Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I had a slightly complicated path towards becoming a musician, not always knowing that I was going to do it. As a kid I always loved music, but I never seriously considered a career in music as it didn’t seem like a real option. I didn’t know any musicians other than my teachers, and I went to a school where nobody followed that path. I was also very interested in film-making and that seemed like a more realistic option, so I pursued that for a while.
But music remained central to my life and I took part in a few summer conducting courses. I suppose there was a defining moment for me in one of them, in Leiria with French teacher Jean-Sébastien Béreau, in which we all had to conduct the exposition of Beethoven 5. Something happened then, I felt completely electrified by this experience and Béreau strongly encouraged me to study conducting more seriously, and so I did.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
As well as Jean-Sébastien Béreau, who opened my eyes to conducting and inspired me so much as I took my first steps in conducting, I am forever indebted to my first piano teacher in London, Katya Lebedeva, who changed my life when I first entered her studio so many years ago. She completely changed me as a pianist and a musician, and inspired me to pursue a career in music.
And finally, I’ve been very lucky to work with someone that has always been a huge inspiration to me, Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Long before we met, I had been inspired by his recordings and concerts – I grew up listening to many of them. But since I started working as his assistant, I’ve learnt so much from his approach to music-making in such a variety of repertoire, that it really has been a life-changing experience.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
There are many challenges of being a conductor. On a musical level, you sometimes have to rehearse masterpieces in just over a couple of hours and this can be a challenge. How do you get close to the depth and complexity of the music in such a short time? These days, most orchestras are used to working at an incredibly fast pace and they work miracles in such short rehearsal periods, but it can still be a challenge. On the upside, when you do have time, especially when you tour the same programme, and if you’re lucky to work with orchestras that you have a strong rapport with, you can find a joint connection with the music that creates moments that are truly unforgettable.
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?
Well, in performance it has to be through your gestures and body language, and in rehearsal this is also the first channel for communication between a conductor and an orchestra. But during rehearsals it’s very natural to talk about the music, we just have to make sure we don’t talk too much!
Is there one work which you would love to conduct?
There’s so many… But if I had to name one work that I must do before I die, it would have to be Bach’s B minor Mass.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
I think it is the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. The concert hall itself is fantastic and it has beautiful gardens all around it. Personally, I have a strong connection to this place as it’s where Orquestra XXI – the orchestra that I founded with other Portuguese musicians and friends – gave its first steps. So every time I conduct there, I have a feeling of coming home.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
I think it’s important to know if you really, really love music, before you decide to dedicate your life to it. I now think that I was fortunate to have spent a couple of years studying film before I decided to become a full-time musician, as it gave me the time and space to realise that I simply had to do it. I knew that there was nothing else in the world that I would like to do more than this, and to have this drive is important because it’s not an easy path. But, I suppose like everything else in life, it’s totally worth it if you love what you.
Dinis Sousa conducts the Royal Northern Sinfonia in Beethoven’s Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3 and a new work by RNS prizewinning young composer Abel Esbenshade. Further details
London-based Portuguese conductor and pianist Dinis Sousa is founder and artistic director of Orquestra XXI, an award-winning orchestra bringing together some of the best young Portuguese musicians living abroad. The orchestra has already established itself as one of the leading performing groups in Portugal, appearing regularly in all the major concert halls to critical acclaim. As Artistic Director of Orquestra XXI, Dinis has explored a wide range of repertoire, from Bach’s St. John Passion to world premieres by Portuguese composers, as well as great symphonic repertoire by Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky.