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

I think that music is something that I could not imagine living without, it has been present in my life from a very early age. My mother and my auntie used to sing to each other through the balcony at home in Valencia Zarzuela arias (I used to know all of them); my father, who was an artist, was always playing vinyl records and I remember going to his studio and gluing my ear to the speakers because I wanted to hear what was inside. I especially remember listening that way to Wagner overtures and Dvorak New World Symphony.

Later on, I went to music school and Conservatoire in Valencia, but I was not sure that I would be able to live from music at that time, so I went to University to study Philosophy; I didn’t finish my studies, but it gave me something valuable.

What I think made my decision was to be part of the Spanish Youth Orchestra, where I found a fantastic positive atmosphere, great teachers and amazing colleagues. I got a scholarship to study abroad, with Walter Boeykens, who I met in a Summer course in Nice previously. It was then when I went into it full time. I was around 19 years old.

Your new recording celebrates the life and work of Joaquín Rodrigo. Has he been one of the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Rodrigo was born just a few miles away form my birth place in Valencia. That has already something that makes you attached to somebody as important as him. One of the first pieces that I played as a substitute in the Valencia Municipal Orchestra, when I was 18, was his symphonic piece “Per la flor del lliri blau” (“to the blue lily flower”). I remember it vividly, and also seeing Rodrigo come onto the stage to take the applause. To see so near you such a famous person for a teenager was very impressive.

I met Rodrigo’s son in-law, Agustín León Ara, just a year later at the Spanish Youth Orchestra (JONDE). He was incredibly helpful, inspiring and encouraging. He told me lots of stories of the maestro, and just by chance I decided to study in Belgium with the scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Culture. Agustín was a teacher at Brussels Conservatory, so we met lots of times and I met then Cecilia Rodrigo, his wife and Rodrigo’s daughter. A really nice friendship has stayed during all these years, and I am thrilled that I can now contribute to promote Rodrigo’s music.

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

Well, this recording has been one of them. We had very little time for recording, the music was new to the orchestra and these pieces are extremely delicate. The Palau de les Arts Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra, where I belong, is an excellent group, and the musicians gave so much that all my worries went away after the first session. To assume the role of conductor to the orchestra where you are a member is wonderful but challenging and nerve-wracking as well.

Another challenge was the previous recording project, the C. M. von Weber concertos and symphonies. This happened just two weeks after the Rodrigo recording and concert, so I had to have 3 programmes to do in a short time (I did two different ones in Berlin) playing and conducting. It was my début in the Berlin Philharmonie Hall, so I felt a big responsibility. Also this recording has the most well known pieces of the clarinet repertoire, and I wanted to deliver something that needed to be of the highest quality and at the same time very personal. I think I achieved it, although when I listen to it I always find things I don’t like, but this is what happens when you make a recording: what you record belongs to that moment and even if you change your vision of some passages, you cannot change them anymore. Nevertheless, I am really happy with both recordings.

You have already recorded 3 CDs for IBS Classical. Which recordings are you most proud of?

Well, I think that you are always proud of your last recording, because all the memories, the big effort that means to record, the wonderful and the bad moments are all fresh in your mind. As I was saying the Weber CD was a big challenge and I am very proud of it, but the Rodrigo CD has a different meaning, and I am really happy and proud about it because I am helping to promote a part of his music that is much lesser known and that definitely needs to be heard. It is great to rediscover Rodrigo beyond the Aranjuez concerto. He was a very inspired composer, and a fantastic orchestrator. He wrote a vast catalogue of wonderful music, it has been a big responsibility and a very rewarding experience to make this happen. In the repertoire we present he uses a small orchestra with single winds and a reduced string section, he had such an ability as an orchestrator that with these forces he achieves in some moments the strength of a symphony orchestra and next to it the wonderful subtleties of chamber music.

