Conductor Thomas Blunt is one of the current participants in the International Conductors’ Academy of the Allianz Cultural Foundation, which culminates in a concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra on 13 April 2012. Alongside the other two young conductors, Domingo Hindoyan and Ward Stare, Thomas will conduct the Orchestra in Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 in D.
We asked Thomas a few questions …
What’s your earliest musical memory?
Sitting at the piano at home when I was about four years old.
What was it that first attracted you to the conducting profession?
As a boy I sang in Worcester Cathedral Choir, and was lucky to sing in many concerts with large orchestras as part of the Three Choirs Festival. I found the sheer clamour of the orchestra completely thrilling, and seeing one person in front of it all – I just thought that must be the most exciting thing one can do in music.
For you, who are the most exciting conductors working today? Who has inspired you the most?
There are many conductors whose work I admire today – Vladimir Jurowski, Bernard Haitink, Claudio Abbado, Ivan Fischer, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Sir Simon Rattle being a few. I particularly enjoy listening to and watching recordings of conductors of the past – Carlos Kleiber, Yevgeny Mravinsky, Charles Munch and Günter Wand are amongst my favourites. I was lucky enough to take part in masterclasses with Haitink when I was studying at the Royal College of Music – he is a truly inspirational man, conductor, and musician.
How have you benefited from working with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic?
One of the great things about LPO is that they are wonderfully responsive. This puts the spotlight on everything you say and do, as it can all have an immediate effect. At the same time though it gives you a freedom knowing you have that support and that the musical possibilities in front of you are so huge. It’s an incredibly exciting situation to be in, and can only benefit your own artistic and technical development as a conductor.
Do conductors put in ‘practice time’ like orchestral players? How do you prepare for concerts?
This is the great problem for conductors in that it is impossible to practise. The only real way to improve your conducting is to just do it, so for me ‘practice’ is really studying the score, working out techincal issues as to how I’ll conduct it, and reading around the context of the music’s composition as best as I can. This is important so that when you stand up in front of the orchestra you present a clear vision and journey. Conducting is an aerobic activity in one sense, so before concerts and rehearsals I do stretches and yoga, with some meditation thrown in to help get me in the zone.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Conducting a run of Verdi’s Falstaff for Glyndebourne on Tour in 2009. It’s a very challenging opera to conduct, but I was lucky to have also assisted Vladimir Jurowski on the same production during the preceding Glyndebourne Festival. By the end of the run the opera really felt like a part of me, and I have never had so much fun conducting anything.
Which aspect of conducting do you find the most challenging?
Getting the right balance between leading and allowing.
What advice would you give to aspiring conductors?
There is no set path to making it as a conductor, and I think really one has to find one’s own way. Initially it’s essential to get to a high standard on an instrument or two so one can experience music-making from the inside. Following this some postgraduate conducting study is an option. Opera is often a useful route and has been for me; many conductors also start out as repetiteurs. Assisting conductors is a great way to learn, and can put you in touch with all sorts of people in the business. Winning a competition can accelerate things, but really everything is down to determination, luck, and being ready when your time comes.
Aside from conducting, what do you do in your spare time?
I’m a passionate Aston Villa fan, so have spent quite a lot of time feeling depressed about that of late! Apart from that I like cycling, galleries, yoga, novels, papers, politics, and going to the cinema and theatre. Lately I’ve been reading a few books about espionage during and after the Second World War (I’m distantly related to Anthony Blunt). Outside of classical music I love funk, soul, and electronica.
Do you get a lot of fan mail?
That’s one area of my career I need to improve on!
What’s your favourite film? (and film score?)
So many to choose from but I love the Alfred Hitckcock/Bernard Herrmann combination. North by Northwest is just brilliant.
If you could have a conversation with any composer from history, who would you choose?
Mozart probably. Apart from all the usual reasons I just think he would be great company.