Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
The role of the conductor always attracted me from a very young age. One of my first conductors was a woman, so I have never seen a barrier. I have a rather strong character so when I first tried conducting and I felt at home, I just carried on after having studied seriously violin and viola, and trained as a conductor in both France and in the UK.
I am lucky that my family has always encouraged me.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
Past conductors such as Claudio Abbado or Carlos Kleiber are a massive influence as they were really truly fantastic musicians. Looking at their gestures, how they convey music to world class orchestras is pure beauty. Other influences in my musical life have been listening to great orchestras such as Bremen Kammerphilharmonie or the Concertgebouw Orchestra, attending rehearsals at the Philharmonia and LSO, or being assistant conductor to Vladimir Jurowski at the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling?
Being on the road often is a challenge, especially when you are travelling far for a long time. How to deal with jetlag and tiredness is tough. But ultimately you are reunited with an orchestra and you forget about these challenging things as you want to serve the music as much as possible
Another challenge is making constant debuts with orchestras: it is a constant trial for us younger conductors. So you always need to be 100% ready and on the edge of the seat. It’s very exciting, but mentally you have to stay strong.
Staying strong but also allowing some days off to bounce back with the energy. So finding a life balance that works is essential.
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?
Our gestures need to communicate everything in the music: mood, energy, textures, colours. When it cannot be communicated, using a word that suggests the feeling or character is an option. The ultimate goal of a conductor is to convey ideas with body language: hands, face, arms.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
The role of a conductor is, for me, a guide: guiding the orchestra and the audience through the story of the music. The textures of the instruments, the direction of the phrases convey a story.
Is there one work which you would love to conduct?
I love conducting Mendelssohn’ Reformation Symphony (no.5), it is very pure in colours and the work is gigantic! It is not often performed and it should be programmed more often.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
There are many amazing venues I have yet to conduct in, but I would say the Sage Gateshead in Newcastle has a very subtle acoustic.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
During my free time, I love being in nature, a source of inspiration when studying a score. All these colours and textures are very much related to music.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences?
We need more contact between the artists and the audience: the musicians on stage presenting concerts, pre-concerts talks, after concert meet ups etc. I founded my orchestra, Arch Sinfonia in 2012, and this is all about connecting the artists and the audience.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When musically you feel fulfilled on stage and at one with musicians, music and your gestures. When your gestures are being understood by the musicians and you don’t need to talk about the music, this is gold.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
To anyone who is aspiring to be a professional musician (conductor and others), always have an artistic vision/direction of a piece and you will find the colours, textures to play with when performing it. Of course, technique is important, but never detach both. Focus the artistic vision with your technique. Listen to as many interpretations as you can, but the most important thing is to be convinced of your own. You will then convince your audience. It is important to question many things. Ultimately you will find your answer for what you have artistically in mind .
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A complete balance between mental and physical (yoga helps!). A complete harmony with your life partner. Escaping into nature without a phone (!). Being constantly creative (in your work and outside work).
Chloé van Soeterstède is Founder and Conductor of Arch Sinfonia
Chloé van Soeterstède is attracting the attention of orchestras across the globe for her intuitive, sensitive, expressive music-making and her charming and positive presence on the podium. She is praised repeatedly for her attention to detail, her energy and enthusiasm, and efficiency in rehearsal, and the coming seasons bring many debuts across Europe and North America, as well as many re-invitations. In January 2022 she joined the Orchestre d’Auvergne’s artistic team as Artist-in-Residence, alongside their Associate Conductors Enrico Onofri and Christian Zacharias, and Chief Conductor Thomas Zehetmair.