I have to say that, talking about other recordings I am very proud of the ones where I have done something similar to the Rodrigo’s: to rediscover and unfold music that has been unjustly hidden. This is the case of my recordings of Spanish Music of exiled composers. The last one was with Moonwinds for IBS. These composers had to exile themselves for political reasons and to avoid being killed by the terrible time that Spain lived under Franco. We have discovered incredibly great music totally unknown to the musicians and, of course, to the public. I am very proud of having done them, now lots of clarinet players and other musicians write to me wanting to play this music, it is a very rewarding feeling. I hope the same happens with conductors and programmers with the pieces by Rodrigo that we present in this new CD.

To which particular works do you feel a strong connection on the new Joaquín Rodrigo recording?

From this recording, if I had to choose one, I feel quite attached to the “dance” of the “Two Miniatures”. It comes from Spanish popular music, it feels really close to me, it possess such rhythmical power that it transports you into a incredibly “earthy” feeling. In general Rodrigo uses a lot of old Spanish songs, sometimes from Valencia region, where we both come from, so it is very touching listening to them, both in form of lied or in orchestral music. In the piece I mentioned earlier, “Per la flor del lliri blau”, he uses Valencia traditional songs, some of them are part of my childhood, so having them “elevated” into the superior form of Classical Music, mastered by a composer like Rodrigo of course can be quite emotional.

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

It really changes form year to year. At some point you have an idea, you start to develop it until it has some kind of shape and then you start planning it. It is never easy, you have to act as a musician, producer, librarian….. But when you achieve it is an incredibly wonderful feeling.

When I did the recordings of exiled composers, I became very obsessed by the subject, so it took about three seasons to develop the repertoire, finding the music in archives, writing to people that you think might have a copy of the pieces you read about, and trying the music with my wonderful pianist, Juan Carlos Garvayo to get to now it.

For the Weber project I had it in my mind for years but I could not find the way to make it real until I found an agent in Geneva, where I spend a good part of the year, who put me in contact with an orchestra in Berlin that offered a very attractive project, the Berliner Camerata: two concerts, in Berlin and Frankfurt (oder), and 4 days of recording sessions. I started about one year before to prepare it, although I have been playing the Weber concertos since I was about 10 years old, like most clarinet players, you need to make decisions about your performance and try to master it. The Symphonies were more new to me, so I had to learn them well. I also became obsessed, it is the only way to give your best to the music you perform, it has to be part of you every day.

For the Rodrigo it was a bit different, because the people in charge of the Palau de les Arts at the time proposed me to conduct the project in Summer 2018, I was incredibly happy to accept the offer, of course, I thought, what an opportunity!! So I had about 8 months to prepare it together with Weber, it was a very intense and wonderful period, my day was divided in two: Weber and Rodrigo (it was like an actor that assumes two different roles).

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

I love playing in the Wigmore Hall in London. It really is the perfect hall for chamber music. I haven’t played there for a long time, but it was a regular venue when I lived in London. I hope to be back there at some point. I love other places too. I felt amazed by the acoustics and warmth of the Philharmonie Kammermusikzaal in Berlin, it is one of this halls where you feel at home. In Spain, the hall in Zaragoza is great, and I feel really good performing at the Palau de la Música both the one in Valencia and in Barcelona, not only because the acoustics and wonderful atmosphere, but also because I feel at home with the audiences there.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This is a very difficult question, but I will answer with at least two: one was when I conducted the 30th anniversary of the Cadaqués Orchestra at the Palau de la Música in Barcelona, a project that has been a very important part of my live; another was my début in the Philharmonie in Berlin; and another one was when I played the Brahms and Mozart quintets with the Tokyo quartet at the City of London Festival.

There are many more, of course, concerts with the Alexander String Quartet in the USA, with the Brodsky around the world, with my group Moonwinds in Valencia and in the Cadogan hall in London…. Each concert leaves you a different kind of memory, I always try to give all of myself in every concert, every single one is the most important when you are doing it. So, luckily I have lots of memorable concerts to remember.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I would say that you succeed when you achieve your dreams, or at least part of your dreams (it would be impossible to achieve all of them), combined with the response from audiences and other factors in the music world.

