Who or what inspired you to take up conducting, and pursue a career in music?
Carlos Kleiber! More seriously, I was feeling a bit frustrated playing the cello, not having the big picture. The instrument seemed to be almost “getting in the way” of the music and me. Also I have always enjoyed managing people and was excited by the added challenge of getting the musicians to feel they are fully part of the creative process. Finally I felt I had something to say and express about music.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I have met some fantastic people in my life, ranging from my nursery school teacher to my passionate cello teacher when I was a teenager, and my music teacher in high school. Working with Benjamin Zander was also a great experience. He taught me a lot as a musician and as a person. I believe it is crucial as an artist to keep learning from others throughout your life. It is often said that a great musician should know about philosophy and other arts, cultures etc. and this is absolutely true.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Getting it started!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
My concert last year with Sinfonia Tamesa, when we performed Nielsen (Aladdin), Grieg (Peer Gynt) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Sheherazade), was pretty amazing – really electrifying and colourful! I was also thrilled to perform Albéric Magnard’s Hymne à la Justice last year on the 100th anniversary of his death. He hasn’t been played at all in France and for me it is a real shame! I am also very proud to be conducting a concert on 11 November at St James’s Piccadilly with the amazing Sarah Connolly in aid of UNICEF Syria Children’s Appeal. Such a worthy and important cause.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I experience and therefore conduct the music in a passionate way. Of course there is always a necessary intellectual approach to the score: you’ve got to analyse it and understand the notes and their relationship, but what’s most important is to love the music, to feel it and make the audience experience it with you. I particularly relate to powerful and expressive composers like Beethoven, Mahler, Sibelius, Bruckner etc. Plus I am an advocate of playing unknown composers; the feeling of discovering something new, another language, another personality is always extremely rewarding and motivating.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I always try to put three kinds of pieces in my programmes: something famous to attract the more traditional audience, a premiere or contemporary piece, and a little-known piece or composer to feed the audience’s curiosity. There are so many wonderful things out there we haven’t heard yet!
Supporting new music is also essential. I believe performers should be more involved and work with composers themselves. For example, I think what Fenella Humphreys did with Bach to the Future was really inspiring.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I have played in too few venues to have a favourite. Maybe the state-of-the-art concert hall which Simon Rattle has been calling for in London?
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I can be quite obsessive sometimes, and right now I am completely mad about Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. It’s incredibly powerful, meditative, epic…
Otherwise, I like to listen to YouTube channels featuring unacclaimed masterpieces and other hidden gems. The Corymbus blog is also definitely worth following!
Who are your favourite musicians?
Carlos Kleiber (again)! He is such an inspiration. He breathes the music, loves it so much that the way he conducts seems so organic. I’ve also always been fascinated by Furtwängler and his bizarre but magical conducting. Of course we’ve got some fantastic conductors today as well: Mariss Jansons, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Andris Nelsons, Sir Simon Rattle.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Probably my very first concert as a conductor in 2009! Hopefully there is much more to come. The UNICEF concert on 11 November promises to be quite a highlight too and because of the cause it supports, a memorable one too.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
“You know nothing!” No matter where you are or how good you are, you have to keep learning and be humble. But remember if music is life, life is not only about music!
What is your most treasured possession?
The St Christopher pendant my grandmother gave me a long time ago. Not for religious reasons at all but because it is a reminder of where I come from. Also my cello: it symbolises the efforts and sacrifices I had to make to get where I am and all the support I got from my parents. And very soon my wedding ring!
Sarah Connolly and some of the top professional musicians in London are uniting under the direction of Nicolas Nebout in a special fundraising concert for Syrian refugee children. The concert takes place on 11th November 2015, 7.30pm at St James’s Piccadilly, London W1
Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No.5
Gustav Mahler – Kindertotenlieder (soloist: Sarah Connolly)
Malek Jandali – Phoenix in Exile (World Premiere)
Book tickets http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2265817