interviews with conductors

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

Listening to a concert of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto at the Menton Festival in the ‘70s. It really was a shock and it provided the turning point. Pursuing a career in music came about due to a number of circumstances.  As I finished secondary school in 1989, the Russians decided to enter Afghanistan, which strangely affected me deeply.  Dreading a looming third world war, I decided to choose what I loved the most in life: music!

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

I would love to say Gustav Leonhardt or John Eliot Gardiner… but actually I am not someone to hero worship or adore gods. The influences on me are multiple: add to the two names above –  Harnoncourt, Mitropoulos, Christie and Gruberova.

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

Winning the international harpsichord competition in Bruges in 1983… this was very unlikely, considering the programme and how severe the jury was. My other greatest challenge as a conductor came last year conducting Gounod’s Faust with forces I have never had before in répertoire totally new to me and my ensemble Les Talens Lyriques… but I loved it.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

In terms of pure prestige and distinction –  definitely Mitridate by Mozart with a flashy label and a flashy cast: Bartoli, Florez, Dessay, Piau etc.  In terms of my own personal conviction, Les Nations by Couperin, because he is the composer who speaks most directly to my heart and because the recording just released a few months ago is 99% what I dreamt it would be – refined in spirit and execution.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Hmmm! Difficult question… let’s be general and answer opera. I love giving life to human drama. Music, especially sung, can bring an extraordinary intensity to a text. That’s what I love most.

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

I try to balance my career between solo harpsichord, chamber music (because I love to play with my own ensemble), opera for the reasosn above and possibly some sacred music for my soul

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

Not really. I am of course very sensitive to acoustics. Wigmore hall in London, Victoria Hall in Geneva, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam or even the brand new Paris Philharmonie are quite inspiring.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Krystian Zimerman, Isabelle Faust, Christian Gerhaher. Wonderful artists. Very inspiring and very honest (I hate the new tendency of showing off!)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Bach D minor harpsichord concerto in 1985 during the Bach anniversary with La Petite Bande, the baroque orchestra I loved most at that point. I was 24 and this was a dream!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Approach your ideal of sound as close as possible and coax the music you perform with all your soul and body. When it happens, say 80-85%, it’s a big success – people like it, or not!

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

Be honest, serve music with devotion, ignore your ego and remain curious, remain the child you were once. This pure attitude is perhaps what creates a true emotion for oneself and for other people through music

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

In front of my orchestra still performing and making people as happy as I can.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Harmony and serenity

What is your most treasured possession?

Love

What is your present state of mind?

Resigned and hoping for better!

Christophe Rousset is the renowned harpsichordist, conductor and founder of the baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, who return to the Wigmore Hall on 21st February in a Venetian programme of music by Monteverdi, during a break from performances of La Divisione del Mondo by the little-known Venetian composer Legrenzi  in Strasbourg.   His latest recordings are Couperin’s Les Nations and Couperin & Moi, both on Aparte.  His next disc of keyboard music by Frescobaldi will be released at the end of March.


Christophe Rousset is a musician and conductor inspired by a passion for opera and the rediscovery of the European musical heritage.

His studies (harpsichord) with Huguette Dreyfus at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, then with Bob van Asperen at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (winning the coveted First Prize in the Seventh Bruges International Harpsichord Competition at the age of twenty-two), followed by the creation of his own ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, in 1991, have enabled Christophe Rousset to obtain a perfect grasp of the richness and diversity of the Baroque, Classical and pre-Romantic repertoires.

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(Picture: Ignacio Barrios Martinez)

 

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 take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

I was born into a musical environment: my father, Bernard Rose, was a huge inspiration. He was a conductor, composer, scholar, organist, horn player, singer, inspirational teacher. I studied with him at Oxford and sang in his daily choir at Magdalen College, but before that I was a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, as was my father, his brother and both my brothers. At Salisbury we had about 8 services a week, with about 12 rehearsals, from the age of 8-13. I remember thinking at the age of 12 or so that I wanted to be in music, and thought conducting would be good. My father sent me to have lunch with his old teacher at the Royal College of Music, Sir Adrian Boult, and Boult gently grilled me for over an hour over lunch, insisting that I should only pursue conducting if I really wanted it. This helped focus my mind. Leopold Stokowski used to stay frequently at our house from when I was very young, and I think this must have had an influence on me also. As soon as I went to Oxford I began serious conducting, having already taken on a small Oxfordshire choral society.