My dream has always been to be able to perform music at my best to make people happy, or at least happier than they were before your concert. The best feeling I get is to hear from members of the public the words “thank you for your concert” (normally I feel thankful for being able to play!). Nothing can equal this feeling. When I play the clarinet I can see the audiences’ faces, when you spot a little smile, eyes that become alive, you feel they are with you. It is the best feeling in the world, that I can call success. When I conduct I see the musicians faces and eyes. The challenge is to keep them interested, keep them with you living Music intensely. Then you feel immediately the audience reaction from your back.

The other side of success is more complex, you have to be liked by people in charge of programming or writing in the press, and this can be more complicated. When they count on you or like your work it’s great, when not, some times it is disappointing, you can feel sad, etc, but you have to recover your dream next day and carry on with it.

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

One basic thing is to know inside yourself that you love music to a point of obsession. Then you are ready to go.

Another piece of advice: listen to music all the time, especially when you are young and have the time for it. You need to build up your references as far as performers, you need to admire performers and composers to get “inspiration” from them and make up slowly your own artistic personality. Listen to all kind of music, though.

And of course, practice practice and study study. You can have lots of fun aside of it, but being a musician takes a great part of your time. You have to be ready for it.

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

First of all, in good health, and then I would love to carry on conducting and playing.

I would like to develop my star project, Moonwinds, into a pedagogic-orchestral project. I am working on it and have a team on my side, we will see…. we have potentially difficult times ahead, but Music should play an important role in overcoming them.

I have been thinking also of doing some kind of master or doctorate, there are several subjects that have interested me for now a long time. I just need to find how to fit it in.

Joan Enric Lluna’s new recording of works by Joaquín Rodrigo with the Orquesta de la Comunitat Valenciana will be released on IBS Classical in summer 2020.

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Joan Enric Lluna, one of Spain’s leading musicians, combines his work as a clarinettist with orchestral conducting and teaching.

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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?

My husband!

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.

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(Artisti photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

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

When I was 14 my violin teacher gave me the chance to conduct a string orchestra I was playing in. I remember vividly the experience standing there with the music flowing around and through me as I tried to communicate with the players. I didn’t have any technique at all and it was probably terrible! But in that moment I had a very strong sense that this was an extraordinary feeling and something I wanted to explore deeply.

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

I’m not sure I can judge this myself fully. However, without a doubt conductor Sian Edwards who is the most wonderful human being and has taught me a huge amount about the relation between music and conducting technique. Michael Dussek, my piano teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, was also a strong influence in helping me develop my own artistic ethos in service of the music. Working as an assistant to several conductors provided opportunities to see at first hand what works, what doesn’t and what kind of musical leader I would like to be.

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

Mastering a huge range of repertoire in the depth required is a never-ending challenge, particularly as a young conductor starting out. There is almost no amount of preparation that will enable you to feel fully confident with a symphony when standing in front of a great orchestra that has played it hundreds of times before. How to deal with this is an important milestone. The most fulfilling thing is when everything clicks within the orchestra, and the music seems to unfold naturally. When I feel as if I have to do very little on the podium this is wonderfully satisfying.

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

I try to show everything with my baton, and occasionally where appropriate use a mental image or piece of historical context to frame a particular sound world or effect. It’s important to realise quickly what works best with a certain orchestra: some players prefer to avoid verbal communication, others are drawn in by a bit more context or personal imagery.

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

The position of the conductor is often anachronistic – it is only from the time of Beethoven onwards that musicians would have expected someone to direct the performance this way. In Mozart you need to get out of the way; in Mahler it almost seems as if the music was written for a single music interpreter to shape; in much contemporary repertoire you are akin to a sophisticated metronome. So the role varies, but the conductor must always bring his/her personal energy to the ensemble and a love for the letter and spirit of the music.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Elgar Symphony no. 2. I find Elgar’s English character combined with his Austro-Germanic style of composition irresistible.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I’ve only performed there once but the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre has the most exceptional acoustic: crystal clear yet warm enough to create any sound world you could possibly want.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My all-time No. 1 conductor would be Claudio Abbado, whose flair, intellectual rigour and versatility across all repertoire seem unparalleled to me. If I had to choose one composer it would be Beethoven. At the moment I’m realising what a limited picture we get of him as orchestral musicians if we don’t explore the piano sonatas and chamber music. His symphonies and concerti alone give a misleading sense of his musical personality.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Very, very rarely we feel we have done justice to the music. It is gratifying when this feeling is shared by respected colleagues and listeners, and of course sometimes this can lead to career progression which plays a part in ‘success’ too.

