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.

Where are you from?

I was born in Switzerland, in Lausanne, to a Spanish father (Jesus Lopez-Cobos) and a Cuban mother. I grew up in the States and was back and forth between Europe and the States all the time.

Why do you think you went into this career?

It’s something I’ve been surrounded by all my life, especially opera, because my mother is a soprano and my father is a conductor, so it came quite naturally. I was a little rebellious as a child, I never wanted to practice piano or take the traditional way but in my college years I started taking conducting courses.

So when you finally went into conducting, having tried to fight it, was your dad pleased or anxious?

I think he was a bit afraid as he knows how difficult this profession is. It wasn’t whether or not he thought I could do it; the question was more whether it was possible to do it. In many ways it’s like saying ‘I want to be a pop star’, it’s so selective, depending on what one wants to do.

Is he critical or supportive?

He’s extremely supportive, very helpful. I always ask him about especially musical interpretation, what works, what doesn’t work, different tempi, especially with regard to opera.

Did you grow up in the opera house as a child?

It was a mixture of both symphony orchestra and opera. But with opera there are so many more traditions and it requires much more flexibility with regard to following singers and knowing what works and what doesn’t. There are so many unwritten and unsaid things. Of course there is in symphonic music as well without a doubt, but opera is an animal that’s changing its colours all the time.

What does through your head when you’re on stage? Are you thinking purely about the music, the musicians or the audience?

It’s a combination of everything. It’s a three-way connection: from the score to the conductor, the conductor to the orchestra and from both of us together to the audience. One can never forget that. You can never cut the energy between what’s happening on stage and what the audience is receiving, because that‘s ultimately what we’re there for, to perform to the public. So what goes through my head is a little bit a combination of everything. Of course it has to sound good, that’s the first thing, and it has to look good, what one does, how one plays, how one expresses him or herself, the conductor as well. It’s a show, in one aspect, but more importantly a performance of these great masters.

And who’s your favourite great master?

That’s difficult to say but at the moment it’s Brahms. His music just connects with me in a very natural and deep way. It’s music that has to come out extremely naturally. All music is in a way calculated, it has to be put together piece by piece, like constructing a building, but then afterwards it has to be incredibly spontaneous and sound completely unplanned. That’s what I love about Brahms and Schumann. They’re actually quite bipolar, it’s very hard to go from one movement to the next. Because it seems they belong together but at the same time it was written in completely different times of life. They are two composers who could go from ecstasy to the abyss of sadness, and that’s something really special.

Are you prepared for a life that’s potentially a lonely life, travelling so much?

Of course it has its benefits, and its negative aspects, but I really enjoy it. Honestly I get a little bit uncomfortable if I stay in the same place too long. I don’t mind if I’m travelling, as long as I have a desk and a nice comfortable bed, that’s the most important thing. And of course there’s Skype to keep in touch, that helps a lot.