Valentin Egel (23) is from Germany, where has been studying conducting at the Franz Liszt Music Academy in Weimar since 2014. He recently won First Prize in the Conducting Competitions of the Central German Music Academy and the MDR Sinfonieorchester.
Where are you at the moment and what are you currently working on?
I’m currently in either Weimar or Freiburg. At the end of September I took part in the first round of the German Music Academy's competition 'Campus Dirigieren' ('campus conducting'). I'm thrilled to have been selected to go through to the second round in January 2019.
A few days ago I had a concert with the Academic Orchestra of the City of Freiburg and have already started rehearsals with ‘my’ orchestra, another student orchestra, on Mahler’s First Symphony.
When did you first become interested in conducting?
I was born into a very musical family: my father is a violinist, my grandfather was a conductor, my grandmother was a singer and my great-grandfather was a pianist. So I had amazing role-models from a very early age, in my own family, of how to be a musician. There was absolutely no expectation or ‘requirement’ to be a musician, of course; my seven siblings are all very musical, but no one except me wanted to start a professional classical music career. Moreover, the time I spent in a boys choir was very important for my interest in conducting.
Who are your musical role models?
Karlos Kleiber, Claudio Abbado, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Hans Michael Beuerle, Herbert von Karajan, Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein, Eugen Jochum, Paavo Järvi, Wilhelm Kempff, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Mitsuko Uchida, Nathan Milstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Frank Peter Zimmermann, to name only a few.
How did you find out about the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition?
Through colleagues from my Music Academy in Weimar including the last winner of the competition, Niklas Hoffmann. Also through the Deutsche Dirigentenforum which has been giving me a scholarship since 2017.
How have you been preparing for the competition?
As soon as I received the invitation I ordered the scores, I went through them all once, then I had to focus on other repertoire for other (more immediate) projects and competitions. For a couple of months I kept the repertoire at the back of my mind, just thinking about it without any direct work. Now I am working successively on the whole program. I work on two of the pieces I find most difficult every morning for fifteen minutes each. In addition to that, through my studies in Weimar I have the great opportunity to practice some of the repertoire with an orchestra.
What are your thoughts on the repertoire?
I think all of the repertoire is really wonderful. It’s a very interesting cross-section of music history from the 18th century to the 20th. Of course it's an incredible amount of new music for which probably each of us would love to have more time, but studying this repertoire is mainly a joy. I haven’t conducted any of the repertoire yet, so I'm looking forward to every single piece equally. If I had a favourite, it would probably be Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony' – but saying that would be sacrilegious to the others so ... I won’t say it. I’m looking forward to all of them equally!
What is the piece that made you fall in love with music, either while performing it as a musician or experiencing it as an audience member?
It's probably Bach's 'Ricercar' from the Musikalisches Opfer. My father would play it very slowly on the piano while my siblings and I were falling asleep at home.
What is your all-time favourite piece of music?
Again, I really can't choose. I can't choose between Bach's St Matthew's Passion, Wagner's Tristan, Brahms' Fourth Symphony or Mozart’s 41st!
How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
I read, see friends, socialise, cook, and go for walks.
If there is anything you could change about classical music, what would it be?
Bring it closer to people who don’t know what they’re missing by not listening to it regularly. Release it from the stigma of being something that requires wealth to be enjoyed and understood.
What advice would you give other budding conductors?
I really don’t feel that I’m experienced enough to be giving advice to my contemporaries yet, but what I’ve found I really value is going with what you love and what your heart tells you to do.
What would the prize mean to you?
The most important part of the prize is obviously the opportunity of being the LSO’s Assistant Conductor for two years. The value of being so close to an orchestra of such quality and regularly attending world-class conductors' rehearsals is enormous! Winning it would undoubtably help my career enormously but exactly how, only time can tell.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Just that I’m very excited and grateful to be participating and I’m counting down the days until I arrive in London in a few weeks!