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.

What was your first experience of music as a child?

Although no one in my family played any musical instruments, we listened to all kinds of music from classical to folk, Greek folk, Beatles, everything. My mother wanted to start playing the piano and she bought one. She tried it for a week then gave up and it was just sitting there so I started to play on it when I was about 4 or 5 and she decided I should have lessons. So it all started with piano and then I started to write music, having some lessons for a couple of years, then when I was a teenager I discovered conducting.

When did you first understand what a conductor does?

It was not a single moment as I didn’t play an orchestra instrument and my parents are not musicians so I didn’t know how things worked. I was just analysing, listening to orchestral music, wondering what that guy in the front is doing and what his job is. Then I read about it and watched videos, and was fascinated by the fact that someone is in charge of what is happening and is shaping it with his whole body.

When was the first time you stood up and had a go yourself?

It was an exam. Before the exam I had no experience at all. I took two years of conducting lessons once a week. The entrance exam for the state conservatoire was the first time, with Stravinsky Firebird and Brahms 2nd symphony. It was a bit ridiculous!

How did you prepare for that, having never conducted it live?

The first thing I did was I listened to it and I was fascinated by the music. As soon as I understood the way it moves I got into the music. As I didn’t have the experience of actually standing in front of an orchestra I was imagining very different kinds of situations that might happen.

What sort of things?

Like comments, how to react on specific difficult bits, like what to say. I was prepared on every details that might come up in an audition. How to talk and what to say. I didn’t want to leave it to the moment, to improvise, because I didn’t have the experience to rely on and I had to be prepared with everything in advance. That’s why I studied very hard for that exam for many months to be sure about every bit in the score, what I wanted and how to present that with my body and words.

How does it feel now in front of an orchestra?

So that changed, now, maybe because I had those unexpected experiences that were quite tough the first time, I’m very relaxed now in front of an orchestra. It was a long journey to feel comfortable in front of 68 people but my approach changed a lot and I think if you become more secure in what you are doing and you have some experience, then it starts to become less terrifying and brutal. If you can’t deal with that psychological pressure and do the job, then it’s difficult.

How do prepare yourself mentally immediately before a concert?

I have my own procedures to get through. I do some workouts before the concert, like push ups, chin ups, sit ups, that sort of thing. I think to conduct you have to already be sweating, to already be warm. I think that’s why many concerts take the first 10 minutes to really get going. I like to be have the feeling of being already in action from the first second. And mentally I do some mediation exercises to give myself focus and not be distracted by other things.