British conductor

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

For my tenth birthday I was taken to London for the first time to see ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat’ at the London Palladium, I loved the experience so much that in the programme I circled the name ‘Mike Reed – Musical Supervisor’ and ‘Mike Dixon – Musical Director’ and in my dodgy ten year old hand writing I wrote ‘this is what I want to be when I grow up’.

Cut to eight years later I was lucky enough to get a place at the Royal College of Music as a pianist, which was until that point my main passion in life. To support myself through college I got a job as a church organist in Chiswick, the first Sunday I played the Vicar said to me I like to introduce you to somebody who I think you might find useful, and in walked Mike Dixon. At that moment I thought it was the most incredible coincidence, until the following week once again after the church service the Vicar said to me there’s somebody else I’d like you to meet, and in walked Mike Reed. At that moment I realised coincidences wasn’t a part of this, the stars had aligned and I knew that as a ten year old child I had wished for something and it was going to come true.

Mike Dixon and Mike Reed were then generous enough over the next few years to introduce me to the world of musical theatre, and their inspiration is what turned me into the musician I am today.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

Beside the two Mikes, I was lucky enough to work for many years with Russell Watson, who not only inspired me to bring classical music to a wider audience, but was also a guiding light on the complicated side of business in the music industry.

I’m a firm believer that music is something that grows deep inside and the earlier it can start the stronger the music is. I was also lucky to have this from an early age with my first music teacher at primary school, June Davenhill. Because of Mrs Davenhill’s approach to music education, I had a ‘duvet’ of music surrounding me from an early age, I strongly believe that was what sparked my musical journey, and without that education I’m sure that today I would simply be a business man.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

The most challenging part is the divide between the orchestral musicians and the conductor; due to its nature, a conductor has to lead, and as I started conducting when I was 18 years old, I found many of the older orchestra players had an attitude with a leader who was considerably younger than them. This is slowly easing as I get older, but it’s still one of the factors of my profession.

However, when I conduct wonderful orchestras, who also have wonderfully accepting players, these are easily the most fulfilling aspects of my career.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Like all difficult things in life I find the key to being successful is in its preparation: if I’m well prepared and confident when I communicate this to the orchestra they tend to follow me very well.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

For me music is all about energy, music played technically well but with boredom in the eyes of the players, equals a bad performance. I wouldn’t dare try to tell experienced players who are infinitely more capable of making music on their instrument than I am, how to improve their playing. I see my role as the source of the energy in the music, and I’m the ringmaster trying to combine all the talents in front of me to make a harmonious sound.

Of course the composer’s writing has a lot to do with that, but nobody wants to hear the same performance of Beethoven’s 9th again and again and again, therefore for me it’s more about the interpretation and creating a special performance which the audience will remember.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

As I’m still a pianist as well, I sometimes get the opportunity to conduct from the piano, one of the pieces I’ve always wanted to do this with but haven’t had the chance yet, is Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto No 2

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I’m lucky enough that I’ve conducted in some of the great venues in the world, namely Sydney Opera House, Singapore Esplanade and all of the major venues in the UK. My favourite however is still a joint tie with the Birmingham Symphony Hall (this is where I grew up and the venue has a special place in my heart) and of course the awe inspiring Royal Albert Hall. Admittedly the acoustics at the RAH are possibly some of the worst in the world but the atmosphere is second to none.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love the piano playing of Stephen Hough, the conducting and outreach work of Esa-Pekka Salonen, and the music of Ravel, Rachmaninoff, Gershwin, Eric Whitacre and Fauré to name but a few.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

This is the easiest question of all; players who are enjoying their work equals audiences who enjoy their playing

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

Always think big. Always trust your gut instinct. Work hard but not at the expense of gaining life experience. Dive into the deep end and learn on the job. Be gracious to everyone you meet. And above all, realise that if you’re not enjoying the thing you’re doing, the people you are trying to please will never be satisfied.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

For the past ten years I’ve been extremely grateful that I’ve never had a moment with no work, if I can say the same in ten years time I’ll be a happy man.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being on a beach in Maldives whilst preparing some music for a concert, or composing/orchestrating for a forthcoming project (and probably with a g&t in my hand, with my wife next to me moaning I’m working, and my son tugging on me to play…!)


Robert Emery is a conductor, pianist, record producer and serial entrepreneur. He is lucky enough to travel the world; ranging from performances in London’s Royal Albert Hall, through to the Sydney Opera House. The Times called him ‘the eccentric barefooted maestro’ and the Mail quoted that ‘the assured baton was controlled by the rather energetic and brilliant conductor’.

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Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

A series of unfortunate accidents! As a fairly straightforwardly academic child I stumbled into an open evening given by the brass teachers of the local peripatetic service. I really can’t remember why I thought it was a good idea, but there was a tuba lying on a classroom table and it chose me there and then.