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

An ethos of constant self-sacrificing exploration. And a passion to learn why and in what situation a piece was composed as this can really help recapture its spirit in the present moment.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To maintain a fulfilling balance between desire and satisfaction over a lifetime.


Mark Austin’s performances of orchestral and operatic repertoire have been praised for their “eloquent intensity” (Guardian).

Recent highlights include Mark’s debut at Royal Opera House Linbury Theatre, and the final of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Solti Conducting Competition. He has been shortlisted for the ENO Mackerras Conducting Fellowship 2020-22. In 2019 he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music and worked in masterclass with Riccardo Muti. He collaborated with soloists including Guy Johnston, Kristine Balanas, Julien van Mellaerts and Siobhan Stagg. As assistant conductor he worked at Garsington Opera and with the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris. 2020 includes work at Folkoperan in Sweden, a return to Garsington and concerts at Oundle International Music Festival and Cambridge Summer Music Festival.

Other projects have included ‘Le nozze di Figaro’ (Dartington International Festival), ‘Goyescas’ (The Grange Festival), ‘Tosca’ (Musique Cordiale International Festival) and a two-concert Brahms residency with Guy Johnston and Faust Chamber Orchestra at Hatfield House. Mark was assistant conductor for the world première production of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s ‘Coraline’ (Royal Opera). He has worked with figures including Vasily Petrenko, Sian Edwards, Marin Alsop, David Parry, David Hill, Steuart Bedford, and the late Sir Colin Davis, and conducted orchestras including Aurora, Britten Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, Civic Orchestra of Chicago, Orchestra of St John’s and the Hangzhou Philharmonic, China. Mark was awarded a Bayreuth Festival Young Artist Bursary in 2018 and recorded the world première of Alex Woolf’s ‘NHS Symphony’ for BBC Radio 3, which won a Prix Europa. He studies with Sian Edwards and was awarded an International Opera Awards Bursary in 2017. 

An accomplished pianist, Mark has performed at venues including Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, St John’s Smith Square, Holywell Music Room, Opera Bastille (Paris) and the Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre. He is musical assistant to The Bach Choir and regularly conducts the choir in concert and the recording studio, including live on BBC1 for the Andrew Marr Show.

Born in London, Mark had lessons in violin and piano from an early age. He played in the National Youth Orchestra, and studied at Cambridge University and Royal Academy of Music, where he received numerous prizes and was appointed a Junior Fellow. Mark contributed a chapter on Wagner, Beethoven and Faust to the recently published ‘Music in Goethe’s Faust’. You can read more about Mark on http://www.mark-austin.net and follow him on Twitter @mark_aus_tin.

mark-austin.net

 

 

 

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

I was born into a family of a conductors, so it was my father.

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

There have been many influential musicians along the way who have been important influences for me – my father, my teacher Max Rudolf at the Curtis Institute of Music and Leonard Bernstein as far as conductors go. But there have been also influential instrumentalists and composers who have been important in my life, for example Radu Lupu and Arvo Pärt.

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

Every part of conductor’s life is challenging. From the enormity of the repertoire to the geography and travel.

The most fulfilling aspect is that a conductor can spend his or her life with talented human beings and explore music of geniuses like Mahler and Beethoven, for example  

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

One communicates ideas through various methods – with the eyes, verbally, with gestures and body language.

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

I see my role as a medium between the composer and the musicians. The role is to formulate a point of view about the piece through study of the score and to convey this to the musicians. 

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are many works I would love to conduct but one lifetime is not enough to get close to all the masterpieces in the repertoire.

Do you have a favourite concert venue in which to perform?

