Donatella Flick talks about her conducting competition

Gramophone Mon 19th November 2018

With the finals taking place on Thursday at London's Barbican Centre and streamed live in Medici, we focus on this major competition for conductors and talk to its founder, Donatella Flick

Donatella Flick (Photo: Clive Totman)

Donatella Flick (Photo: Clive Totman)

The final of the 2018 Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition takes place on Thursday, November 22. Launched in 1990, and held every two years, the competition allows the winner to work with the LSO as Assistant Conductor over the course of a year, as well as offering a £15,000 stipend. The final finds three aspiring conductors performing with the LSO in a gala concert that opens with the Overture to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (which they each conduct), then they conduct a movement each of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto – with Vadim Repin as soloist – and they each conduct one of Kodály’s Dances of Galánta.

The jury for the final is chaired by Lennox Mackenzie (LSO Sub-Leader) who is joined by conductors Sian Edwards, Tadaaki Otaka, François-Xavier Roth (the Competition winner in 2000) and Yan Pascal Tortelier, as well as Christine Pendrill (LSO Principal Cor Anglais) and Vadim Repin. 

The 2018 Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition will be streamed live on medici.tv and coverage will start at 6.40pm with the concert starting at 7pm. The Medici stream will be introduced by James Jolly, Gramophone’s Editor-in-Chief, and he will be joined throughout the evening by the pianist and broadcaster Lucy Parham and the Principal Double Bass of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and himself a conductor, Dominic Seldis, and during the evening they will be joined by François-Xavier Roth, Vadim Repin as well as the LSO Managing Director Kathryn McDowell.

James Jolly went to visit Donatella Flick recently to find out some background to this major competition.

JJ: How did it all start?

DF: I’ve always loved music, mainly because of my father, and with my husband we used to go to Salzburg and Bayreuth and the conductors were all very old! Fantastic – Karajan, Solti – but old! And so I thought I could establish a conducting competition, little by little and it could grow – and the aim was to give young conductors an opportunity. I am fascinated by the art of conducting. Yesterday I went to watch Die Walküre [at Covent Garden] with Tony Pappano. Technique is of course very, very important but what is also needed in the end is magic. Great conductors bring together technique, gesture, soul, thoughts – all this is put together and conveyed to the orchestra – never to relax, to go on, to maintain the intensity, to produce an amazing sound. It is magic, yes!

So you see the Competition as very much the start of a journey?

Absolutely. It is a journey and it allows young conductors to step in front of an orchestra – and in the case of the three finalists one of world’s great orchestras! It’s very difficult for them early on to work with ensembles and practise their art, almost impossible. It’s a very closed, almost sect-like world. If you make some high-profile entry into conducting you might stand a chance but otherwise not … So I thought that if someone had a talent at, say, 20 it was not fair to wait until they were old to see if they could succeed. They have to step into the real world of music and I saw a way of helping them. And of course the three finalists get the opportunity to work with the LSO and to prove – even just to themselves – if they want to really undertake this journey.

The Assistantship that comes with the First Prize is a very important element …

Absolutely! It’s very important. The LSO embraces them like a family member and they have the chance to watch, to listen and to learn. They are really taken into the world of music and see it from the inside.

How has the competition evolved since it started in 1990?

It has actually evolved much more than I ever thought it would or could. Enormously. I’ve learned a lot myself – all the discussions behind the scenes and the analysis, and so on. This year we have made a couple of changes, including lowering the upper age of entry to 30.

And this year, a concerto performance is also included.

Yes. It is a novelty and the poor violinist has to play a concerto with three different conductors, each doing a movement. It’s a challenge for him too! When you have to accompany a soloist – or even a singer – the technique has to change a little to accommodate their vision. It’s an extra challenge and I think it will be interesting how it works. 

And a previous winner, François-Xavier Roth, is returning to join the jury this year …

He’s quite amazing. He was an incredible winner and he’s built his career with determination and a very clear-sited idea of what he wants to achieve. And coming back as a juror is a wonderful thing for the competition.

And do you follow the conductors once they’ve won?

Yes, I do take an interest. But they have their own life and their career and once they have jumped, they have to go. I can’t hang on to them! They are very pleased to come back and tell me what they’ve been up to and I enjoy hearing about their successes. 

How do you see your role as a philanthropist?

I don’t see it as a role. I see myself as a woman who tries to do as much as I can to fulfil my passion. I just think it’s part of life! 

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© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2018