As a tuba player in youth orchestra I had a lot of bars rest – often whole movements or pieces. To relieve the boredom (and if I’m honest to try to stop myself being a nuisance to people with actual notes to play), I started bringing the scores to rehearsals and following those. It didn’t take long for me to start wanting to hear more of different sections of the orchestra, or wonder how it would work at a different tempo, it was then a short step to formal study, though I don’t think even then that I had any thought of doing it for a living.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

The two most significant early experiences were that of my youth orchestra, but possibly more importantly playing in a very high-level brass band. The culture of dedication, discipline and excellence there was something I shall never forget. Punctuality, alertness and concentration were taken absolutely for granted, and the precision of ensemble and intonation was astonishing. It set standards for me.

After that, three teachers had an enormous influence. My first conducting teacher was Michael Trowski, who was also the conductor of my youth orchestra. He is a wonderful all-round musician, and a very supportive friend who I learnt from as much playing under him as in our lessons. After university I studied with Alan Hazeldine, who pushed me hard to keep focused and to treat conducting as an all-round set of skills that encompassed not only physical technique and score-reading but also mastery of the psychology of orchestras and managements. He also arranged for me to watch and meet Sir Colin Davies who offered several gems of insight that I will always treasure.

But by far the most profound influence on my career in the past decade has been working with David Parry. As his assistant and colleague at Garsington, I was given the most incredible insights into the wonderful world of opera where I have spent much of the last decade. In particular, his peerless facility in the bel canto repertoire has led that to become something of a specialism for me, although I undoubtedly conduct it very differently from him and this ability to nurture conductors without turning out carbon copies of himself is what makes him such a great colleague and mentor.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

As the question implies, this is often the same thing. Every room is different and every person in that room is different. They all want and need something different from you and that will vary ensemble to ensemble, piece to piece and week to week. One of Colin Davis’ brilliant insights was that our job is not to conduct the piece, but to conduct the people who are playing the piece. The fact that the same gestures, explanations, ideas will communicate in one setting but not another is an endless challenge, but the satisfaction of finding a way to let a group of brilliant and talented people make music together to their maximum potential is one of the most fulfilling experiences imaginable.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Very simply! A wonderful colleague once advised me never to say anything in rehearsal that I couldn’t express in my third language. If I couldn’t say it in German or Italian it was probably too complicated. I think this is wonderful advice. Whilst I have complicated poetic and metaphysical ideas in my head, they are only allowed out through my hands, eyes and body. If you heard me speaking to an orchestra, 99% of the time it would be about the practicalities of note-lengths, balance, intonation, and tempo.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

I am definitely the composer’s representative in the room, and I feel very strongly that it’s my job to bring not only the composer’s ideas but their historical context, assumptions, faith, politics and personality to the rehearsal (though as per above, this generally stays in my head unless really interesting to anyone else!).

Following from that, I think that it is my job to have the whole picture in my mind, whether that be an opera or a symphony, and to be responsibility for the integrity of that. Each singer in an opera needs to be focused on their character, motivations, and emotional arc. My job is to make sure that these knit together into a story. This is why it is often a good sign if we disagree, or at the least have different emphases. Likewise in an orchestra, any given player (or section) has to concentrate on phrasing, articulation, intonation. To let them do that, and to mesh all of those individual lines into a coherent whole, I take charge of the balance, tempo and ensemble so that they focus on making music.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Too many! I’ve been very very lucky and been allowed to conduct a huge range of repertoire from the 13th century to the present so have no complaints. But having gained a reputation for English music and the Italian bel canto I wouldn’t protest if someone booked me to do Walküre…. or Boris….

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I am a huge fan of the various Frank Matcham theatres around the country. The Hackney Empire is my home turf and I feel a special affection for that space, but Buxton, Cheltenham and Wolverhampton are all glorious venues to make music in. That said, I’m looking forward to making my Bridgewater Hall debut next year which may change that…

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

No favourites! Verboten!

Though more seriously I have never failed to fall in love with a piece I’m working on.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Cynically, it’s the moment when you’re spending more time and energy on doing the work that looking for it.

But fortunately success comes daily when we bring music off the page and through our performance into people’s lives. Every single audience member whose soul goes home lighter after a show is the reason that we’re here.

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

They need to have an absolute clarity of purpose. They need to have addressed the big questions: Why do we do what we do, who is it for? Why is it important? They need to have this core of confidence in order to develop resilience to the thousand natural shocks that anyone in the performing arts faces daily.

I think they need to come to these conclusions for themselves and we don’t need to agree. In fact for the continued development and evolution of our profession it’s better if we don’t! It’s very unclear to me what our world and profession will look like in ten years’ time, let alone twenty. Anyone entering now needs to know why and bring with them a readiness to make music in different ways and in different places, so that we continue to touch audiences.

Arthur Sullivan’s complete incidental music to Shakespeare’s Macbeth and The Tempest with his concert overture, Marmion, performed by sopranos Mary Bevan and Fllur Wyn, Simon Callow (speaker), the BBC Singer and BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by John Andrews, is available now on the Dutton Epoch label


John Andrews is Principal Guest Conductor of the National Symphony Orchestra, Conductor-in-Assocation with the English Symphony Orchestra, whom he conducts regularly at the English Music Festival. He has conducted the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and concerts in 2018-19 include the 2018 International Composers Festival, the Bridgewater Hall with the Manchester Concert Orchestra, and the London Handel Festival with the Brook Street Band, the Malcolm Arnold Festival and Baroquestock.