The Zürich Tonhalle, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Musikverein in Vienna, just to name a few.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Hard to name a favourite composer but I do have a soft spot for music of Sibelius and Bruckner.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is when you can make music on the highest possible level with like-minded musicians.

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

Make sure you love music enough to make it your profession and then be prepared to work very hard.

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

On the planet Earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think it would be the balance between personal and professional life.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m looking forward to the upcoming tour to Europe with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo

Paavo Järvi conducts the NHK Symphony Orchestra in music by Takemitsu, Rachmaninov and Schumann at London’s Royal Festive val Hall on 24 February. Full details

(Artist photo: Julia Baier)

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

I would say it was a mixture of circumstances: parents, musicians, the environment in which I grew up, and an intuitive love for music and instruments. I was just a normal child until the turning point at the age of 13, when I made the decision to pursue a career in music (as a conductor). It engaged a personal responsibility for that decision, which was —and still remains —a motor in my professional life.

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

My father, who was a prominent Ukrainian composer, Ivan Karabits, and my teachers at the music academies in Kiev, Vienna and the Bach Academy Stuttgart. Today, I hugely respect musicians and personalities that remain true to themselves and “serve music” rather than their personal careers and ambitions. Artists I respect include: Yuri Temirkanov, Ivan Fischer, Mikhail Pletnev and a few others.

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

The most challenging part is the daily life of travel and inconstancy, and how to balance that with family and relationships, with friends and the close circle of relatives and colleagues. Also, keeping in good shape —physically and mentally —remains a challenge. The greatest fulfillment comes from music-making with great orchestras around the world, it simply breaks boundaries, and gives a feeling of being useful in changing the world for the better. Being Chief Conductor at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO), an orchestra with a clear mission to serve its communities throughout the South West of England, is great; we engage with all ages both on and off the stage.

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

Through my gestures and expressions first of all, then come words.

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

My role is to put together several elements —the audiences, musicians in front of me and the composer’s message written in the score —and my job to make those elements collaborate and harmonically function together. The methods of achieving that harmony can vary: it might be inspiring musicians, or just helping them to play together; communicating more with the audience; and sometimes it just happens during the concert without any special effort, but it is rare. I’ve been Chief Conductor of the BSO for over 10 years now, and the way in which I’m able to work with the players has become gradually more instinctive, this has been one of the greatest achievements of my career and it’s a great feeling.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

I try to follow the principle that the work (a score) that is on my table today is the best and I would love to conduct it.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I like my home venue (Lighthouse, Poole) and other places with a warm atmosphere and audiences, like Musikverein, in Vienna, or the Lincoln Center in New York.

What are you looking forward to in the coming BSO season of concerts? Any particular highlights?

Every single concert is a highlight for me, but I especially look forward to conducting Elektra by Strauss (18 March, Poole, 21 March, Birmingham) and Schubert’s Symphony No. 5 (19 February, Poole, 20 February, Basingstoke). This year, we released recordings of music by Terterian and Lyatoshynsky on Chandos, as part of our Voices from the East series. I’m really looking forward to exploring music by Chary Nurymov with the BSO in a programme that also features Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, in May.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success to me is when at least one member of the audience comes away having felt special during your performance. Also success is a feeling that your dreams come true.

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

Being honest.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness to me is a state of mind when you love yourself and every moment of your life as it is.


Kirill Karabits is Chief Conductor of Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Forthcoming performances include: Handel’s Messiah(18 December, Poole), Beethoven 250 (29 January, Poole, 1 February, Barbican Centre, 22 February, Sage Gateshead), Haydn, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Schubert with Jeremy Denk (19 February, Poole, 20 February, Basingstoke), Richard Strauss’ Elektra (18 March, Poole, 21 March, Birmingham)

For full details see bsolive.com

 

(photo by Konrad Cwik)

 

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

I didn’t have any intention to do it early on. I was training as a ballet dancer, with the hopes of pursuing that professionally, but had also been studying the piano since I was very small, and composition at the local university since I was 14. So, when injuries and illness put an end to ballet, just after I started full-time training, I enrolled in a music degree, as I couldn’t face going back to complete high school. The wonderful professor who’d been teaching me composition was also head of conducting. He saw those two disciplines as complimentary threads, and knew I had a strong interest in harmony and analysis and had conducted a little at school, so encouraged me to add it to my degree. It just grew from there.

