Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I began conducting seriously at University before embarking on postgraduate conducting studies in London and beginning a freelance life. I had been surrounded my music growing up, singing and playing in choirs and orchestras, and doing lots of accompanying. Conducting and composing became natural extensions of this, and I haven’t looked back since.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
The musicians around me making the music, and those who have gone before to create it.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
Conducting requires hard work, determination, patience, planning, none of which are particularly easy – but this pays off when making great music with others, whether untrained amateurs or seasoned professionals, and sharing this with audiences, however large or small. Nothing beats that.
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the choir/orchestra?
Being a performing musician is all about listening and respect: listening to yourself and others, and respecting everyone around you and the score in front of you. Communicating your ideas as a conductor is about listening to the music around you and suggesting ways to craft the sound organically in a collaborative process that includes gesture, body language, and eyes. Most of the work takes place in rehearsal, but there always needs to be an element of spontaneity in the performance itself.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
Fully respecting the score in front of you and bringing it to life with the best possible performance is the single most important role for any conductor. Especially so when the composer is present!
Is there one work that you would love to conduct?
There are so many works I’d love to conduct. I had been hugely looking forward to conducting my first St Matthew Passion in April 2020 in the Netherlands, but alas it was not to be because of the Coronavirus outbreak. But, as with all musical events that have had to be postponed, I suspect that it will make any rescheduled performance in the coming seasons even more special.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
I count myself fortunate to have seen so much of the world and performed in some extraordinary venues already, and every occasion has provided me with its own cherished memory. Performing in Barcelona’s Palau, Washington’s Library of Congress, Shanghai Symphony Hall, Notre Dame Cathedral, Sydney Opera House, Wigmore Hall – they have been and always will be significant memories for me. But equally special have been an outdoor concert perched on top of Penang Hill in Malaysia, a surround-sound recital scattered around Los Angeles’ Bradbury Building, and a bare-footed antiphonal performance standing in the River Jordan either side of the Baptismal Site. I love travelling, making new friends, and sharing my music making around the world – so I look forward to exploring more in the years to come.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
I admire so many. But if I had to name a few it would have to include Bach, Shostakovich, John Eliot Gardiner, Bernard Haitink, Janáček, and René Jacobs.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Music making at the highest possible level, whatever the circumstances.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Respect each other, respect the music, be kind, be encouraging, be prepared to work hard, don’t waste time, and listen.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Still making great music with colleagues old and new.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Great company, music, food, and wine.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your present state of mind?
Calm and grateful: the current lockdown because of the Coronavirus crisis has given the world a rare moment to pause, think, and reflect – and to be grateful for the extraordinary work of our medical professionals who are battling to save lives.
Graham Ross conducts the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge and the Dmitri Ensemble in a new recording of music Arvo Pärt, Peteris Vasks and James Macmillan. Further details
Graham Ross has established an exceptional reputation as a sought-after conductor and composer of a very broad range of repertoire. His performances around the world and his extensive discography have earned consistently high international praise, including a Diapason d’Or, Le Choix de France Musique and a Gramophone Award nomination. As a guest conductor he has worked with Australian Chamber Orchestra, Aalborg Symfoniorkester, Aurora Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Royal College of Music Symphony Orchestra, and Salomon Orchestra, making his debuts in recent seasons with the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers, DR VokalEnsemblet (Danish National Vocal Ensemble), London Mozart Players, European Union Baroque Orchestra, Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as acting as Assistant Conductor to Vladimir Jurowski. He is co-founder and Principal Conductor of The Dmitri Ensemble and, since 2010, Fellow and Director of Music at Clare College, Cambridge, where he conducts the internationally-renowned Choir.
(Artisti photo: Benjamin Ealovega)