mon 04/03/2024

First Person: Donatella Flick on why the conducting competition in her name is needed more than ever | reviews, news & interviews

First Person: Donatella Flick on why the conducting competition in her name is needed more than ever

First Person: Donatella Flick on why the conducting competition in her name is needed more than ever

The 17th Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition reaches its final tonight

Donatella Flick and the then Prince Charles present the 2014 award to Elim ChanClive Totman

What are the qualities that make a great conductor? It’s something that has been debated for years, brought into focus recently not least because of Cate Blanchett’s award-winning performance as fictional maestra Lydia Tár. Despite what you may think of the film, it has reignited debate about what it means to be a conductor today, and what qualities they should possess.  

For me, of course technique, gesture, and communication with the orchestra are obviously all vital – but what is needed in the end is magic, that something extra that makes you sit up in your seat and hang on to every phrase, every note. That’s exactly what we’re hoping to find in this latest instalment of the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition.

This week, 20 of the most exciting young conductors across Europe have made their way to London to take part in the 17th Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition, conducting the mighty London Symphony Orchestra. Despite running the Competition for over 30 years now, I am still filled with great excitement to know that we will soon be crowning a new winner and unveiling exciting young talent to the world. (Pictured below by Mark Allan: the 10 conductors who made it through to the second round). 10 second-round conductors in the Donatella Flick  LSO Conducting CompetitionThere are, of course, many music competitions worldwide – so why are they still important? Because it’s vital that we give young artists a platform to succeed, and then continue to nurture their talent. One of the reasons for starting the Competition back in 1990 is that I noticed young conductors were falling through the gap after finishing their conservatoire training and starting their professional careers, and some were abandoning their conducting ambitions altogether. How many wonderful concerts, recordings and artistic partnerships have been lost because these young conductors weren’t supported at this critical point in their career? I wanted the Competition to be able to bridge this gap: to find incredible young talent and allow their careers to flourish.

The prize package for the winner of the Competition is unparalleled. In addition to a £15,000 cash prize funded by myself, they also get the opportunity to become Assistant Conductor of one of the greatest orchestras in the world – the London Symphony Orchestra. They’ll work with the family of conductors at the LSO on preparation of concerts, assessing new scores, taking part in LSO Discovery, the LSO’s learning and community programme, and should the opportunity arise, conduct the LSO on tour. What better preparation could there be for a budding young conductor at the start of their professional journey? Just look at one of our previous winners, François-Xavier Roth, who still has connections with the LSO now as their Principal Guest Conductor – the experience and relationships that the winners build during this time are invaluable to laying the foundations for a successful conducting career.

Donatella Flick in 2021But it’s not just about the winners – the Competition must also benefit everyone that takes part. Each competitor gets the chance to conduct the LSO, and the repertoire is carefully selected for each round to ensure that competitors get the most out of the opportunity. The jury are also always of the highest calibre, and they provide both their time and wealth of experience for free; each year our competitors gain so much from the jury’s wisdom and guidance. Our jury this year includes Sir Antonio Pappano, Martyn Brabbins, Sally Beamish, Sian Edwards, David Alberman and Juliana Koch – a truly remarkable collection of artists for this year’s conductors to learn from.

Of course, in over 30 years of running the Competition, things have undoubtedly changed. One of the biggest changes over the last few years is that we’ve opened the Final Round up to the world – audiences across the globe were able to stream the Final Round on medici.tv for the first time in 2018, and we’re thrilled to be working with them again on this year’s Competition to livestream the Final, which takes place tonight at LSO St Luke’s.

We also lowered the maximum age for applicants from 35 to 30, the better to engage conductors at the start of their careers – the average age of this year’s competitor’s is around 25 – and we’ve also had more and more women apply. I also wanted to broaden our horizons so we could find talent from more unexpected places, so in 2018 we opened up entries to conductors from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland for the first time, and I’ve been delighted to see competitors from those countries make the final shortlists of the past few Competitions.

But one of the biggest changes has come from outside of the Competition, and that is the decline in support and funding for the arts and classical music in this country – events over the past few months have brought this into even starker view. If young conductors were finding it difficult back in 1990, how much harder must it be for them now with all of these opportunities being stripped away? Arguably, the work of the Competition is now more important than ever. I have loved classical music all my life and have been a proud arts philanthropist for many years. It’s essential that we continue to support young artists to be able to pass the baton onto the next generation. 

The finalists announced for tonight's event at LSO St Luke's are Nicolò Umberto Foron (25, Germany), Jiří Habart (30, Czechia) and Jakub Przybycień (27, Poland)

Watch a 2016 short documentary on the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition

How many wonderful concerts, recordings and artistic partnerships have been lost because young conductors weren’t supported at a critical point in their career?

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