His performances of Donizetti’s Pia de’ Tolomei for English Touring Opera, were praised for his ‘highly cultured, shapely and pressing direction… ’ whilst Bachtrack described his interpretation of Lucia di Lammermoor as ‘faultless’. Recent credits include Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel with the Young Artists of Garsington Opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail for the Rostock Volkstheater, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for Opera Holland Park. In 2018 and 2019 he returns to English Touring Opera for Rossini’s Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, and Il segreto di Susanna for Opera Holland Park.

John is currently making a series of world-premiere recordings with the BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus and The Brook Street Band for Dutton Epoch and EM-Records. The first of these – Sullivan’s Music for Macbeth and The Tempest – was named a Disc of the Year in The Sunday Times, described by Hugh Canning as ‘pure delight’. Future releases include Arne’s The Judgment of Paris, and Sullivan’s Haddon Hall and The Martyr of Antioch.

His gift for combining empathy and feel for both music and musicians with an ability to directly and powerfully communicate his ideas, together with his passion for locating music in its social and historical context, brings dynamism and warmth to his interpretations of both rare and classic repertoire.

johnkandrews.com

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

Music was a very gradual and natural progression for me. As a child I began to play more and more music until I was eventually spending every spare minute at school rushing off to a practice room, to a rehearsal, to a music tech studio, to a lesson, to a chamber group. I was filling my holidays and weekends with orchestra courses, jazz rehearsals in London, and on and on and on. Finally it dawned on me that music was clearly the focus in my life, and it would be a rather natural next step to try to make a living out of it.

Likewise the conducting was a transition. There came a point in my early twenties when I realised that I’d caught the conducting bug. I was playing in orchestras of such varying standards, from the flimsiest of amateur setups to the highest professional level, that I was constantly watching the whole spectrum of conductors in front of me. The lesser mortals gave me the confidence that I could do better than them, but more importantly the better conductors inspired me hugely, fascinated me, and got me hooked on the idea that a conducting profession could be a compelling journey.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

In my earlier days the strongest influences were my teachers – and I was certainly lucky to have superb teachers, more than I can mention. I owe a lot to Neil Thomson, who first set me off on a path towards understanding the process of conducting, and understanding how to learn. From that point I had so many different conducting influences. Two names that stand out are Sir Mark Elder and Claudio Abbado. Mark gave me two years of astonishing support, guidance and inspiration whilst I was his assistant at the Hallé orchestra; Claudio gave me his mindblowingly high-class conducting to feed off whilst I was playing in the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.

Nowadays my primary influences are the scores in front of me, but my instincts are surely still heavily influenced by all the people who led me where I am today.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

Perhaps the greatest challenge is wrestling with the question of what a composer intended at a certain point in a score when his or her vision is absolutely unclear on the page. If it’s a work that’s close to your heart, this struggle is intense and consuming, but always interesting. On a more mundane note, there is a huge organisational and logistical focus to my work as a conductor that wasn’t present when I was a player. This is especially true in my role as a Music Director. Fortunately I’m rather neurotic in terms of organisation, so I get by.

Putting aside all the challenges, though, at the very heart is the fact that I feel totally at home on a podium in front of an orchestra. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling than the concert experience of performing music that you have rehearsed intensely and spent months preparing for. When things are going well, it’s the most satisfying possible way to conclude a project.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Any player will tell you that the holy grail is for conductors to communicate everything in gestures. That’s certainly the dream. Of course it’s not possible 100% of the time. Some things need to be said, but perhaps the secret is knowing when to stop… Players don’t need to know all your ideas. There’s often a great deal of extra contingency preparation or historical context that doesn’t need to be shared. In the case of, say, Also Sprach Zarathustra, there’s even a gigantic layer of philosophy. The players don’t need to know everything you’re thinking, but having all these extra layers as a base can add so much to the conviction with which you’re conducting.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

Absolutely the latter. Surely that has to be the primary role of a conductor, to take on full responsibility to enable the audience to experience what the composer intended. If you happen to inspire the musicians along the way, that’s a bonus – an orchestra is more likely to play well and work hard if they’re inspired.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Although I’m lucky to be able to programme and perform orchestral music of my choosing a lot of the time, there are a few sacred cows… The piece that most comes to mind is Schoenberg’s Pelleas and Melisande. I have unusually powerful memories of rehearsing and performing it under Claudio Abbado, so the music means a lot to me and I feel as though I know it inside out. But I’m wary of experiencing it from the podium, in case those memories are affected.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

There are so many tremendous buildings devoted to classical music! I’m so fortunate to be Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León – we both rehearse and perform in the spectacular concert hall of the Auditorio Miguel Delibes. It’s hard to beat the Royal Albert Hall – what a space – plus I used to walk past it every day so it feels like coming home. As a player I adored the glamour of the Musikverein, and was totally blown away by the concert hall in São Paolo with its mix of wood§ and stone. I’m particularly fond of Snape Maltings – apart from the beautiful concert hall there’s that wonderful view across the marshes. And now I’m in danger of opening up the entire genre of concert halls with views-to-die-for from the conductor’s dressing room….. Gran Canaria with its sweeping view of the beach, Granada looking out over the Sierra Nevada from its hilltop position next to the Alhambra… Perhaps there’s a coffee table book in this.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

In general terms, my favourite musicians are those who respect the music on the page and the intentions of the composer. Obviously it helps if they can transmit it to the audience with jaw-dropping skill and style… but I’m never a fan of style over substance.

As for composers, in order to connect with me they need to have something to say in their music, rather than just searching for the next note for composing’s sake. This probably isn’t tangible and might translate into different things depending on the era in which the composer was writing, but there’s always a depth supporting it, which keeps me interested when looking deeper and deeper into a score. You might have guessed I’m trying to remain generic instead of naming names(!)

It’s worth adding, though, that I listen to very little classical music for pleasure. I feel the need to escape it to make sure that it stays fresh. Many of my favourite musicians are in other genres; pop (in every sense), jazz, and so on.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To earn the respect of both musicians and non-musicians over the longterm course of a career.

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

If only I had something of value to offer! It’s tricky to pin these things down when you’re continuously searching for the answers yourself. I’ll try to suggest a few…

Garner and absorb as many influences as possible. Otherwise you’ll never acquire the broad view with which to find out if you’ve been heading down the wrong track.



It’s important to have occasional bouts of fanaticism and all-consuming obsession in your music- making. It can take you to the next level.

Those in music who achieve the most are, more often than not, those who put in the most work. Yes there are exceptions, but you’re taking a gamble if you test the norm.

Remember there’s more to life than your chosen profession. Despite all the hard work, keep it in context and maintain a balance in your life – you’ll be a healthier person.

There will be ups and downs. Enjoy the ride.


Andrew Gourlay is Music Director of the The Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León, which has just announced the launch of its own record label. The first recording will be released on 9 January 2019, and feature Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony.

Watch the album trailer:

Born in Jamaica, with Russian ancestry, Andrew Gourlay grew up in the Bahamas, Philippines, Japan and England. A trombonist and pianist by training, he studied conducting at the Royal College of Music, where he prepared Bruckner symphonies for Bernard Haitink and Mozart symphonies for Sir Roger Norrington. He was selected by Gramophone magazine as their ‘One to Watch’, and by BBC Music Magazine as their ‘Rising Star: great artists of tomorrow’.

Andrew Gourlay won First Prize at the 2010 Cadaques International Conducting Competition, securing concerts with 29 orchestras around the world. For the next two years he was Assistant Conductor to Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé Orchestra. In January 2016 Gourlay took up the position of Music Director of the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León (OSCYL), having been their Principal Guest Conductor since the 2014/15 season, and celebrated the orchestra’s 25th anniversary in 2016/17.

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I suppose my family – I was surrounded by music form a young age and never considered anything else really!

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

My teachers (including my grandmother on piano and mother on violin!), youth orchestra and choir conductors such as Adrian Brown and Ralph Allwood, and of course a host of colleagues and conductors who I have had the privilege to assist or work with, from Mark Elder to Vladimir Jurowski.

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

Keeping up with learning all the repertoire! Juggling family….

Which performance are you most proud of? 

I feel that our recent memorised performances with Aurora Orchestra have genuinely broken new ground. Some of the Proms with these have been quite special.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Ask me in 40 years

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

With difficulty! A mixture of repertoire I know, to alleviate the burden on learning, plus taking the right repertoire to new orchestra.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Nothing beats a Prom at the Royal Albert Hall

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing the violin in the National Youth Orchestra with Berlioz’ Symphonie Fantastique under the baton of Sir Roger Norrington – I had an out-of-body experience!

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

Relax – it’s an obsession, a career, an ambition, yet it’s also a way of life!

Nicholas Collon and Aurora Orchestra continue an extraordinary once-in-a-lifetime journey through the complete cycle of Mozart’s piano concertos. Staged over five years (2016–20) and featuring a host of stellar guest pianists and other collaborators, Mozart’s Piano presents all 27 concertos as part of a single series for the first time in the UK.   

The concerts uses the piano concertos as a starting point for a kaleidoscopic journey across centuries and contrasting repertoire.  The result is a virtuosic, vibrant and playful series which illuminates Mozart’s life, music and legacy in new and unexpected ways. 

Further information

Nicholas Collon is founder and Principal Conductor of Aurora Orchestra and Principal Conductor of the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, a position he takes up in 16/17. His skill as a communicator and innovator has been recognised by both critics and audiences alike – he was the recipient of the 2012 Critics’ Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent – and he is known as an imaginative programmer encompassing an exceptionally wide range of music.

