras have had principal guest conductors before. The BSO had Colin Davis in that slot before Bernard Haitink took it up. And the NY Phil had a few in the 60s, I think.
If I remember correctly when Colin Davis was with the LSO towards the end of his life, he was happy to conduct the orchestra and deal with musical matters, but wanted nothing to do with the administrative side, selecting (and maybe firing) players, raising funds etc. Presumably this put him closer to the 'principal conductor' than music director.
At the Boston Symphony, Tony Fogg is the artistic administrator-- one notch down from Mark Volpe who was the CEO by some other title, and below the Music Director. I don't know to whom he reports, precisely.