Meet the Artist……Mark Wigglesworth, conductor

Mark Wrigglesworth (image credit: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and make it your career?

Ward Swingle, of Swingle Singers fame, is an old family friend, and it was he who suggested, on the evidence of my childhood piano playing, that I pursue conducting. At the time I took it as a compliment but with hindsight imagine it had more to do with the inadequacies of my pianistic technique. Put more politely, he made me realise I was more interested in music, than in playing it.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

George Hurst taught me everything I like about my conducting as well as everything I don’t like. I came under his spell at a dangerously young age.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Knowing when to say yes and when to say no.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I can count on the fingers of one hand the performances I remember with unequivocal pride but given that I’m hopefully not yet half way through my career, I don’t think that’s a bad proportion! One should always want to do better. I’m pleased with the Shostakovich Symphony cycle I’ve recorded, though I have to confess I’ve never listened to the CDs once they’ve been released. Perhaps I’m worried that doing so will make me less proud.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The first professional orchestra I ever conducted was in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. As such, I always feel inspired by the memories of that excitement. And despite its questionable acoustics, I smile every time I walk into the Sydney Opera House.

Favourite pieces to perform/conduct? Listen to?

Wagner is the pinnacle for me. His music is a constant search for the perfect equilibrium between heart, mind, and soul. Realising it is a very special feeling. His music essentially invented the need for conductors and the flexible physicality he requires is a joy to express. Listening is another matter and I tend not to listen to music I conduct. Chamber music is where I’m freer to respond without judgement, listen without an opinion, and love without experience.

Who are your favourite musicians?

One tends not to know individual musicians in orchestras that well, but there are many, many I admire enormously. And the singers and soloists who hear music collaboratively are the soloists I enjoy the most. Stephen Hough and John Tomlinson spring to mind as prime examples.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Conducting Mahler’s sixth symphony with the Dutch National Youth Orchestra at a performance in Haarlem and hearing Simon Rattle perform Mahler’s Second Symphony with the CBSO at the Brighton Dome. You don’t need glamorous venues!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Sincerity, Respect, Confidence, Passion, Thought, Time.

Born in Sussex, England, Mark Wigglesworth studied music at Manchester University and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Whilst still a student, he formed The Premiere Ensemble, an orchestra committed to playing a new piece in every programme. A few weeks after leaving the Academy, he won the Kondrashin International Conducting Competition in The Netherlands, and since then has worked with many of the leading orchestras and opera companies of the world.

In 1992 he became Associate Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and further appointments included Principal Guest Conductor of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Highlights of his time with the BBCNOW included several visits to the BBC Proms, a performance of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony at the prestigious Amsterdam Mahler Festival in 1995, and a six-part television series for the BBC entitled ‘Everything To Play For’.

In addition to concerts with most of the UK’s orchestras, Mark Wigglesworth has guest conducted many of Europe’s finest ensembles, including the Berlin Philharmonic; Amsterdam Concertgebouw; La Scala Filarmonica, Milan; Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia Orchestra, Rome; Stockholm Philharmonic, Gothenburg Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, Helsinki Radio Symphony, Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, Salzburg Camerata and the Budapest Festival Orchestra.

Mark Wigglesworth’s full biography
Mark Wigglesworth writes a regular blog for Gramophone: