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Conducting in Australia

15 Oct 2012

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This month The Arts Precinct sat down for a chat with Ben Northey, the Patricia Riordan Associate Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, to find out whether it was possible for aspiring conductors to have a career here in Australia.

As a young man Ben travelled overseas to the renowned Sibelius Academy in Helsinki for training, but says the path to becoming a conductor has changed significantly in recent times.

“With going away and doing something like that comes a prestige. And it’s a well-founded prestige because the Sibelius Academy is a really famous conducting school, it’s like a Mecca for conductors,” Ben said.

“It’s easy to become negative about career prospects in Australia because there is such a tradition of people saying you’ve got to go away for work, but the landscape in Australia has changed in the last 10 to 15 years,” he added.

“There was a big investment in conductor training 15 years ago and I think the results of that are starting to show.”

Ben also suggested that the path to becoming a conductor had been changed and more opportunities to get into conducting were now available.

“It’s a different road for everybody. Traditionally it’s been a road that’s come through opera houses in central Europe or the UK,” he said.

“That all changed when the Sibelius Academy, in a country of five million, magically produced 10 of the world’s maestros in a 15-year period and none of them were repetiteurs in an opera house, they were all orchestral musicians and instrumentalists.”

Ben said there was one thing most conductors had in common – someone helping them along the way.

“Conducting was not something that was on the radar until I finished my undergraduate degree at the conservatorium and I met a teacher, John Hopkins.”

“He was the one who encouraged me, and I think that’s the one thing all conductors have in common. It’s the same in business and all walks of life. You need someone to actually believe in you – to give you the confidence to make a step like that.”

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