Johanna (28) is from Germany and in 2017 was a Conducting Fellow at the Lucerne Festival Academy, while also directing a number of small orchestras in Germany and Switzerland. So far in 2018, Johanna has taken part in masterclasses with Bernard Haitink in Zurich and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Where are you at the moment and what are you currently working on?
I just came back home to Munich after a concert in Switzerland and a masterclass with the fantastic Bernard Haitink. Now I will focus on the repertoire for the Competition and a few other pieces for another masterclass.
When did you first become interested in conducting?
I was lucky to have parents who took me to classical concerts from a very young age. I was mesmerized by the sound of a symphony orchestra, but I didn't play an orchestral instrument (I was a pianist). The conductor for me was the most fascinating person on stage and I always wanted to sit where I could observe him best. At some point I figured that conducting could be my way of living in this sound world.
Who are your musical role models?
Exceptional musicians like Valery Gergiev, Diana Damrau or Patricia Kopatchinskaja whose way of thinking and making music is so vivid and existential. I also admire Herbert Blomstedt very much and have the highest respect for conductors who in my opinion are true maestros of our profession like Paavo Järvi, Daniel Harding, Daniele Gatti, Bernard Haitink and others.
How did you find out about the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition?
I have been following the competition for years and still have to pinch myself to realize I am a participant myself now.
How have you been preparing for the competition?
Studying the scores, doing background research about the composers and the particular pieces, speaking to other musicians about the music, trying to think a lot about what's behind the notes.
What are your thoughts on the repertoire?
The repertoire is a very clever mix as it gives you the opportunity to show all the different aspects and skills of conducting. I really look forward to Tchaikovsky in the first round, it is fantastic how there is this deep melancholy and utter beauty of sound at the same time. I have done a lot of research last year about Bartók and Kodály’s work in folk music and I love the Hungarian musical fire, so Dances of Galánta is another highlight for me.
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?
As a child I had a very beloved tape of Zauberflöte for children, which I listened to all the time, and there is a picture I painted of the Wolfsschlucht scene from Weber’s Freischütz when I was just seven – so that must have made quite an impression on me. As a teenager it was Sibelius’ Second Symphony, Stravinsky’ Sacre and Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto that had a major impact.
What is your all-time favourite piece of music?
There are a couple of pieces that personally mean a lot to me: Bach’s St Matthews Passion, Brahms’ First Symphony, Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, some jazz standards, a few hymns and last but not least the carnival songs from my hometown Cologne.
How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Spending time with my husband and my little son. Reading about astronomy and interior design. Drinking red wine. Fermenting veggies.
If there is anything you could change about classical music, what would it be?
We need more creative programming and more educational concerts for adults. This is why I am currently working on a concert series that combines science and symphonic music.
What advice would you give other budding conductors?
Apart from the obvious things like studying your scores, listening, getting a good education etc. maybe this: Be courageous!
What would the prize (£15,000 and being LSO Assistant Conductor for 2 years) mean to you?
It would be an absolute honour and a unique opportunity to collaborate with this outstanding orchestra and all the fantastic conductors and artists they work with and I am sure it would profit immensely from this experience.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
Before I started conducting I also played the organ, probably because it is the one instrument that comes closest to an entire orchestra. I rarely have time for it now, but I miss playing very much. It has shaped my musical thinking a lot, making me always start from the bass and being obsessed over sound, colours, articulation and acoustics.