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.

 

Are you from a musical family?

No, I am not. My mother is an architect who had a musical upbringing and she was responsible for discovering my talent when I was three years old. She saw me trying to sing the Huntsmen’s Chorus from Weber’s opera Der Freischutz.

Why did you start conducting?

Because I realized that as a conductor I can do much more musically than as an instrumentalist. The profession is not only one of a musician, but a psychologist, a teacher, a student…

How does it feel when you are on stage? What is going through your mind?

Actually, this is the funny thing… nothing is going through my mind. It is one of the few moments when I can really stop it, and I feel an immense joy. It is as if time has stopped and there is only the moment.

How do you prepare for a concert?

I have a routine before each concert. To start I read all the music through, then I have a series of meditations/prayers/exercises to calm the mind. But the most important piece of the routine is to talk to the orchestra before the concert. Sometimes with players in private, sometimes just to say a few words before going on stage. It is a way to connect with them. Or maybe just as a reminder that we are here to do something greater than ourselves.

You now work with an orchestra in Peru. How is that different from your work elsewhere in the world?

My experience here in Peru is a life changer. I came to Piura and found not only an orchestra, but a family. Here, the orchestra has, apart from a cultural purpose, a very powerful educational one. More than half of our concerts are educational ones, some for children and some for adults. We travel to schools where sometimes, we have a public of more than a thousand pupils. But the most interesting part is going to the farthest corners of our regions, to bring our art to people who have never listened to a classical instrument, seen an ensemble, or heard a classical music piece. It is always a wonderful experience, being able to share what we do and some of our most amazing pieces of creation are with a public that has not had the chance to form an opinion, who do not have preconceived ideas. We have traveled to some of the poorest places I’ve seen in my life. Sometimes the conditions are harsh. We play in the dust, in the sun and in unbearable heat but we do it all with compassion, seeing the curiosity in their eyes. Sometimes we have to educate them how to behave in a concert, what to do and what not to, but we are always ready to adapt. I remember once, while conducting, a dog came and laid down just at my feet, near the podium. It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had, seeing how things can be and how little it all matters. It shattered everything I believed classical music should be. In those places, I have seen some of the happiest people I know.

I travel as much as I can. I’ve been to the Amazonian jungle and assisted ancient religious ceremonies – in their old languages and through their chant, I had glimpses of what the higher purpose of music can be. To be able to put all this into practice, to make countless experiments, with different pieces of music on all sorts of audiences, from young to old, from poor to rich, from highly to non-educated and to learn from them at the same time as I was sharing my experience, that was the greatest gift I have ever received.