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

In the early days Christopher Dearnley, Organist at Salisbury Cathedral, and my first piano teacher, was a strong influence. Then at my senior school my teacher for A-level played me Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Juenglinge”. I was 15 years-old, and it blew my head off. I knew from that moment that I would dedicate much of my life to ‘living’ music.

When I left school I studied ’12-note music’ in Vienna with a former pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, and this has been a strong influence all my life. Whilst at Oxford I became fascinated by the conducting of Pierre Boulez, and used to go to watch him conduct. This was my main conducting influence.

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

The most challenging aspect is inspiring musicians, professional, students or amateur, to create exciting musical sounds, and, hopefully, display their enjoyment of this to the audience. Certainly, it is very fulfilling teasing the written notes into audible sounds, whether it be medieval music, Classical or music of today.

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

Through gesture as much as possible. When teaching conducting I stress the importance of “less talking is more music”. The fact that in the concert or recording venue at the moment of impact there is no speaking is a vital aspect of communication from conductor to musicians.

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

My first role as conductor is my being the representative of the composer in the room, from whatever period. I always do masses of research into the composer’s background at the time of composition, etc, before studying a work. I have had the pleasure of working directly with many hundreds of living composers, and I am a composer myself, so feel I am “on their side”! If the piece is not written out logically I do all I can to persuade the composer to make the scores as logical as possible.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Stravinsky “Sacre de Printemps”

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg, Russia, is unbelievable!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are too many to list. It goes from Perotin in the 1150s through to Machaut, Byrd, Tallis, Sheppard, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Hummel, Beethoven, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Xenakis, Arvo Paert, Steve Reich…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Achieving a fine/masterful performance.

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

The joy of performing at the highest possible standard; rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal!

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

Still conducting and composing internationally

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The morning after a great concert!

What is your most treasured possession?

The autograph score of Bach’s B Minor Mass

What is your present state of mind?

Good! I’ve just finished editing a new CD in Latvia and am preparing for my 70th birthday concert in April. I am a lucky person!

 

Gregory Rose’s 70th birthday concert is on 18 April 2018 at St John’s Smith Square. The programme includes several premieres, including a piece for solo voice with Loré Lixenberg and a new Violin Concerto, specially composed for the acclaimed violinist, Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Full details here


Gregory Rose is particularly noted for his performances of the romantic and contemporary repertoires, having conducted over 300 premieres of orchestral, choral and ensemble music throughout Europe and the Far East. He studied violin, piano and singing as a young child and was a pupil of Hans Jelinek (Vienna Academy) and Egon Wellesz (Oxford University), both former students of Arnold Schoenberg, and of his father, the late Bernard Rose.

Gregory is Music Director of the Jupiter Orchestra, Jupiter Singers, Singcircle and CoMA London Ensemble. He has conducted many concerts and operas for Trinity College of Music, including concerts with the Contemporary Music Group, and operas by Poulenc, Stravinsky, Virgil Thomson, Scott Joplin, Berthold Goldschmidt, Samuel Barber, Nino Rota and Malcolm Williamson. He is a professor of conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

Full biography

 

davan-wetton-hilary-mar-13

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

The decision to become a musician was a gradual one; my first post – as organist at Brixton prison when I was 16 – showed that it was possible to be paid for doing what I enjoyed – and my first paid conducting performance (Messiah, when I was 17) further convinced me that this was a congenial way to make a living. It was Adrian Boult, however, who wholly changed my focus of ambition. I went to a concert of his in Oxford during my post-graduate year and suddenly became aware of what a conductor could achieve. I pushed a note under his door in the Randolph Hotel asking if he would take me as a student. Characteristically, he replied the next day inviting me to audition for his advanced course at the RCM and that began a learning process that continued almost until he died. He was unquestionably the most significant influence on my musical life.

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

The most challenging part of being a conductor in this country is that you’re almost always trying to work with a short amount of rehearsal time, so you tend to depend more than you should have to on your musicians being prepared to fill in the gaps for you. That is not the case in the United States and in Europe, where you are given more rehearsal time with professional musicians; the more relevant challenge there is developing the sense of urgency you need for a rehearsal without being over-demanding.

