Bertie (23) is a published composer and has just finished his MA in Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was awarded both the Sir Henry Wood scholarship and the Earnest Read conducting prize.
He is Assistant Conductor of Colorado Symphony Orchestra and Music Director of Waterperry Opera Festival.
Where are you at the moment and what are you working on?
This week I’m in Texas, working as Assistant Conductor with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. But usually I’m in Denver, where I’ve just started as Assistant Conductor of the Colorado Symphony. At the moment I’m preparing for my debut in Colorado, as well as Handel’s Partenope, which I’m conducting in London next year.
When did you first become interested in conducting?
I played the cello in my youth orchestra in Oxford, and it was there that I first started conducting. My first teacher, John Traill, was the conductor of the orchestra, and he was very generous in giving me time on the podium in rehearsals and masterclasses.
Who are your musical role models?
One conductor I’ve always enjoyed listening to is Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Though sometimes I find his tempi pretty odd, I think he always manages to give the music such long-term shape and direction. He was the conductor who helped me start liking Brahms’ symphonies!
How did you find out about the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition?
The competition is certainly one of the best-known around the world, and I’d been thinking of entering for a year or two. I finished my master’s in July, so I felt this was a good time to enter.
How have you been preparing for the competition?
It’s really crucial to get inside all the pieces for the competition: studying the scores, reading and listening around the repertoire, and thinking about how the music affects you emotionally. There’s such a range of repertoire to prepare, but I think my favourite piece on the list is probably the ‘Linz’ Symphony. I’ve always loved Mozart (I’ve just finished conducting Don Giovanni this summer) and think this piece, though quite small-scale, has some amazingly beautiful moments, as well as saying some quite strange things – why is the slow movement so dark in places, and why does the finale’s second subject have that tinge of sadness?
What is your all-time favourite piece of music?
I think my favourite piece changes quite often, depending on whatever I’ve been working on and listening to recently! But at the moment my favourites would be the aria ‘Or sai chi l’onore’ from Don Giovanni, and the Gershwin Piano Concerto.
How do you relax?
When I’m not conducting I love playing cricket. I also enjoy reading, cooking, and walking.
If there is anything you could change about classical music, what would it be?
I think when we talk about classical music we only rarely talk about what the music might be trying to say or describe, and when we do talk about this it’s often only in simple terms. We talk a lot about when a piece was written and what the composer was doing at the time, but not so much about what the music is really getting at. It’s not that all pieces have to have stories, but I think we can be more detailed about giving people ideas about the content and meaning of different pieces, and I’m sure audiences are very capable of engaging with music on these terms.
What advice would you give other budding conductors?
It’s so important to get experience in front of real people, so take every chance you get to conduct orchestras of any sort, even if you don’t like the music!
What would the prize mean to you? How would it help your career?
It would be such an amazing experience to work closely with the LSO as Assistant Conductor. I’m sure I’d learn so much from working with Sir Simon Rattle and guest conductors, as well as from the players themselves. This would really help me develop as a musician and gain experience of working with a top-class orchestra. In career terms, the publicity and exposure that winning the competition would give just helps get your name known – conducting is such a crowded field!