Imagine how it must feel to stand in front of one hundred musicians at the ready. You're just slightly elevated by the podium. Music gushes forth in a barrage of sound at the drop of your outstretched hand. The one hundred moving-part-machine dances to your every whim: louder now, then hushed to a whisper. Faster now, then slowed to a walk.
You leap into the air—Leonard-Bernstein-style—and they, in turn, respond with an ear-splitting crescendo.
What power! What command!
Is the conductor playing to the audience or is it more personal than that? For whom are the loudness levels set?
Every conductor has been an audience member, and every audience member has wished to be standing on the podium.
I suspect the answer to the question is obvious. The conductor demands and coaxes from the orchestra that which he or she wishes to hear: that what comes out pleases the conductor's ears first, the audience second.
It sure as hell would be what I would do standing atop that podium.