Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I have always loved orchestral music, since I can remember. My earliest experiences of it were through films – Star Wars, E.T., Indiana Jones etc – and this was how I discovered the magical, encompassing world of orchestral music.
I grew up learning piano and after a difficult year studying at the Royal Northern College, I switched to Bristol University to read music. It was there that I somewhat fell into conducting… In my first term, the halls of residence I was in were putting on a musical – Sondheim’s ‘A funny thing happened on the way to the forum’ – and they were looking for a musical director. The producer had heard that I had been to music college and assumed that that meant I knew how to conduct! At this point I literally had no training or experience in conducting but I was excited by the idea of it and sensed it was a good opportunity so I said yes and jumped in with both feet. Needless to say, it was a bit of a baptism of fire! Emboldened by the experience, I went on to audition to be the conductor of the university chamber orchestra for the following year, and got the job. This was my first experience conducting an orchestra and gave me a real taste for the work…
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
John Williams had a big impact on me when I was little. Apparently I went through a rather long phase of incessantly singing the theme tune to Star Wars, which drove my parents crazy! Ennio Morricone is another film composer whose music I really admire – I find it so bold and vibrant and he has such a beautiful voice, really magical. ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ and ‘For A Few Dollars More’ are my favourites. And then in the world of classical, hands down, Beethoven. His fearlessness when it came to his art – to pursue his own inner vision, no matter where it took him – was extraordinary. I also feel deeply moved and inspired by the life of this sensitive, difficult, complicated man who sort of survived his life, which in many ways was difficult and not a success. And yet, he left us with the most remarkable body of music, which we can now delight in and take inspiration from.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
There are so many challenging things about being a conductor! It is such a multi-faceted and all-encompassing role. For me, one of the biggest challenges is knowing what to focus on in the rehearsals when there are so many aspects of the experience that need crafting, from the long range journey, to the balance, colour and phrasing of each moment.
The most fulfilling thing is when the music comes into focus and its nature and feeling clearly shine through.
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra and, in particularly reference to The Little Orchestra, the audience too?
I think the imaginative aspect of the music is a wonderful tool that can help inspire the players. Often, an image or narrative idea can change the way the musicians engage with the music, transforming it from dots on a page into colours and feelings that express the intent of the composer.
For the audience, I tend to start with the stories surrounding the music, whether they be what was going on in the composer’s life at the time or the stories inside the music itself, whatever seems most appropriate to help the audience engage with the music in an imaginative way. Beethoven is great for this as his compositional process, for much of his life, began with a story or image that shaped the creation of his works.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
Definitely having a clear vision of the nature and shape of the work and communicating that to the players and the audience. Hopefully, if I do that well, the players/singers will be inspired!
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Beethoven for me really is hands down my favourite classical composer. Favourite classical pianist: Brendel – he just captures my heart and soul! In terms of conductors I am fascinated and delighted by Harnoncourt’s recordings of the Beethoven symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe. I love the way he brings the music to life in such a bold and distinctive way. On a non-classical front, I love the music of Osvaldo Pugliese – an Argentinean tango arranger from the mid-20th century. To me he is the Beethoven of that world.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I want our audiences to come away from a concert feeling inspired and moved by this incredible music. If we achieve that, job done!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I would say first and foremost is natural passion. Everything flows from there. To this end, who your teachers are is so important. Try and find someone who inspires you and can help you understand this most beautiful of arts. Music is also a language that can be taught and whether you want to be a singer, instrumentalist, composer, conductor or whatever, learning this language in an embodied way is the foundation of everything.
The Little Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by Nicholas Little, on 6th & 7th December 2019 at the Royal Horticultural Halls
The Little Orchestra was founded by Nicholas Little. Each concert is a unique experience in various beautiful venues in London with drinks and food on offer before a young fresh ensemble perform with the descriptive words and guidance of the conductor explaining and telling stories to the audience. The whole ethos of the organisation is to draw in people who know very little, or nothing about classical music and go away wanting to hear and find out more.