Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I was brought up in a musical family – my father sang, my mother was a pianist – and my music master at school allowed me to conduct. From then on music was my life.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your career?
I was fortunate to have conducting lessons from Sergiu Celibidache, one of the great conductors of the 20th century. He was the most musical person I ever came across, and was also a good teacher. His lessons at summer school in Siena were wonderful, with many chances to conduct our professional orchestra. When he came to London to conduct the LSO he would invite his British pupils to join him at rehearsal and would give us a class afterwards.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Of all the concerts I’ve done, the performance that gave me most satisfaction was my conducting the Hungarian premiere of Elgar’s ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ in Budapest. I was given the choice of performers and plenty of rehearsal time, followed by two performances. It’s a beautiful work, and the Hungarians loved it.
A recording that I’m very proud of is my most recent, ‘Fair Child of Beauty’ on Albion Records, two works by Vaughan Williams. One of these, ‘The Bridal Day’, had never been recorded and it turned out to be a delightful work.
Do you have a favourite concert venue…?
I am very fond of Budapest’s Matyas Templom, it’s a famous church with its own orchestra and choir, both situated in a capacious gallery at the west end. I’ve conducted there masses by Palestrina, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, Liszt and Matyas Seiber, always as part of the mass.
Favourite pieces to perform…?
So many! The works of Mozart have always been favourites, especially the Requiem, other pieces include Holst’s ‘The Planets’, Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony, Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’, Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’, Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony, Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Introducing a London audience to Vaughan Williams’ ‘A Cambridge Mass’. Conducting this world premiere, after transcribing the manuscript, was a very satisfying experience. We recorded this concert and it is now available on CD.
What do you consider to be to most important advice to impart to young and aspiring conductors?
When working with young conductors I encourage them to get as much experience as they can, conducting any groups of friends they can get together, whether it is three clarinets or whatever. I encourage them to learn the score by heart, which is what Celibidache taught, as that way you listen to the musicians in front of you without your brain being distracted by the notes on the page.
What do you enjoy doing most?
I enjoy doing many things, but conducting is my first love. When I started conducting abroad I particularly enjoyed taking English music with me and conducting repertoire that was totally new to the orchestras and audiences. I’ve also enjoyed looking for new, unperformed repertoire and transcribing it. When working abroad I’m sometimes given a new work by a local composer to conduct, and this can be a delightful experience, particularly all the rehearsal that is often needed. I love taking sectional rehearsals. A dream job would be Chief Conductor at Mozart’s opera house in Prague, working on his operas all the time.
Alan Tongue conductors The Beecham Orchestra at Cadogan Hall on 4th April. The concert is a tribute to conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. Further information here