Why do I conduct?

We ask 11 emerging conductors why they do what they do



‘Why conduct?’ you ask, as you witness the beads of sweat dripping down the nose of that person in front of the orchestra; their arms gesturing wildly, feet dangerously close to the edge of the podium as they leap with passion at the climax of a symphony.

Conducting is a huge job for anyone – but that hasn’t stopped these young artists from chasing the dream career. In this story, we pose the question to Australia’s leading emerging conductors who are taking part in the Australian Conducting Academy 2018 Summer School.

This Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra initiative, in partnership with the University of Tasmania, brings together these artists with the course’s director Johannes Fritzsch – the TSO’s inaugural Principal Guest Conductor this year. They rehearse with pianists and the orchestra, and develop their skills in performance and stagecraft from January 25 through to February 2.

Before a culminating performance on the final date, let’s learn why these individuals do what they do. Let’s learn what inspires them to take on this invaluable musical role.


Q: Why do I conduct?


I conduct because I love orchestras. There is something fascinating about orchestras: a whole universe of possibility, a complex organism greater than the sum of its parts. The thrill of being able to conjure so many different colours, and of working with an assemblage of so much collective knowledge and experience is irresistible. The storytelling and transformational capacities of orchestras are beyond any other artform, and the orchestral repertoire is some of the most exciting music ever written.

As a classically-trained saxophonist, I almost never got to hang out with orchestras – apart from the occasional performance of Bolero or Rhapsody in Blue, we are largely neglected. My hunger for orchestral repertoire and my love of analysis naturally led me to conducting. And in many ways, conducting has been the perfect means for me to satisfy my orchestral curiosity: it allows me to experience the orchestra from the driver’s seat.

– Carlo Antonioli

I had the opportunity to work with great conductors as a young violist playing in the Australian Youth Orchestra, and later found my way to studying conducting in Australia, Europe, and the United States.

Conducting is a challenge that requires both technical breadth and physical ease. I love the process of communication and collaboration, especially with composers and young audiences. It’s analysis, passion, long hours and hard work — but it’s worthwhile and I love it.

– Alexander Colding Smith

To create a sound that is far more epic than my two hands at the piano can do. To sew each thread of sound that exudes from each musician, and create a fabric of sound that wraps around the listener.

– Lucas D. Lynch

I conduct because it gives me immense joy and satisfaction. It is holistically engaging work that demands high expectations and abilities, and provides never-ending challenges. It gives me something always beyond reach to aim for, and in so much broader a spectrum than purely instrumental playing gave me.

I am naturally predisposed to leadership, and have always gravitated positions of greater social responsibility. The more time I spend as a conductor, the more I feel I have the most to offer in this field over others in music or elsewhere; being continually encouraged and affirmed personally, through my experiences – and interpersonally, by my mentors and the musicians I have had the privilege to lead.

I am also a composer and think a lot about the state of music, and am excited by the prospects and possibilities, artistic, cultural, social, that music has yet to reach. I have made my bet as well as I can that as a musician, I have the best chance to make an impact and do good for the world, in my time.

– Mati (Mateusz) Gwizdałła

Mati flew from Warsaw to take part in ACA. He studies at the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music.

I love hearing my vision of a piece brought to life by the musicians I work with.

The collaborative experience of working with an orchestra also helps to inform my own interpretation; in a lot of ways, the end result is much better and more poignant than if I had just made the music alone!

– Nathaniel Griffiths

What does the person waving their arms in front of an orchestra actually do? How can one person create such unity of sound with hundreds of musicians? To answer this, I would like to share with you my experience with conducting so far.

Growing up, I have been playing in symphony orchestras in Hong Kong and in Australia. I would also listen to concerts by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra. In Hong Kong, my dad would take my sister and I to listen to Mahler symphonies conducted by Edo de Waart. Being exposed to this at a very young age made me interested in orchestral repertoire.

In our generation today, new music is the forefront of our music making. This was made clear to me in my education in Sydney Conservatorium High School. Our school would attend an SSO concert every school term from the Meet the Music series, where contemporary pieces or world premieres would be played. Hearing concerts regularly throughout my life caused me to think of all the different ideas and interpretations music has. No concert is ever the same, and I wondered how I would like to have my say in the music world.