Under Nicholas Collon’s artistic direction, Aurora Orchestra have an enviable reputation in the UK and increasingly abroad and are recognised for their creative programming and concert presentation. 2016 will see the launch of two major series in London; as Resident Orchestra at Kings Place they will begin a 5-year cycle of the complete Mozart Piano Concertos, and as Associate Orchestra at the South Bank Centre they will present a new series ‘The Orchestral Theatre.’ They have appeared at the BBC Proms every year since 2010, including performances of Mozart’s 40th symphony and Beethoven’s 6th, in which the entire orchestra performed from memory.

For Warner Classics Nicholas and Aurora have released two critically acclaimed recordings: ‘Road Trip’featuring music by Ives, Copland, Adams and Nico Muhly (winning the prestigious 2015 Echo Klassik Award for ‘Klassik Ohne Grenzen’) and ‘Insomnia’ with music by Britten, Brett Dean, Ligeti, Gurney and Lennon & McCartney.

In addition to his work with Aurora, Nicholas is in demand as a guest conductor with other ensembles in the UK and abroad. A regular guest with the Philharmonia, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic, in recent seasons he has also worked with the London Philharmonic; BBC Symphony; Zurich Tonhalle; Brussels Philharmonic; BBC National Orchestra of Wales; Spanish National Orchestra; Hallé Orchestra; Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse; Trondheim Symphony; Danish National Symphony Orchestra; Orchestre National de Lyon; Bamberg Symphony Orchestra; Les Violons du Roy; Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Warsaw Philharmonic; Academy of Ancient Music; London Sinfonietta; Royal Northern Sinfonia and Ensemble Intercontemporain and collaborated with artists such as Ian Bostridge, Angelika Kirchschlager, Vilde Frang, Pekka Kuusisto, Francesco Piemontesi, Steven Isserlis and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.

Future engagements include returns to the Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse, BBC Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Trondheim Symphony, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, the Hallé and Academy of Ancient Music and debuts with Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin; Gurzenich Orchestra; Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra; Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg; Les Siècles; National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia.

In opera Nicholas has worked with English National Opera The Magic Flute, Welsh National Opera Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream and Glyndebourne on Tour Rape of Lucretia. Future projects includeTurn of the Screw at Aldeburgh and LSO St Luke’s with Aurora Orchestra.  A champion of new music Nicholas has conducted over 200 new works including the UK or world premieres of works by Unsuk Chin, Phillip Glass, Colin Matthews, Nico Muhly, Olivier Messiaen, Krzysztof Penderecki and Judith Weir.

 

(Photo: Jim Hinson)

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Who or what inspired you to take up conducting, and pursue a career in music?

My journey into conducting was slightly unusual: I became interested in music ‘accidentally ‘ aged around 10, thanks to some Sibelius and Beethoven on vinyl, and the only classic music in my parents’ collection. No music was made at home, no family member encouraged it, I was just fascinated. A neighbour heard I was interested and offered me free trombone lessons as he had been a professional, so that instrument became my first outlet. I just knew I wanted to conduct too, and put on a charity concert aged 16 (Fauré Requiem), then gained a place to study trombone at the RAM. I played in orchestras, early music ensembles, theatre and chamber groups until my early 30’s when conducting took over, thanks to a Junior Fellowship at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, funded and appointed by Sir Charles Mackerras. This is the short version! But perhaps differently to a number of others in my profession, I didn’t formally study conducting, and I didn’t do an undergrad at Oxbridge. That would have been nice.

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

People who have supported me over the years include Sir Charles Mackerras, and the composers Matthew Taylor and James Francis Brown. Each have done so in very different ways, but each have inspired me through their all-consuming passion for music, their artistic integrity, and (perhaps more important than anything else) simple ‘gestures of friendship’. Also, outside of the purely music world the theatre director Peter Avery, who has opened my eyes to so many things about performance, art and life in general.

In terms of musical influences, I feel I am still discovering them day by day. In terms of interpretation I have been fascinated by many involved with ‘historically informed practices’, such as Harnoncourt, Mackerras, Herreweghe etc. More recently I have observed fascinating work being done by Sakari Oramo and Ivan Fischer, who seem to have no fear about introducing imagination and experimentation into their work with the exceptional musicians they lead: The Budapest Festival Orchestra’s appearance at the Southbank centre earlier this year may just have been the best concert-going experience of my life – despite my not agreeing with some of the interpretation! The sense of engagement in their performance, and the generosity with which they delivered the music, was just exceptional.

In the recorded sphere, I have noticed how many times I listen to Sir Neville Marriner and feel he has hit tempi spot-on. Also listening and watching online, Andrew Manze seems to offer fascinating perspectives: I want to get to one of his live performances now.

I have also been hugely inspired by people I have seen combining what I loosely call ‘theatre pratices’ with stunning all-round musicianship: I have watched them work utter magic on younger people at the Ingenium Academy Summer School (an International Summer School for musicians held in Winchester). There have been many, but those I have worked with more closely include Matthew Sharp and Dominic Peckham. I think their styles are the future of music education, frankly.

