Donatella Flick Conducting Competition

Written by: Colin Anderson

The lady behind the competition and one of its winners talk to Colin Anderson…

The Donatella Flick Conducting Competition was started in 1991 and is now established as a prestigious event. I asked Mrs Flick about her motivation for inaugurating the contest. “The conductors’ life is much more difficult than that of the soloists; conductors have a difficult job to present music to the public with the orchestra in the middle. I believe it’s something very important to help young musicians with their difficulties; it’s not every time that you discover a new Toscanini or Karajan, but there should be something productive for the young musicians.”

In terms of organisation, Mrs Flick and “my team do everything. The competition has become bigger and much more expensive to put together.” The project includes finding juries to whittle the many applicants down to the 20 hopeful conductors that begin conducting the Royal Academy of Music Ensemble on the morning of the 15th. The jury of “five distinguished and impartial musicians” will choose three conductors for the Barbican Final on the 17th and then choose a winner – “those who don’t make it are told why.” All those entering must “send a video tape which can be analysed well. They have to find the orchestra and the money for that; that’s life!”

For this year’s Final, with the LSO, each conductor will lead the overture to Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte and either Copland’s Appalachian Spring, Shostakovich’s Symphony No.9 or Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration: who conducts what will be “from out of the hat. We discuss with my team, with Lord Birkett, my chairman, and with Clive Gillinson from the LSO about the pieces in terms of equal difficulties and lengths. The finalists have to be prepared to conduct any of these works. It’s an amazing occasion and association with the LSO; for the finalists to conduct the LSO for just one night is a chance of a lifetime and enormous for the winner. If you’re a conductor you cannot have a moment of doubt or show a moment of weakness.” I mention to Mrs Flick that the joint-winner in 2000, François-Xavier Roth, told me that he didn’t actually feel prepared but just went for it, naturally. “That’s wonderful because that’s the character of a real conductor.”

Roth himself has two imminent LSO dates and praises the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition for being “close to reality regarding the function of the conductor. The LSO gave me many opportunities, opened the doors. The guy who wins has to invent the job. In the opera house the assistant’s job can be very heavy but with an orchestra like the LSO it’s not so necessary to have an assistant. I worked very hard with the guest conductors, and with Sir Colin, and it was a wonderful experience. But the most important thing was to be in the life of the orchestra and to have a free chat about all the different aspects of playing in an orchestra and the relationship with different conductors.”

At two Barbican concerts, Roth conducts first the LSO and the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic in Mendelssohn, Ravel’s Bolero and music celebrating 10 years of South African freedom. That’s on the 16th. On the 24th, Roth leads the LSO in a colourful programme: music from West Side Story, John Williams playing Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, and the new Danzas peregrinas by Horatio Salinas. I spoke to Roth several weeks ago: “Well, I would be delighted to tell you about the Salinas but I didn’t receive the score yet! John Williams has instigated the piece and plays in it, there are pan pipes and it’s about 30 minutes; a big thing!”

I ask François-Xavier, an interesting man easy to talk with, about conducting. “When I was young I listened to Karajan and Kleiber in the standard repertoire and then Harnoncourt. For me John Eliot Gardiner and Simon Rattle have opened up the repertoire. I was a freelance flautist. If the conductor wasn’t so good I thought I could do better, but when you’re there you realise that it’s not so easy! I’ve discovered that the function of the conductor is full and complex.”



  • Donatella Flick Conducting Competition
  • Donatella Flick Conducting Competition Final – 17 November, Barbican
  • François-Xavier Roth conducts the LSO on 16 & 24 November, Barbican
  • LSO
  • Barbican
  • DFCC 2002
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 10 November 2004 and is reproduced here with permission

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