Being a conductor is important because I love the music I create. I enjoy score reading, the time spent in the practice room for many hours trying to realise the composer’s intentions. After all this preparation, I enjoy the opportunity to share how I feel about music with a group of musicians. During my recent study at the Australian Youth Orchestra National Music Camp, conductor Moritz Gnann shared his experience saying that ‘rehearsal is where a conductor is important…as a conductor, we need to trust the orchestra in performance’. From conducting, I get the chance to work with many musicians to direct our visions towards one shared goal as an ensemble. I love getting along with other musicians and talking about our shared passion. We all have difference experiences as musicians, and being able to combine this knowledge into one sound is something I would like to learn to achieve.

Music has always had an emotional impact on me personally. Listening to concerts inspires me to become a better musician. I think music makes everyone experience emotion they never thought possible. I felt this when I sat and listened in the Berlin Philharmonie of Mahler’s third symphony. The last movement was so expressive, especially the lyrical violin and cellos melodies. Their sound was something very special, which I had never heard before. The overwhelming performance led to tears of greatness to come for me personally. I also experience this with performance of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony No. 2 at AYO NMC. Performing this work with Christopher Seaman, with such excitement from the whole orchestra, was emotional for the conductor and players.

From these two experiences, I felt that music has a very important part in all our lives and I would like to share this with everyone through conducting. From this summer school, I hope to be equipped with the knowledge to continue to explore music myself and create a meaningful contribution in the arts.

– Joseph Shing Him Chan

I was fortunate to be encouraged into conducting, initially performing my own compositions with school ensembles and then taking rehearsals for a few community ensembles. I was easily captivated by the joy of performing with so many other people; it’s amazing to be a performer within an ensemble – certainly, I don’t like to think of the conductor as separate from the performers – but a different feeling to stand at the front and suddenly have 60 pairs of eyes staring at you, awaiting your direction.

Conducting is a fascinating role and equally a big responsibility. You have to know the notes, tempi, etc. and our physical actions have to convey interpretation and timing with succinct clarity. But you don’t have to spend hours playing an instrument. Perhaps it’s a personal bias that tied in with studying a composition-focused degree, but I find that I’m usually more comfortable poring over musical details than rehearsing solo in a practice room all day. That’s not to say I avoid performing – indeed, I certainly do miss orchestral playing when I’m conducting instead! But the art and experience of conducting continues to offer new ways to approach music and work with a wide variety of musicians.

– Leonard Weiss

To be actively involved in the creative music-making process of orchestral music; from the silence before the first note to the silence after the very last note played. And, to bring the enjoyment of music to all.

– Alexander Rodrigues

There are a few things that drew me into conducting all the way back in grade 10. As a kid, I always loved dancing. However, I was terrible at it. I recall in my year 7 report I received a D for Dance with the comment: ‘Sam needs to practise safe dancing techniques’. I suppose in a way conducting is similar to dancing. Classical music, of course, is very close to me – so what could be better than ‘dancing’ to classical music?

As a saxophonist, I am not often exposed to performing with a symphony orchestra – and I may well never be! Conducting for me has been my pathway into the orchestra and its repertoire. I hope throughout my career I can inspire people to love and explore the multifaceted world of classical music. Similarly, I look forward to learning more about the plethora of music out there whilst being moved and inspired by this fabulous art form.

– Sam Weller

Conducting is an ambition I developed early in my career as an orchestral percussionist. Being at the back of the orchestra is one thing, but I always felt drawn to that podium at the front. I enjoy the nature of conducting as a craft that requires you to tie many threads together.

Being academically minded, I find analysing the music in depth endlessly fascinating in itself. Then, combining this preparation with skills of communication, aural perception and physical gesture is thoroughly challenging. When it all comes together, it is thrilling and immensely rewarding.

– Joel Bass

I did not began my musical journey until high school, and almost immediately my interests were captivated by the art music genres. While my principal studies in music was classical saxophone, I always felt compelled to explore the core classical and romantic repertoire as well. Though I could not engage in the performance of these works – saxophone is almost always excluded from orchestral instrumentation – I always wanted to immerse myself in every note of a recording, and studying the music with a conductor’s score was the best way I could do this.

Even today, the need to be a part of every musical phrase and each instrumental entry in a piece still drives my academic endeavours. So from following along with a recording of Beethoven’s fifth while on the bus to school in year 8, I’ve now found myself studying the same score – albeit with a fancier edition – with the real-life engagement of the wonderful Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra.

And I am thoroughly keen to continue on this path.

– Riley O’Doherty


Find out more about the Australian Conducting Academy Summer School on the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra website.


Images courtesy TSO.

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