The most fulfilling aspect is the sense of making music with a number of other people, some of whom you’ve known for many years, and still deriving the same intense pleasure from doing so – in some 30 years after our first collaboration. Whether the players feel the same, of course, I cannot say!

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

I believe the conductor’s job is to communicate as much as possible by gesture; too much talking is a well-known conductors’ disease. That said, offering an orchestra/choir what you hope are helpful images to clarify the sound or character that you are trying for can be beneficial if you can find the right metaphors.

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

A conductor needs to be both a manager and a bit of a visionary. Helping musicians to feel that what they do is important and worthwhile – and valued by the conductor – is important, but clearly the composer should be the fundamental reference point for all performers.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are several works I would like to conduct, which have so far eluded me: Walton’s First Symphony and Cello Concerto, Mahler’s Second Symphony and Morning Heroes by Bliss. More pressingly, there are works I would love to conduct more often – particularly Beethoven’s Glorreiche Augenblick, The Kingdom or the symphonies by Elgar and such neglected masterworks as the Holst Choral Symphony, and the marvellous tone poems by Bax.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I love both the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester and the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, though I also love Dalhalla in Sweden, which is an open-air venue – constructed out of a gravel pit – with a fantastic atmosphere and acoustic. The only drawback is that the conductor has to be rowed to the venue and I can’t swim.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite composers are always the ones I’m currently working on. When you’re preparing something for performance, it occupies the whole of the forefront of your mind and that means you are very closely entwined in what you hope to be the intentions of that particular composer at that particular time.

It is very difficult to identify favourite musicians; almost all of my colleagues are helpful and collaborative. You soon discover the handful who are not, and as far as possible you give them a wide berth. One of my absolute favourites, though, is the marvellous South African baritone, Njabulo Madlala. Brought up in Durban he has made his way to the forefront of the classical music scene purely on merit and a determination which never prevents him from being entirely charming and delightful.

We performed Elijah together four years ago in Leicester. He sang it wonderfully, and I’m thrilled to be able to do it again with him in the Barbican Centre on 13th February. Elijah is one of those works that has drifted slightly out of fashion – a real mistake, as it is full of inspired melody and dramatic invention. And, of course, it brings together professional orchestral players and soloists with one of our leading amateur choirs. A combination which often leads to the best result possible: professional expertise with amateur commitment and enthusiasm.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being the best possible conduit between the composer and the audience. If the audience leaves the concert saying what a wonderful piece they have heard, I think we’ve done the best we can.

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

Fidelity to the composers’ intentions. We live in a time of absurdly elevated personality cults; the job of the performer is to focus the audience on the composer’s personality and not his or her own.

Hilary Davan Wetton conducts the City of London Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’ at the Barbican Centre on Tuesday 13th February at 7.30pm. Soloists are Rachel Nicholls, Diana Moore, Daniel Norman and Njabulo Madlala as Elijah. More information and tickets


 

Hilary Davan Wetton has been Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the City of London Choir since 1989. One of the country’s most distinguished choral conductors, he was founder/conductor of the Holst Singers, and is Conductor Emeritus of the Guildford Choral Society and Artistic Director of Leicester Philharmonic Choir. He is also Associate Conductor of the London Mozart Players and Conductor Emeritus of the Milton Keynes City Orchestra.

Educated at Brasenose College, Oxford and the Royal College of Music, Hilary studied conducting with Sir Adrian Boult and was awarded the Ricordi conducting prize in 1967. Over a career spanning 50 years, he is particularly admired for his interpretations of 20th century British music, conducting many first performances for British composers as well as neglected works by Gardner, Parry, Holst, Dyson, Bridge, Sterndale Bennett and Samuel Wesley.

His extensive discography includes recordings for Hyperion with both the Holst Singers and Guildford Choral Society, a series of acclaimed recordings for Collins Classics with the LPO, including Holst’s Planets, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, and discs for Naxos and EM Records with the City of London Choir. He received the Diapason d’Or for Holst’s Choral Symphony (Hyperion, 1994). In Terra Pax: A Christmas Anthology (Naxos, 2009) reached number two in the Gramophone classical chart and enjoyed wide critical success. Beethoven’s Der Glorreiche Augenblick (Naxos, 2012) has also been much admired, receiving a five star review in BBC Music Magazine; and Flowers of the Field (Naxos, 2014) with the City of London Choir, London Mozart Players, Roderick Williams and Jeremy Irons went quickly to number one in the Specialist Classical Chart.