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

I am enormously, and endlessly, inspired by my husband, Jon Hargreaves – a contemporary music specialist, and my co-Artistic Director at Nevis Ensemble. Every project he creates is rigorously and creatively thought-out, and his ability to open up complex music to players of every experience level is second to none.

My grandmother Louise Carroll was a very important formative influence. She was a superb pianist as a young woman, but had to turn down a scholarship to study in London due to a pregnancy. She married my grandfather and channelled her musical energies into teaching and motherhood instead. I started harmony, piano and composition with her when I was about 4 years old, and fell asleep on many nights to the sound of her playing Medtner, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Nielsen. Any sense of musical style that I can claim to have comes from what I absorbed as I dropped off to sleep, I’m sure. The grounding she gave me in harmony is the foundation of everything that I do.

Lastly, when I first arrived in the UK, I worked for two years as the librarian at the Philharmonia. Happy, exhausting years. I learnt so much from watching and talking to Esa-Pekka, Maazel, Dohnanyi etc, but also through my discussions with the players, many of whom are now amongst my dearest friends. They were generous, insightful and caring teachers.

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

At the moment, the greatest challenge is the anxiety. It can be crippling, and some orchestras really enjoy making the conductor suffer! I do better work when I’m with ensembles that are healthy and happy in spirit, and don’t project so much negativity onto the podium, because I can be very sensitive to it. But even with the friendliest band, the first rehearsal can be terrifying. Imposter syndrome is widespread in the music world, especially among conductors I think, and we all cope with it differently.

On the flip side, when you find that wonderful working rhythm with a group, to the point you can throw ideas at each other in the performance, and play together in quite an improvisatory way, it is pure gold. That interaction and level of communal creative responsibility is a beautiful thing. Also, actually meeting audience members, going to chat with people and have a cuppa after the concert is great – a powerful reminder of who we do it all for, but also how significant connectedness is to the arts. Doing perfect music “at” people and then leaving without any personal connection is far less satisfying to me than making whatever adjustments and measures are necessary to actually involve people, and find out why music is significant to them. Live music is a far more potent social lubricant than alcohol, and it is the doing of it, the sharing of it as an experience, wherein lies the magic.

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

This is a tricky one… Of course, there is an ideal scenario that we’re all taught to speak of in hushed tones, in which we have weeks or even months to prepare a major score, and craft an analysis; enough rehearsal time to forge a gripping realisation of it; and divinely-inspired technique with which to communicate it. Utter b*ll*cks, really. A 19th-century fantasy. In reality, for 99% of working conductors, especially those of us in the early stages of our careers, we are tearing through scores with barely enough time to process them on even a basic level; spending much of our time working (happily!) with young people and non-professionals who require a totally different, and far from ideal, physical gesture to help them through; and when we are with a good professional band playing repertoire with a capital R, a significant portion of the rehearsal period involves allowing the orchestra to play you THEIR version of the piece. Hear the knowledge and experience of the piece that they bring to the room, listen to the sound they enjoy making, work out who in the room is central to their playing style, assess the relationship between the string principals, and work out whether the principal bass and timpanist listen to each other (hot tip: if not, the best conducting technique in the world can’t save you or them.) You can then add your contribution to the pot, and hopefully it will be a valuable one, but at the end of the day, this is their performance, their hard work and their energy being channelled.

As I was writing this, I thought “maybe it’s different for the elite conductors at the top of the food chain”? After all, the higher a conductor rises in the industry, the more specialised and narrow their repertoire tends to become, and the more easily they can turn down extra gigs, so of course they will know it in far greater depth. But also, I’ve watched many a 5-star maestro sight-read one of the pieces in the first rehearsal. By the second play, the really brilliant ones will have something helpful to say at every point of the piece. They think on their feet and ascertain immediately how to be of use. That is true virtuosity, in a weird kind of way!

