Conductor Focus: Nicolas Nebout

Our next concert marks the Firebird début of French conductor Nicolas Nebout in a dazzling programme of Handel, Haydn and Mozart – together with a world premiere by this year’s winner of the Firebird Young Composer of the Year. We hear more from Nicolas …

Nicolas, can you tell us a bit about your musical training and professional development to date?

I trained as a cellist for many years – although I always felt more comfortable on the podium – and graduated at the Conservatoire in Lyon. Being a cellist allowed me to watch other conductors and better understand how orchestras work, what musicians expect from the conductor, etc. After studying conducting in Lille, at the Guildhall School and the Royal Academy of Music, I decided to follow Carlos Kleiber’s advice – “orchestras will teach you all that you’re capable of learning about conducting” – and created my own opportunities with youth orchestras.

I also studied Musicology in Lyon, and it undoubtedly gave me invaluable tools to enrich my interpretations through research and analysis. Most of all, I was lucky to have met some fantastic people in my life, ranging from my nursery school teacher to my inspirational cello teacher when I was a teenager, and my music teacher in high school. Working with Benjamin Zander was also a life changing experience and I learnt a lot from him, as a musician and as a person.

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Tell us about some of the other music ensembles and orchestras you have been involved with?

I am Principal Guest Conductor of Sinfonia Tamesa in London, and I work regularly with the City of Southampton Orchestra and the London City Orchestra. I have also worked as a guest conductor with several other orchestras over the years, both in France (Paris and Lyon) and the UK (London, Manchester, Dulwich, Chelmsford, etc.).

Tell us about some of the highlights of your career to date.

I felt particularly honoured to perform Albéric Magnard’s Hymne à la Justice in 2014 on the 100th anniversary of his death. His music is performed very rarely, even in France, and I think it’s a real shame. He is sometimes referred to as the “French Bruckner”, although this is very debatable. But to me he was first and foremost a man true to his values, pro-feminist and pro-Dreyfus, while his death is worthy of a film adaptation by Quentin Tarantino!

I am also very proud to have conducted a fundraising concert in aid of UNICEF Syria Children’s Appeal a year ago at St James’s Piccadilly with the amazing Sarah Connolly and other incredible musicians. The circumstances gave Mahler and Beethoven an exceptional power and emotion, and the World Premiere of Malek Jandali’s piece Phoenix in Exile – with him sitting just feet away – was a very special moment.

Nicolas Nebout

And what about your future ambition in music?

I am an advocate of playing unknown composers and new music; the feeling of discovering something new, another language, another personality is always extremely rewarding and motivating. There are so many wonderful things out there we haven’t heard yet! This approach also means looking at scores by the great masters with a fresh eye every time. Being historically informed while being relevant to a 21st century audience is a difficult balance and surely the ultimate quest of the musician. And on a personal level, I used to say as a kid that my goal was to conduct Beethoven’s 9th with the Berlin Phil… What else?

Finally, tell us some of the highlights we can look forward to in your forthcoming début with London Firebird Orchestra.

I am very much looking forward to working with this wonderful group of musicians and our two great soloists, Steffan and Suzanne. They’ve already shown how talented they are and I know we’re all going to have a fantastic time. And so will the audience!

Handel was a regular worshipper at St George’s Hanover Square so performing his music there is particularly inspirational. Haydn’s spirited cello concerto is one of the most famous in the repertoire and it’s easy to see why: full of bravura writing for the instrument, it breaks through the limits of the Baroque concerto and is a genuine masterpiece.

As for Mozart’s Linz symphony… well you just can’t go wrong when it’s got Mozart in the name! It was composed in just four days during a visit to the Austrian town of Linz and opens the series of Mozart’s five great final symphonies. It is thematically rich, sometimes gracious and wittily elegant but also deep and dark at times. Over a century later, Gustav Mahler said “The symphony must be like the world; it must embrace everything”. Mozart in his time certainly managed to do so…

Hear Nicolas conduct London Firebird Orchestra in HEROICS AND HIJINX on Thursday 16 March.