Hilary has broadcast frequently for the BBC and Classic FM. For six years, he was presenter/conductor for Classic FM’s Masterclass, and he was Jo Brand’s organ teacher for the BBC 1 series, Play it Again. He has been awarded honorary degrees by the Open University and De Montfort University and is an Honorary Fellow of the Birmingham Conservatoire.

www.hilarydavanwetton.co.uk

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

I don’t know if there was one person or event in particular that led me to pursue this career. I wanted to be a conductor and to have a new platform to communicate with musicians, music lovers and people who are not aware of classical music. I wanted to have an opportunity to inspire the future generation of young musicians. I also wanted to engage people who are not fans of classical music and get them excited for it. I know many colleagues who always dreamed about being a conductor but I came to that realization when I was 22.

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

The most challenging part of being a conductor or a Music Director of a group is inspiring musicians to accept the challenges I present. New music is a challenge, unique collaborations are a challenge and these are paths that every orchestra (youth, community, professional) should take from time to time. As a leader one should find the determination to excite the orchestra to take on challenges with no fear. The fulfilling aspect is the final product, the inspired musicians, the excited audiences and most importantly the feeling of accomplishing something that presented a challenge.  

How exactly do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Every orchestra I work with I learn from. Communication is a complex topic and there are no masters. I work hard in diversifying my approach and with each experience I realize that it’s not just about the music but about the people. In my communication with the orchestra I try to inspire them with my passion and love for the music, I engage them to be collaborators and of course teach them through this process. To maximize the potential of any group it requires the energy of each individual and this can be achieved through communication not only on the podium but off the podium as well.

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

The role of a Music Director should be all encompassing. As a MD one should inspire the players through passion and enthusiasm for the music, engage audiences, and be in constant search of projects and collaborations. MD should also find ways to challenge to musicians and audiences because that is the only way we grow; that is the only way to the future. As an MD one should never assume that people know the music or the history and stories beyond the score. As conductors we have to educate not only the musicians but the audiences from the stage. Pre-concert talks do not provide a direct tool to teach and one never engages everyone in attendance. I believe that collaborations are vital for the growth of arts and classical music specifically. I think we live in a time where we absolutely have to collaborate with artists and other fields to maximize the reach of our art form.Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?I am always proud of the youth I work with and I am proud of them for accepting my challenges. I have commissioned new works, initiated unique collaborations with many organizations and invited artists from many genres to work with us. I want to thank the many young musicians I have had the privilege to work with and know that they will be leaders and inspiring individuals no matter what they do. Stepping on the podium to work with the future generation of rock stars is the greatest joy in my life, I feel honoured.

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

Picking repertoire for youth and community orchestras is tough. This is something I constantly think about. I try to include a piece that will challenge the orchestra, a piece that will be fun for the audiences, and a piece that the orchestra will not feel overwhelmed with.

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

There are many beautiful spaces I have conducted in and can’t pick one in particular. I like spaces with windows and no formal stage. I like the orchestra to be surrounded by the audience and to feel as close to the people as possible.What is one piece that you’ve always wanted to conduct? And have you had that chance yet?

There is a wonderful Armenian composer Avet Terterian and I would love to conduct any of his symphonies when I have an opportunity to do so.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I currently work with many youth and community orchestras in the U.S. state of Washington. My definition of success is the consistent growth of the musicians I work with, the development of their understanding of music and most importantly the continuous passion, love and care for classical music. I want to see the youth in my orchestras be passionate advocates for arts and culture regardless of what they pursue as a career. Decades later I want to see a world full of people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds support the arts in large numbers. As an educator and conductor I want to instill in them the importance of music.

