Sitting in the entrance hall of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama on this first day of the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition 2016, you can’t help but notice the calm aura around the 20 finalists. As they wait to go in for their 15 minutes of intense scrutiny, any preparation or anxiety they are feeling is kept firmly inside their heads. The odd twitch of the finger or nod of the head is the only clue that they’re thinking of the music they’re about to perform. A surprising number of them don’t want to go into the warm up room, preferring to stay in the genial hubbub of the Guildhall School’s cafe. As they prepare to enter the hall, they seem to retreat further into themselves – strengthening themselves, girding their loins for the task ahead. As each conductor only has 15 minutes in which to rehearse three very different pieces, their main challenge is to divide their time well, showing their skill at rehearsing but also their flair for creating an exciting performance.

The jury – comprised of world class conductors and musicians – spent the day making sure they were giving as consistent as possible judgements; tricky considering the first contestant was at 10am with a fresh band of young musicians and the last was at 5.30pm when, with the best will in the world, everyone was exhausted. It was a mammoth day for the Guildhall Symphony Orchestra, who had to relentlessly ignore any instincts they had about the music and only react to the movements and instructions of the conductors. And the competitors themselves have been through the mill just to be here, suffering with torn muscles, frozen shoulders, flu and hideous traffic.

But they all did it, and the ten contestants whom the Jury felt were the most inspiring, exciting and talented are through to the second round. Those ten will now have to conduct excerpts from Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto and Schumann’s Piano Concerto, plus two contemporary works, with half an hour each this time to show the judges tomorrow that they are the next big thing in the world of symphonic music.

You can practise an instrument alone in the privacy of your home for years before standing in front of the world to be judged, but as a conductor the only way to practise is to put yourself in front of 80 people and try and keep cool enough to learn from the experience. So competitions such as the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition are pivotal in young conductors’ careers, giving them the opportunity to conduct great orchestras and receive the feedback they need from those who have years of experience. Best of luck to those who didn’t make it through to Round 2. No doubt we’ll be seeing many of them again in the near future.