Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
Between the ages of 10 and 12 I was a chorister at King’s College, Cambridge under Stephen Cleobury. The musical education I received there was like no other. When we performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1994 and I heard the aria Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, I knew that music would be at the heart of my life.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
Studying with Malcolm Martineau and Colin Stone at the Royal Academy of Music was absolutely crucial for me: understanding the meaning of music, how to communicate it and the importance of constantly listening and colouring. Although I was studying on the Piano Accompaniment course, their thoughts have influenced my music development in all areas. Also my mother, who took me to my first singing lessons, and whom I later accompanied at the piano while she sang.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
For me, the challenge is that often those in front of you in the orchestra or choir have so much more experience than you do. To have the confidence to be at the front, you have to know the music so well – and adore it so much. The most fulfilling aspect is when everyone is aiming for the stars – and you are in the best place to enjoy it!
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?
With your eyes.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
To give the performance a focal point. I’d hope that all the musicians already know the vision of the composer before they start, and are inspired to convey it, but how exactly? The conductor is positioned at the tiny gap in the bottom of the coffee filter, beckoning the deliciously curated liquid to drip down into the cup.
Is there one work which you would love to conduct?
It’s a well-worn cliché, but I’m so deeply involved with ‘Judith’ that I can’t wait a minute longer to perform it. If I think beyond that, it’s Bach’s St Matthew Passion, which I’ve wanted to conduct since I was 11 and will finally get the chance to do so on 17th April! One day, perhaps, Richard Strauss’s ‘Salome’, my favourite opera of all time.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
I love the beautiful Wren Chapel of the Royal Hospital Chelsea because it is home.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
For his championing of neglected English music, Richard Hickox. I never met him, but his work was so important. Of composers, anyone would be mad not to choose Bach, but I’m a huge Vaughan Williams fan, not to mention Debussy, Schubert, Schumann, Fauré, Brahms, Mozart, Strauss, Britten, Purcell, Byrd, Holst, Howells and my current focus: Parry. In no particular order.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Connecting someone to a new musical experience.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Be prepared to work.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In the European Union.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Watching my two boys grow up.
What is your most treasured possession?
My copy of the Mahler Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen signed by Fabio Capello.
What is your present state of mind?
On 3 April William Vann conducts the London Mozart Players and Crouch End Festival Chorus in the first full London performance since the nineteenth century of Hubert Parry’s stunning oratorio Judith. The oratorio, Charles Hubert Hastings Parry’s first, was premiered in Birmingham in August 1888 and was an instant success, consolidating his reputation as a composer of large-scale orchestral and choral writing. Soloists: Sarah Fox soprano, Kathryn Rudge mezzo-soprano, Toby Spence tenor, Henry Waddington bass-baritone
Further information and tickets
Born in Bedford, William Vann was a Chorister at King’s College, Cambridge and a Music Scholar at Bedford School. He subsequently read law and took up a choral scholarship at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he was taught the piano by Peter Uppard, and studied piano accompaniment at the Royal Academy of Music with Malcolm Martineau and Colin Stone.
He has been awarded many prizes for piano accompaniment, including the Wigmore Song Competition Jean Meikle Prize for a Duo (with Johnny Herford), the Gerald Moore award, the Royal Overseas League Accompanists’ Award, a Geoffrey Parsons Memorial Trust award, the Concordia-Serena Nevill Prize, the Association of English Singers and Speakers Accompanist Prize, the Great Elm Awards Accompanist Prize, the Sir Henry Richardson Scholarship and the Hodgson Fellowship in piano accompaniment at the RAM.
Photo: Tom Medwell