An unexpected inspiration has also come through my work in Palestine with the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music and Palestine Youth Orchestra: My eyes have been opened not only to the reality of the Palestine – Israel conflict, but also how much we can assume here in the West that we ‘own’ classical music. Wait until you hear these guys play….

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

Trying to swap from one genre (playing) to another (conducting) in a profession where people pigeon-hole each other mercilessly. What on earth would I know about string playing, for example?! And working with non-professionals and youth orchestras as often as I do, I know that others will assume that my approach wouldn’t transfer into working with established professional ensembles.

Also something I have only realised relatively recently , which is that conducting appears to be quite an upper/upper-middle class business. I’m state educated, from the West Midlands and don’t have family connections in music, arts management or banking. People talk a lot about how being female is a barrier to becoming a conductor, but actually I think there’s a much greater demographic/class barrier in the way.

Which performances are you most proud of?

A number with my ensemble sound collective: A performance of Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings in 2014 at the Little Missenden Festival with Robert Murray lingers in the memory, also world and London premières of music by Matthew Taylor – most recently his Concerto for Flute and Orchestra with Daniel Pailthorpe; a UK première of a super-funky overture by Carl Nielsen Amor øg Digteren (with Sinfonia Tamesa) and the first performances of a secular oratorio by Rachel Stott about William Blake, Companion of Angels.

I have been quite proud of performances of Sibelius Symphony No.7 with Sinfonia Tamesa, Beethoven’s Eroica with sound collective and the Fifth Symphony with the Palestine Youth Orchestra. Just a few weeks ago I was privileged to accompany cellist Matthew Sharp and the Hertford Symphony Orchestra in an extraordinary performance of the Dvorák concerto.  I’m not sure the roof is back on the concert hall yet.

As well as the above, projects that stand out for different reasons include a production of Kurt Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper in London and Berlin with a cast of over 60’s who had never sung before in public, and an outreach project with sound collective in Somerset, where teenagers composed companion pieces to Stravinsky’s The Soldiers Tale.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think my main strength lies in conducting symphonic repertoire. Sibelius, Beethoven, Brahms, Nielsen and Dvorák – with Schumann in development at the moment – are all composers with whom I feel a great affinity. I try very hard to get close to what they intended, and pray I can spend the rest of my life doing so. I also love tone poems with a solid narrative; Tschaik Romeo & Juliet, Sibelius Pohjola’s Daughter… That sort of dramatic, fantastical stuff!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

There are so many variables in the business of programming, from soloists you want to work with through to acknowledging composer anniversaries. I find myself now working two years ahead to ensure I have enough time to properly think, and properly research new ideas.Sadly, money comes into it too: Late Romantic and 20th century works are often expensive, with music hire and PRS to consider but also all those wonderful colourful instruments that cost a bomb, such as percussion, harp, celeste, vibraphone…and if that piece isn’t some form of guaranteed box office winner, you can be in real trouble. In a conversation with someone recently who was railing about the conservative programming that’s prevalent and  the need for the classical music business to take up an alternative approach to programming, I felt it appropriate to (slightly misquote) Bill Clinton’s election campaign strategist in 1992: It’s the economy, stupid.One thing I try to do is ensure each season has a balance with music that is new to me, and if possible something brand-new. I also try to ensure that I have allowed nothing onto programmes that I don’t have huge enthusiasm for – it’s absolutely fatal for conductors to end up rehearsing and performing music that means nothing to them. It never goes well when that happens, believe me.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Symphony Hall in Birmingham is a fabulous space which, as huge as it is, feels intimate and warm to perform in. I’d also like to return to the Philharmomie in Luxembourg and Vienna’s Musikverein as a conductor, having loved playing in both halls.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

There isn’t much to beat a Beethoven Symphony in terms of energy, drive and sheer joy in performance. Also Sibelius. I would love to do more opera in the future, having got a huge emotional kick out of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, Puccini’s La bohème and Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress when I had chance to conduct them.To listen to….I really couldn’t choose a one single ‘Desert Island disc’, so as a cop out I think the music I no longer get the chance to perform: Bach, Monteverdi, Gabrieli.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones who genuinely care, and who genuinely put themselves last and the music first. You won’t that find many out there, but they do exist.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s hard to choose as performances come with so many different aspects – the music, the perfomers, the venue, and of course those rare ones where something magical occurs and everyone just feels it.But (also with a really driven and energetic Beethoven 5 during the concert as a part of the memory) I don’t think I will ever forget giving a concert with the Palestine Youth Orchestra in Amman, Jordan, during the Gaza conflict of 2014. The concert was given in aid of the Edward Said music school in Gaza, and afterwards I was interviewed by Gaza Television, who asked me to send a message to the people there who had watched the concert….I forget now what I actually said, but I do remember thinking any words could not have conveyed the humanity inside Beethoven’s music.