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

As conductors it is important to understand our role within the music organization and in our community. It does not matter if you conduct the greatest orchestras in the world, a community group or a youth organization you have to stay grounded and understand the importance of impacting the youth and community. I don’t mean just advocating for the arts but actually getting your hands dirty in the daily, weekly projects of inspiring the community. There are many great conductors in the world but one thing that is evident with many is the lack of consistent commitment to youth, community and outreach events. I want to see more conductors involved in outreach events, these concerts are not just for assistant and pops conductors. Music Directors are equally responsible for these performances and should do more than just a few in a year. I want to see the role of the Music Director taken more seriously. We live in a world that is fast paced and it is easier than ever to travel across the world. Holding more than one major symphony conducting role is not only disrespectful to the orchestra but most importantly it is disrespectful to the city and community the conductor is serving. A major symphony is one of the most important cultural organizations in a city and we need to have the Music Directors fully involved in the community which again is a rare fine these days. Classical music is suffering and this is definitely one of the factors. We need our leaders a lot more than just 12-15 weeks out of a year while the rest of the year they are holding other “full-time” jobs and guest conducting 30 other orchestras.Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I want to continue working with orchestras whether they are professional or not, I want to keep inspiring the youth and the community it serves.  

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know if that exists for me but I am content with the constant challenges despite the absence of perfect happiness.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t know about possessions but I have treasured people who are: my wife, my brother, my parents, family, friends and the many people who help and inspire me.

What is your present state of mind?

The moment.

Armenian-American conductor Tigran Arakelyan is the Music Director of Bainbridge Island Youth Orchestras, the Federal Way Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director /Conductor of Port Townsend Community Orchestra. Arakelyan held conducting positions with California Philharmonic, Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Rainier Symphony and the Northridge Youth Philharmonic. His primary conducting studies were with renowned conductors Ludovic Morlot and David Alexander Rahbee.

His recent conducting engagements were with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Olympia Chamber Orchestra, Armenian Pops Orchestra, Centum Youth Orchestra (S. Korea) and the Northwest Mahler Festival Orchestra.  Arakelyan toured South Korea twice (2014, 2017) with the Federal Way Youth Symphony conducting over a dozen concerts from Seoul to Busan. He recently initiated the Inaugural Bainbridge Island String Orchestra Festival with award winning guest artist Andrew Joslyn. Arakelyan also commissioned/premiered a work by international award winning composer Yiğit Kolat. 

Previously, he was the Music Director of Whidbey Island Orchestra (WA), Lark Musical Society Youth Orchestra (CA) and the Founder Conductor and Artistic Director of Cadence Chamber Orchestra (WA). At the university level Arakelyan was the Music Director of the University of Washington Campus Philharmonia and UW Summer Orchestra. He has been instrumental in initiating innovative collaborations with composers, soloists, visual artists, dancers, and choirs. Arakelyan helped in creating youth scholarship programs, festivals, young composer competitions, and led orchestral performances at unconventional venues. 

Arakelyan conducted the Pacific Northwest premiere of Paul Hindemith Kammermuzik Nr. 1. He has also conducted the Yakima Symphony Chamber Orchestra, University of California Los Angeles Philharmonia, Redmond Academy of Theatre Arts, Korean Music Association Choir (WA), Inverted Space Modern Ensemble, U.W. Symphony, California State University Northridge Symphony, CSU Northridge Discovery Players, and the Nimbus Ensemble (CA). A strong advocate of new music, he premiered works by Iosif Andriasov, Stepan Rostomyan, Eleanor Aversa, Jeff Bowen, Jon Brenner, Arshak Andriasov, and Felipe Rossi. 

Arakelyan played alongside Sir James Galway during his induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is a recipient of numerous awards including: Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Performing Arts Fellowship (2013, 2014, 2015), Edward Hosharian Award, and the Armenian Allied Arts Competition (1st place), among others.  Arakelyan participated in the Conductors Guild Workshop, Pierre Monteux School for Conductors, Idyllwild Music Festival, Dilijan Chamber Music Series, Seasons Festival Academy, and Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He conducted in masterclasses with notable conductors David Loebel, Frank Battisti, Donald Thulean, Ennio Nicotra, David Effron, Neal Stulberg, Michael Jinbo, and Lawrence Golan. 

Arakelyan received a Doctorate in Musical Arts degree in conducting from the University of Washington. His primary conducting studies are with Ludovic Morlot, David Alexander Rahbee, John Roscigno and flute studies with Paul Taub, John Barcellona, Laura Osborn, Stephen Preston, and Shigenori Kudo.​ Outside of conducting, he is the founder/director of the Armenian Orchestral Music Project and the Classical Program Coordinator at Music Works Northwest. Arakelyan is also the founder and host of Off The Podium-Music Podcast where his guests are renowned musicians and artists. 

www.tigranarakelyan.com