The Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition, held every two years, was founded in 1990 by philanthropist Donatella Flick. Ahead of the three rounds which will crown the 2016 winner, between the 15th and 17th November, Bachtrack's insider Nicole Wilson meets the competitors who will have to prove their talent conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.

Why did you start conducting?

When playing the cello in NYO I remember really thinking a lot about conducting. It seemed like it might be the way to be closest to the music. I started putting on projects whilst at University – I was singing in choirs and playing in orchestras and wanted to bring lots of threads and people together. We put on Britten's The Turn of the Screw first.

Are you from a musical family?

Yes, both my parents were cellists, my mum playing mostly with the Philharmonia and my dad with the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House. My brother David is a double bass player in BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

How do you learn a piece?

I learn music at the piano mostly, building up the textures slowly, gradually sticking together tiny tiny pieces of information. Every time I begin, the piece feels like a mountain that you can't see the top of. You chug away in these tiny tiny chunks, and one day, a very specific change happens when you feel like you have a sense of the whole. You certainly haven't learned everything you will about the piece at this point, but you begin to be able to think of it as one piece. That's a really exciting change, because after that point everything new you learn, you think about it relation to your picture of the piece as a whole, either reinforcing your picture of forcing you to question it.

How do you prepare before you go on stage?

I think this is mainly about trying to find some calm so that you can prepare to listen properly in the moment. The main trap I have to avoid, particularly if we've had a rehearsal that has finished shortly before the concert, is the temptation to overly focus on the issues that came up in the rehearsal during the concert. This can really skew your balanced broader picture of the work. Before beginning the concert I try to let those specific things that we've worked on fall away and prepare to engage with the music afresh. I spend a large amount of my time putting on concerts in a car park – and finding a space in the car park where you can find quiet to get this calm before the beginning can be a challenge!

How does it feel during a concert?

Depends – always exhilarating. If you know the group well and trust each other and feel a real connection with all of the repertoire, it can feel so liberating and joyful. If you haven't had some of these things, it can feel very odd.

If something goes wrong how do you react?

It's the conductors' job to simultaneously listen carefully in the moment, whilst maintaining a feeling on the horizon, on where the music is going. When things go wrong in the moment, it can be jarring to your focus on the horizon, but you have to quickly find that focus again, and then try not to carry any tension from the mistake into the future music making.

How does it feel on the rostrum?

I think as a young conductor it can be hard to get the same buzz that you get from playing when conducting – I certainly spend large parts of my podium time managing an immense frustration that I'm not making any sound! I think I'm sticking at it in the hope that if you can learn to do it really well, you could get this same buzz.