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

  • Sing
  • Read books around your subject, such as history and literature (conductors)
  • Sing first, practice second (instrumentalists, conductors)
  • Ignore the cynicism which is so prevalent and easy to join in with’ but be realistic about what you can achieve in non-commercial music, unless you have a private income
  • Sing
  • Don’t work for less than you know you should – you devalue it for everyone else as well as yourself when you do
  • Understand how harmony works
  • Do some more singing

Tom Hammond is Co-Artistic Director of the Hertfordshire Festival of Music. Further details here

Appointed by Sir Charles Mackerras as the first Junior Fellow in conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire, Tom Hammond has  developed a rich and musically diverse career that encompasses working with top-flight  professionals, youth orchestras, non-professionals, and devising and leading education and outreach projects. 

Winning awards and critical acclaim en route, Tom has built a reputation for developing ensembles musically and artistically, whilst encouraging thoughtful programming, championing new music and developing relationships with outstanding soloists. In 2011 Tom was appointed an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, in recognition of his achievements in conducting.

Tom Hammond is Artistic Director of sound collective, Music Director of Sinfonia Tamesa, the Essex Symphony Orchestra and the Hertford Symphony Orchestra, a Principal Conductor at the Ingenium Academy International Summer School, Guest Conductor of the Palestine Youth Orchestra, and Principal Conductor and Music Director of the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia.

Soloists with whom Tom has collaborated include Øystein Baadsvik, Philippa Barton, Dimi Bawab, Richard Birchall, Jonathan Byers, Simon Callaghan, Jonathan Dormand, Sadie Fields, Susana Gaspar, Christopher Guild, Amy Green, Emma Halnan, Pamela Hay, Anna Harvey, Fenella Humphreys, Boyan Ivanov, Matthew Jones, Amanda Lake, David le Page, James Mainwaring, Elisabeth Meister, Robert Murray, Mohamed Najem, Daniel Pailthorpe, Olivia Ray, Catriona Scott, Alicja Smietana, Veronika Shoot, William Stafford, Matthew Sharp, Reem Talhami and Andrew Zolinsky.

www.tom-hammond.org.uk

Twitter : @tomhammond music

 

 

(photo credit: Luiz Ciafrino)

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting pursue a career in music?

When I was at school, in rural North Yorkshire, I had a very charismatic head of music, who seemed to conduct absolutely everything. As an impressionable 11 or 12 year old, I wanted to be like him. Soon I was pinching Mum’s knitting needles and carving the air in front of my bedroom mirror, accompanied by the Beethoven Violin Concerto. That’s where it started – it was downhill from there, really…

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

Of the ones I’ve known well: Benjamin Zander figures highly – he was a profound influence, blessed with such an open-minded, enlightening approach to freedom in music. I learned so much from him about the possibilities within one phrase, or within an entire Mahler symphony. Amongst my more formal conducting teachers, three crucial, inspirational and utterly amazing maestri stand out above all others: Paavo Järvi, who I was lucky enough to study with in Estonia, and who I still see often in London and on the continent; Sian Edwards, now the new head of conducting at the Royal Academy of Music; and the legendary Ilya Musin, with whom I spent an unforgettable summer studying at Accademia Chigiana in Siena.

Of those I (alas) never met: Carlos Kleiber, Leonard Bernstein and Glenn Gould. I wore out tapes hearing and watching them as a student. Luckily I’ve replaced most of it now on CD or DVD.

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

Trying to remember that the music is more important than the multitude of irritations which follow performing musicians around: a stage that’s too dimly lit, or a silly row with a technician about trivia can always make us forget why we’re there at all

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I remember a Shostakovich 7th Symphony some years ago where almost everyone was in floods of tears at the end. Nobody could speak or clap for what felt like an age, and I kind of lost touch with myself. It was a remarkable evening. I guess, as performers, we all try to (re)capture that essence every single time.

Of recordings, my CD of works by Raymond Warren (all premieres) are undoubtedly a highlight – I was very lucky to work with such a great singer and players:

With which particular works do you have a special affinity or connection?

One composer springs instantly to mind: Sibelius. And he’s topical, with 2015 being his anniversary year. Something about his language, harmony, use of rhythm as a structural device, that distinctive timbral-colour: all those things do it for me. I also feel deeply at home with Mahler, Bruckner, Elgar, and Tchaikovsky. I wish I did so for Brahms and Beethoven, but alas not – I love their symphonies passionately, yet every time I conduct them I feel they’ve beaten me, and it’s back to the drawing board

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Programming for orchestras hinges on so many variables. Balancing the personnel required, soloists, requests for premieres, or commissions, venue-size, and of course cost plays a big part. Currently it feels as if, certainly with orchestras, one is under greater pressure than ever to appeal to audiences. In some cases, I admit, I’ve felt under pressure to water-down programming – which breaks my heart – but I suppose we’ve got to build our audiences before we can take greater risks with our programming and repertoire. I have a long wish-list of works I’d love to perform, but it gets longer each year, not shorter!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why? 

