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INTERVIEW
Interview with Martin West- IBC Guest Conductor


Martin West

2010 USA International Ballet Competition Guest Conductor

 

Before going into music you studied math. Was a career in music always

your goal in life or did something happen that made you switch from math

to music?

>We all grew up with music in our family. Both my brothers did math at

university too, and we all ended up musicians of various sorts. There

was no goal to do music, but when I started to conduct, I knew it was

something I'd like to pursue. I was just lucky enough to find a career

from my hobby.

 

You became a principle conductor at a young age, what or who do you

credit to your success?

>Luck! It was timing really, that I got my first job with a professional

orchestra at an early age. I worked hard at English National Ballet and

when the position of principal was open I was the obvious candidate

because I knew their repertoire and had proved I could do it well. I

could easily have happened ten years later.

 

While maintaining your position as principle conductor of the San

Francisco Ballet you also continue to stay involved with English Ballet

National. How do you balance being with the two companies?

 >Actually, I am no longer involved at ENB because I wanted to give more

time to other projects, but when I was music director on both sides of

the Atlantic, it was difficult. The internet and email made things

possible but I would do a lot of flying between the two companies and it

was very tiring at times. That's why one had to give in the end. I was

also conducting well over a hundred shows a year.

 

What are the differences you notice between working in England and in

USA?

> Orchestras are orchestras! The union is much stronger in USA , but the

musicians still work just as hard. The hardest thing for me was to learn

not to talk of crotchets and minims, but quarter notes and half notes!

 

What is the difference between conducting music for a ballet compared to

conducting in other types of orchestras? For example a symphony.

> Nothing really, except there is more information to take in. As a

ballet conductor, it's just like conducting for a concerto except the

dancer is the soloist and doesn't make a noise. The conductor has to

know when to follow and when to lead. I spent a long time learning a

clear baton technique so that I can convey the music to the orchestra.

The orchestra relies solely on the conductor as they don't know how to

help the dancer.

 

You are also frequently a guest conductor around the world, most

recently the USA International Ballet Competition in Jackson, Miss. What

are some of the interesting places you have performed at? And the most

memorable experiences you had there.

>I've been lucky to conduct in lots of places. The biggest audience was

in the Melbourne Tennis Center, Australia, where we did a large scale

swan lake with 150 dancers. There were nearly 10,000 in the crowd! There

are special places everywhere, from the luxury of the Royal Opera House,

to awesome spectacle of the Herod Atticus amphitheater in Athens,

Greece. Too many to mention all of them.

 

How do you feel about being honored as the guest conductor of the USA

IBC?

>I love working with younger people and helping them with my experience

from elsewhere. Jackson is a unique event!

 

I hear you are bit of a cook. What types of food do you like best? What

is your favorite dish?

>I don't have a favorite dish, but I try and cook simply as best I can.

I have a sous vide machine which helps me be very precise cooking meats

and vegetables. I also like making jam - I just harvested plums from our

tree in the garden. It's so much better than shop bought!

 

What do you like to do in your down time? When you're not working or

traveling.

> I used to like playing cricket and reading about science issues. Most

of my free time is taken with my young daughter now. She's nine months

old.

 

 What do you think about the invasion of new technologies in classical

music? Two weeks ago San Francisco Chronicle wrote about chamber concert

in Stanford campus where every musician was playing on laptop. We have

seen already a concert with ensembles of iPhones, etc. The latest news

is about Karmetic Machine Orchestra - an orchestra of robots that learn

to improvise. (California Institute of Arts) Is this the beginning of

the end of traditional classical music?

> NO! LOL! But it could be the beginning of something new. You won't

replace classical music that easily, but I do think that we need to do

more to promote it. Anybody who hears live music knows how life changing

it can be. It's the people who have never attended a concert that we

should be looking to persuade to come. They never regret it.

 

We have hundreds of students taking string classes in public schools and

hundreds taking private lessons. In contrast, so many professional music

institutes across the USA - Detroit Symphony - funding problems,

Philadelphia Symphony lost half of its audience, Sydney Opera needs $800

M to survive, etc. Where is the problem coming from, something in the

chain is broken - where? What do you think is the cause of these funding

problems and what do you think can be done to alleviate the problem

caused by lost of audience numbers and funding?  Is this lost of

audience in the last 20-30 years because of mistakes in choosing the

repertoire (which is usually conductors' privilege) where do you see the

reason?

> I think the reasons are probably very complex and not to be put on any

single pair of shoulders. The simple fact is that there are many more

ways of 'getting entertainment' than there used to be- just as there are

more TV stations vying for the same number of people's attention.

Classical music now competes with astonishingly hi-fidelity recordings

and itunes, not to mention playstations, wii's home theaters etc. It's

going to be a hard battle for anyone who wants a live audience. Maybe

it's time for the marketing people to come up with better ideas.


"Martin West's conducting of the five orchestral scores was always good, with a balance between strings and horns in the Mozart that beautifully demonstrated this score's ravishing sonorities." New York Times, February 2008.  Martin West was born in Bolton, England.  He studied Maths at St Catharine's College, Cambridge University before studying Conducting and Cello at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music and at London's Royal Academy of Music.  [ read more ]

"Martin West's conducting of the five orchestral scores was always good, with a balance between strings and horns in the Mozart that beautifully demonstrated this score's ravishing sonorities." New York Times, February 2008. 

Martin West was born in Bolton, England.  He studied Maths at St Catharine's College, Cambridge University before studying Conducting and Cello at the St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music and at London's Royal Academy of Music.

West is acknowledged as one of the foremost conductors of ballet, garnering critical acclaim throughout the world. In 2003 he made his debut with San Francisco Ballet, and as a result of the success of that and further appearances with the company, he was invited to become music director and principal conductor in 2005.  Such was the success of his first season with San Francisco Ballet that the critics were universal in their acclaim.  Alan Ulrich of the Voice of Dance described him as "the expert music director that all major companies should have on its roster". Sean Martinfield in the San Francisco Sentinel wrote "West is the ballet dancer's dream - he is with the performer at every turn, through every pause, extension and landing."

Martin West is a well known conductor both in the UK and Europe.  At the start of the 1997 season, he made his professional debut with English National Ballet and was immediately appointed to the position of resident conductor.  He conducted almost half of the company's performances throughout England and abroad and became their principal conductor in 2004.  In 2008, after ten years with the Company, he became the Principal Guest Conductor of English National Ballet, dividing his time between Europe and the USA.  Most recently he conducted Het Nationale Ballet and the Holland Symfonia at the prestigious biennial Ballet gala in Amsterdam, whilst his US Symphonic debut with Symphony Silicon Valley resulted in an immediate re-invitation.

Martin West is equally at home in the orchestral and operatic fields.  From 1998 to July 2005, he was the Music Director of the Cambridge Philharmonic, one of England's oldest and highest achieving music societies.  In recent seasons, he has worked with the HallĂ© Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Holland Symfonia.  In addition, West had a long association with Pimlico Opera in the UK, working on many tours with them, including WEST SIDE STORY, which he conducted inside a prison, using the inmates as part of the cast.