Conducting Apprenticeship at NYO-USA

Posted by Euan Shields Category: Conducting, Featured

As one of two conducting apprentices in NYO-USA in summer 2017, I was fortunate to be mentored by the NYO-USA conducting faculty throughout the program.

I toured with the orchestra as it performed in Carnegie Hall and major concert halls in Guadalajara (Mexico), Quito (Ecuador), and Bogota (Columbia). It was so amazing to get to know the musicians in the orchestra and see how they worked together in preparation for one big concert after another. I also learned from three world-class conductors, Marin Alsop, James (Jim) Ross, and Lina Gonzalez. I am so grateful that they watched over my progress over the five weeks and filling me with inspiration.

Jim would often take me and Maya (my friend and also an apprentice conductor) to little excursion right after he’s done rehearsing the orchestra and we would find a quiet place to talk about the music just heard. The biggest lesson he taught me was that as conductors, we really can tap into the composers’ minds when we look at their orchestral scores. With each movement, each bar, and each note of music, Jim showed me what kind of thought processes the composers were engaged in and how much their creations meant to them. He reminded me that studying was not only a means to and end but a joy in itself. The conductor’s ultimate role is to become the composers — Beethoven, Mahler, Debussy, Bizet, and the countless more — so thoroughly that he or she is merely a empty vessel to deliver message. Jim said he would probably be studying scores even after he retires from his conducting career just because loves the feeling of being a detective and discovering the depth of worlds hidden underneath the surface of paper and black ink.

Lina taught me the importance of always staying grounded and relaxed when conducting. This comes from her experience of conducting eight-hour rehearsals everyday with her opera ensembles. If you’re not completely effortless as you stand on the podium, injury is right around the corner.

Marin Alsop was the main conductor for the orchestra so she was incredibly busy during tour, but she was kind to spend time with Maya and me on the last day of tour to teach both of us on the importance of being crystal clear in front of the orchestra. Marin is a legendary conductor so both Maya and I were dizzy with excitement as she helped us out.

Here are some my nerve-racking but exhilarating moments of conducting the orchestra.

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