Probably Snape Maltings, Suffolk. I’ve many fond memories of being on that stage. It’s a beautiful sounding hall, for a start, with (as I recall) so much wood, brick, and orange light. Plus the view over the marshes and  reed-beds over the Henry Moore sculptures is unearthly and intoxicating. Performing Britten there has been one of the highlights of my career to date. I long to return.

Dvorak Hall in Prague’s Rudolfinum is also right up there. Such a fantastic hall, just the right degree of space in the acoustics, yet intimate too: somehow you feel like you can reach out and touch the very back row. However, not quite the same calming, tranquil vibe backstage as Snape…

Favourite pieces to listen to? 

Sometimes I’m unable to cope with listening to music (yes, an odd thing for a musician to admit to, but at times it all gets a bit too much: silence or speech are the maximum I can handle). Despite that, I love plunging into… late Beethoven quartets (played by the Italian Quartet)… Richard Strauss with Schwartzkopf, and Kleiber’s Rosenkavalier… Beethoven Concerti with Wilhelm Kempff (that colour – where does it come from?!)… and Sibelius in those old, mono but incredible Anthony Collins / LSO recordings. Or Jeff Buckley – that works too, most days.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Apart from the Shostakovich Leningrad mentioned above, it must be a concert of concerti in a large church in Prague, at the start of my career, when I was assistant conductor. Mid-Weber, a VERY aged, Yoda-like monk (hooded cowl, the lot) barged his way through the orchestra, sending music and stands flying, to reach the vestry. How the soloist and I stayed together I’ve no idea. Most of the violinists were either playing from memory, or in tears of laughter – probably both.

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

To maintain the music, the composer’s deepest intentions, at all costs. Everything else is secondary, or should be. Technique is crucial, not only as an instrumentalist or singer, but as a conductor too. So is repertoire, style, stamina, and a deeply-centred awareness. Humility goes a long way too. Yes, nowadays a good website plus skill at self-promotion is necessary alongside all this. But music must always remain as the beacon, despite the weariness of travelling, unsatisfactory dressing-rooms, and the mountain of admin. We get to spend every single day with genius, after all, if we choose it

What are you working on at the moment? 

Mahler! I’ve performances of the 5th and 6th Symphonies coming up soon, and am making a short film about them too. Plus I’m busy programming with many of my orchestras for the coming seasons, including more Family Concerts with my great friend and collaborator James Mayhew

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Doing just the same, only more of it, and in more countries than I am now. Working my way through that repertoire wish-list…

What is your most treasured possession? 

It would have to be the two cats, even though they’re not possessions at all really, are they? Besides they possess me rather than vice-versa. They’re called Schmoogle & Ratty (don’t ask!)

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Standing on top of a Lakeland fell, in total silence except the wind, having tortured myself to climb up it. And probably enjoying a pint afterwards.

British conductor Robin Browning is increasingly in demand with orchestras both in the UK and abroad. Robin made his debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in London, in a concert which was broadcast on Classic FM. He has conducted the Hallé, English Northern Philharmonia, Northern Sinfonia, Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ensemble Intercontemporain, St Petersburg Festival Orchestra, and Estonian National Youth Orchestra. 2011 marked Robin’s US debut, conducting three subscription-series concerts with the Boise Philharmonic, and in 2013 he made his debut with Milton Keynes City Orchestra. 

Robin recently assisted Sakari Oramo for the UK Premiere of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Violin Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican. He has also been assistant conductor to Benjamin Zander with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and assisted Mark Elder with both the LPO and OAE. Since taking second prize in the NAYO Conducting Competition, and winning the inaugural Boosey & Hawkes Award at the Edinburgh Festival, Robin is now firmly established as music director of five British orchestras, including the highly-regarded de Havilland Philharmonic. He has performed in some of the world’s most famous concert halls, including Snape Maltings, London’s Cadogan Hall, the Rudolfinum in Prague, and the Banff Centre in Canada. In 2008, Robin gave a concert at the Olympic Stadium, Nanjing, conducting live on Chinese television before an audience of 70 million. He has worked with a wide array of soloists, including Guy Johnston, Aled Jones, Craig Ogden, Jack Liebeck, John Lill and Raphael Wallfisch. 

Robin studied at the Accademia Chigiana, Siena, with Myung-Whun Chung and the legendary Ilya Musin. He furthered his training in the USA with Joseph Gifford, and was invited to Estonia for masterclasses with Neeme and Paavo Järvi at the Oistrakh Festival. Robin also studied with Sir Charles Mackerras, Sian Edwards and Benjamin Zander, and participated in the first ever Conductor Development Programme with Milton Keynes City Orchestra in 2012. 

Passionately committed to the training of younger musicians, Robin has guest-conducted orchestras at both Trinity Laban Conservatoire and Guildhall School of Music, and works regularly with young conductors at the University of Southampton. In 2008 he was involved in the Barbican Young Orchestra project, preparing the inaugural orchestra for Sir Colin Davis. Robin is also dedicated to contemporary music and recordings: since making his first first professional studio-recording in 2008, he has released three more – all are available from iTunes and Amazon. 

www.robinbrowning.com