Meet our DFCC 2018 candidates: Felix Mildenberger

Felix (28) has been Assistant Conductor of the Orchestre National de France since 2017. He recently won second prize at the 12th Cadaqués International Conducting Competition and was awarded the Robert Spano Conductor Prize 2016 of the Aspen Music Festival.

Felix Mildenberger baton Copy

Where are you at the moment and what are you currently working on?

I just got back from a trip conducting orchestras in Japan, Russia and France. Currently I am in Belgrade where I have the pleasure to work again with the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra. Apart from my preparation for the Competition I am working on Guillaume Connesson's Supernova which I will be conducting in Magdeburg just before the Competition. Also, I am working on Shostakovich's Seventh and Mahler's Sixth Symphony, which I will have the chance to conduct later this season.

When did you first become interested in conducting?

When I played in youth orchestras and was fascinated by the repertoire we were playing, and by the work of our young conductor Alexander Burda. I must have been around 17 or 18. 

Who are your musical role models?

There are many I could mention and I admire all of them for different reasons; Among living conductors Paavo Järvi, Daniel Barenboim, Herbert Blomstedt, Sir Simon Rattle, Alan Gilbert - only to name a few. I also have a huge admiration for Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Carlos Kleiber, Wilhelm Furtwängler (though maybe because they are so different one from another). And of course many of my teachers will always continue to be role models for me: Professor Lutz Koehler, Gerhard Markson, Massimiliano Matesic …

How have you been preparing for the competition?

My preparation always starts with playing the scores on the piano, in order to get a basic idea of the harmonic structure etc. Once I have studied the piece and know the score well enough to build my own interpretation I also compare different recordings. Besides that, there is always some reading about the composers and useful background information, which is essential for me before I go on stage with it.

What are your thoughts on the repertoire?

It is great repertoire and obviously covers the most important aspects a conductor needs to be good at: string or chamber orchestra, accompanying a soloist, contemporary music, and a classical or early romantic symphony.  That makes it quite challenging for us as participants, but at the same time it gives us the possibility of showing different sides of ourselves as conductors, so the jury will easily get a very good idea of who we are as musicians and conductors and how we think about music, how we deal with different styles of music.

I look forward to each one of the pieces and it has been a pleasure to work on all of them, especially the Mendelssohn symphony, because it is one of the first symphonies that I got to play in an orchestra as a teenager. But also Kodály's Dances of Galánta and Tchaikovsky's String Serenade, which are pieces I simply love.

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? 

I can't remember which was THE piece that made me fall in love with music, but my parents like telling the story of me dancing, or somehow moving around to a recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier in our living room. I remember that discovering Beethoven's piano sonatas in a recording by Daniel Barenboim had a huge impression on me. In terms of symphonic repertoire I remember attending a concert performance of Tchaikovsky's Pathétique Symphony which completely blew me away and eventually was to become one of the reasons why I wanted to become a conductor.

What is your all-time favourite piece of music?

Again, it is impossible for me to name the one and only, partly because it also changes. But on a list of pieces I wouldn't want to miss, there would definitely be Beethoven's piano sonatas, all of Bach's music, Tchaikovsky's Pathétique, Mahler's Fourth Symphony, Mendelssohn's String Octet, Strauss' Metamorphosen, Mozart's Requiem, Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring … But then again, even just starting such a list feels so unfair, because I would have to leave out so many works which absolutely deserve to be on that list as well.

How do you relax? What are your hobbies?

I love sports and being in nature. That's how I recharge my batteries. I need to be outside regularly, breathe fresh air, move, be in the sun and enjoy the sounds of nature. I love to go hiking. Silence is something that has become pretty rare in our lives – we are constantly surrounded by noise, music and voices, so we tend to forget how important and beneficial it is to enjoy complete silence from time to time. The silence you can experience on top of a mountain (for example in the Swiss Alps) is incomparable and priceless. I also love spending time with my family and my friends, cooking and travelling.

If there were anything you could change about classical music, what would it be?

I wish classical music had a stronger appreciation in our society. Not because I am worried about decreasing audience numbers, but because I am convinced that classical music and art in general have the power and ability to positively influence and therefore should play an important role in our lives. Centuries ago, people were still more aware of the relevance of culture, and thus music and art were naturally part of a general education.

What advice would you give other budding conductors? 

I don't think I have the age, experience or position to give advice to my colleagues. After all, each of us still has to find his or her own way. However, I consider myself very lucky to have many colleagues who are also my friends and with whom it is therefore possible to exchange ideas, talk openly about our experiences, problems, fears, plans and goals. I just hope and wish everyone that we can stay true to our beliefs and convictions and that we will never forget why we chose this profession in the first place: the love for music.

What would the prize (£15,000 and being LSO Assistant Conductor for 2 years) mean to you?

The first prize is obviously amazing. £15,000 is a huge amount of money which can buy you a lot of scores! But even more important is the second part of the prize, because it is priceless: getting to work as Assistant Conductor of the LSO for two seasons is an amazing opportunity for a young conductor and definitely would help my career. The amount of repertoire one gets to learn during such a time, assisting Sir Simon Rattle and all the guest conductors, watching rehearsals, learning from the great Maestros of our time, being part of the LSO family and learning from the incredible experience of the LSO musicians, meeting lots of new people … the list of benefits is almost infinite and makes this opportunity a very special one – what else could a young conductor dream of?


Meet the other candidates

Find out more about the competition in 2018