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Blog #9

I'm writing to you from my desk with a coffee looking out to blue sky and it feels like spring is ready to pounce. I'm here just in time for the end of February with no new 5k PB this month to report, but I am enjoying the warmer runs and more home DIY!


Last month I invited you all to message me if you wanted a catch-up, chat or to talk about an idea. Many of you did and it has been great to catch up with old friends, colleagues and former students. (It was also encouraging to know some of you actually read this 😁). In particular it was great to catch up with American conductor William Garfield Walker who is currently based in Vienna. William and I both studied with Mikhail Jurowski at the International Masterclasses Berlin back in 2013. Naturally, music was on the agenda and in particular we discussed the challenging (and rewarding) early stages of starting your own orchestra and company. NEW Sinfonia celebrates 10 years in September, and William is in the earlier stages of establishing his new group in Vienna called Nova Orchester Wien NOW. Check them out!

NOW and NEW feels particularly relevant to me so I am going to run with that...

Current and former students are always reaching out to me for advice and career chat. One common trend is how the pandemic has really made young people now think twice about pursuing a career in the arts. I find myself always encouraging them to do what they enjoy and if that is the arts then brilliant. Being made to think twice can be good. The late Peter Maxwell Davies told me "Rob, you need to be made of granite when you are in the arts, weather the storm and be on the beach the next day". He gave me that advice in Orkney which is surrounded by sea and beautiful beaches! I firmly believe that when we start the gradual opening up of society - we will ALL need music. We need this generation of engaged, resilient and inspiring young people.

New ways

In my role as Principal Guest Conductor to the Stockport Symphony Orchestra, I was member of the jury for the Stockport International Young Musicians Competition this month. I was truly blown away by the standard of this competition. We had entries from Armenia, Australia, Brazil, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the UK. All of them had truly embraced digital technology to submit entries full of character. Their individuality and musicianship shone through at this digital semi final. Peter Stark, Kevin Gowland and Jonathan Aasgaard and I had a difficult job to agree on the finalists. In the end we agreed on Australian cellist Rachel Siu, Brazilian pianist Rafael Ruiz and German cellist Alexander Wollheim. You can read more about them here and I hope to welcome them to Stockport for the final in person!

Old friends on new platforms

As a fresh grad student out of university I was given the opportunity to work with Trafford Music Service where I worked for nine years. I used to teach at Manor Academy every Tuesday morning. I was thrilled that Ceri Graves invited me back this week to give a presentation on pursuing a career in the arts. One question from a student has really got me thinking since: "What are the similarities between sign languange and conducting"? Food for thought! All of these new opportunities have reminded me how resilient and creative the arts and education sectors are in coming together. We should be proud of how far we have come in a short space of time. We are making things happen, creating new experiences now.

Coda I am surprised when people say "when we get back to normal" or imply that we will suddenly have orchestras/choirs/ensembles performing in full, and can stop worrying about digital and online methods. I think the way forward is more nuanced and gradual. I certainly am not saying that music is just as good online - but how exciting are the opportunities for musicians and organisations to exist both online and in person in the short, mid and long term?

Amongst all the great inspiring work, I must admit that spending a lot of time on my own, working, teaching, conducting and talking to a computer all day has taken its toll this month. We all want lockdown to end - I want to hug my Mum and Dad, to go for a beer with friends and watch a live concert. But there are positives flying at us in all directions, lessons to learn for the future and we are safe in the hands of these young people!



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