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

Well, perhaps this is answered already above. But for a more pithy soundbite, I’d say our role is to be useful, in whatever way is needed in that specific situation. That might be helping the orchestra understand the piece, if it’s unfamiliar repertoire; but often it’s a far more practical role of knowing how to put out the fires when needed, and keeping the orchestra’s nose pointing in the right direction. With a really good orchestra, the most helpful thing you can do is get the jet off the ground, then let the engine (the players!) fly. 99% of the time, they really don’t need you – or, at least, your contribution is no better than anything they can do themselves, so do your best to keep it minimal and worthwhile. I always feel sad when really young conductors get thrown straight into the A-list orchestras, because they never really learn the skills required for those earlier scenarios – nor do they get to experience the genuine satisfaction of performing when you really are needed. The big bands will play brilliantly regardless of your posturing on the podium; but you can do serious damage in other situations, if you’ve not really learnt how to roll your sleeves up, listen deeply and rehearse effectively.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

The operas by Schreker and Korngold are at the top of my dream-list. Highly impractical. Utterly lush.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

We regularly take Nevis Ensemble to the Nan MacKay Memorial Hall – a lovely little community centre in South Glasgow with a full-time programme of activities and resources for anyone in the community in need of company; the elderly, people with social issues, recent newcomers from the refugee community come together to grow veggies, play mah-jong and do craft and exercise classes. There’s barely enough room for the orchestra to set up, and I need to stand on a coffee table in order for the brass and winds to see me. The audience sit around us with bowls of crisps, and there’s always a spread of food afterwards that would make your gran proud. But the energy in the room is like a carnival, and we always meet some really interesting people there. It’s impossible to go there and not come out beaming and full of hope for humanity.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite musicians are the incredible amateur music-makers who are the backbone of musical life in this country. Composers…? Well, Schreker and Korngold are high on the list, obviously! I have pretty broad tastes, but some lurid late Romanticism, just on the brink of early Modernism, will always set me purring.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not needing to do it – I don’t mean financially, but… spiritually. If my right arm fell off tomorrow and I had to change careers, I’d be quite excited about getting to choose something new and fresh. I take that as an indication that my relationship to my work is quite healthy. The day that balance shifts too far in the other direction is the day I should retire.

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

1. Perfection should not be the end we’re after; it’s far more satisfying to an audience to witness curious, brave musicians who are on a journey with a piece than virtuosity with no value beyond itself. You’ll also grow into a performer (and human) of greater depth and flexibility by challenging yourself in that way. So, don’t sweat the small stuff in a performance; your job is to invite the orchestra and audience into your process, not show them how clever you are.

2. Every single aspect of your life as a musician is a construct. Question it all!

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

Somewhere with mountains nearby, and a work-life balance that allows me to adopt a dog!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking up in a remote, wild part of the world, and peering out of the tent to find Jon brewing a cup of earl grey tea on the billy. Bliss, though I’m not sure he’d agree.

What is your most treasured possession?

I love my Xbox for evenings when I don’t need to study, and we have a beloved collection of tea mugs, all of which have a personal story behind them. So, basically, anything in the house, the function of which intersects with my slippers and the sofa…

What is your present state of mind?

Two things:

1. Exhausted. It’s been a long season and I only get 2 weeks off before it all starts again.

2. Content! I’m having a ball touring the Scottish Highlands and Islands with Scottish Chamber Orchestra this week. They’re lovely people and superb colleagues.


New Zealand-born Holly Mathieson is an award-winning conductor, regularly working with opera houses, ballet companies and orchestras in Europe, Australasia and North America. She frequently records for BBC Radio, and her first major commercial recording with Decca will be released in July 2019. Her work has seen her travel to nearly every continent on the planet, and perform for audiences spanning from the British Royal Family and Europe’s political elites, to Scotland’s homeless and refugee communities. She is the founder and artistic director of Rata Music Collective, and Co-Artistic Director of the Nevis Ensemble with Jon Hargreaves.

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