Harry Ogg (27) is from London and is currently completing his Master's in Orchestral Conducting in Weimar. He made his Longborough Festival Opera debut in 2018 and is currently assisting Tomá Hanus on Prokofiev’s War and Peace at Welsh National Opera. Harry has previously worked with Edward Gardner and the Bergen Philharmonic as well as with Sir Mark Elder and the Hallé.
Where are you at the moment and what are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m in Weimar, where I’m in the middle of my Master's in Orchestral Conducting. However, I’m kind of spread between three cities at the moment. As I’ve just been assisting on WNO’s War and Peace (the performances run until late November and I have to be in London, i.e. 'in the country', on each performance date in order to cover the conductor, should he become indisposed), I’m using the short time that I have now in Weimar to prepare for the Competition and another competition in December with the MDR Symphony Leipzig and I’m about to travel to Gelsenkirchen for ﬁve weeks rehearsals of Humperdinck’s Königskinder, which I’ll be conducting in the new year. This (wonderful) life is seriously crazy sometimes!
When did you ﬁrst become interested in conducting?
When I ﬁrst started playing in ensembles with conductors. I was a rather lonely pianist until I was 14; then I took up the tuba (and later the double bass). Seeing what the conductor did in the London Youth Wind Bands, and particularly later in the London Schools Symphony Orchestra, was mesmerising. I knew quickly that I wanted to conduct and eventually got going with school choirs and ensembles aged 16, and later with friends from the LSSO I formed my own orchestra of friends, called Sinfonia d’Amici.
Who are your musical role models?
Sorry for the cliché but the list is too long to write here - I’ve learned so much from every teacher I’ve ever had, every conductor I’ve assisted and everyone I’ve made music with in one way or another… A lot of people have really gone above and beyond to help me, and to them I’m eternally grateful.
How did you ﬁnd out about the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition?
I don’t really know - as a Londoner I feel like I’ve being hearing about it forever! My ﬁrst memory of it must have been when David Afkham won in 2008 (I was 17). He also studied where I am now. I think the Donatella Flick Competition helped me hear about Weimar, actually!
How have you been preparing for the competition?
In a sense, like I would any other project - with very intense score study! In addition to the preparation help I get from my teachers here in Weimar, I am trying to pick out any 'experts' I know on particular pieces in the repertoire list, in order to hear what they’ve got to say!
What are your thoughts on the repertoire? Which piece(s) are you particularly looking forward to conducting and why?
Remarkably varied - this list seems to cover every genre, time-period and culture that it could with nine works! I didn’t know Macmillan’s Tryst before this competition - it’s a fantastically colourful, varied and at times intensely beautiful piece so it would be awesome to have the chance to conduct that. I’m a big Wagner fan, so the Meistersinger Prelude is a deﬁnite treat. Having just worked on a huge opera by Prokoﬁev, I’m seeing so many new things in his 2nd Violin Concerto (and in terms of getting to conduct that piece with Vadim Repin - 'nuff said!).
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?
This has to be playing the tuba, aged 16, in extracts from Götterdämmerung with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra on tour and at the Barbican. I was just blown away by the music - having never really experienced any opera before that, I quickly became obsessed with Wagner, Janáček and Puccini (amongst others), who have since become a wonderful part of my professional life. Added to that was the experience of touring with other musicians - the community, fun and sheerly thrilling experiences that come from being around and making music with other musicians is so special. That was a really important summer for me, I think…
What is your all-time favourite piece of music?
This changes all the time, to be honest. I just checked my Spotify account and the last thing I played is ‘Der Gang zum Liebchen’ by Brahms – will that do?
How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
Sport - I love swimming, particularly in the sea or outdoors. There’s no better feeling that when you ﬁrst get in the cold water! I have a foot injury at the moment so most other sports are sadly out of the question for the time being. I love reading, ﬁlms (particularly international ﬁlms) and seeing my closest friends from school (who are mostly actors, for some reason) perform.
If there is anything you could change about classical music, what would it be?
The idea of 'right and wrong'. Obviously a wrong note is a wrong note, but I don’t think rejecting a particularly risk-taking opera production, idea for a concert set-up or interpretation of a work as 'wrong' helps anyone. I sometimes hear criticism of a new work that is so strong, that it implies that it should never have been commissioned/performed in the ﬁrst place. I object strongly to such attitudes whilst music should be loved and taken seriously, that doesn’t mean that we should avoid experimenting, being radically inventive or above all taking risks. These things (and the people brave enough to do them) should be encouraged. It’s ok not to like something, but for me, to in order to keep growing and connecting with people, 'right and wrong' need to go in the bin.
What advice would you give other budding conductors?
1. Whatever you’re doing, give it everything. However small or big a project, you don’t know what you’ll get out of it or where it will lead until you’ve given it everything you have.
2. Make friends with other young conductors. I was too insecure to do this for a long time and I really regret this now - now some of my closest friends are conductors and to learn from them/ enjoy music with them and to feel genuinely happy about their success (instead of being a jealous/ insecure fool) is simply a very happy thing!
What would the prize mean to you? How would it help your career?
Having been freelance for five years or so, to have a ﬁxed position with an orchestra like the LSO would be a dream come true (especially as a born-and-bred south Londoner). You develop so much from working in lots of different places but to be in one place and work with these musicians would be so exciting, I think. The £15,000 would mean not having to worry about paying rent for a while. That’s obviously a good thing. I think competitions give different things to different people, so it’s hard to say how it would help, but it would certainly be a wonderful thing and certainly NOT be a hindrance.
Is there anything else we should know about you?
I’m afraid I always freeze-up with open questions like this (like on the ﬁrst day at school when you’re asked to say one interesting fact about yourself). I don’t think that’s something that you should know about me, though…