Holly Mathieson

Get inspired this Friday the 13th as we have a very nice chat with conductor Holly Mathieson!

We all know HELLO STAGE’s favorite color! What’s yours?

As a New Zealander, there's only one answer to that question…ALL BLACK!

What was the best advice a teacher ever gave you?

"Nerves are merely evidence that the ego is greater than the will to improve." It was my Masters teacher, a lovely Englishman called John Hopkins. Words to live by! He was a very humble man - he'd had a really wonderful career, but the thing he was most proud of (other than his 5 daughters) was a community music project in the poorer communities of South Africa, long before there was any awareness of the benefit of orchestral education programmes. He wept every time he talked about it.

How has your practice changed with time?

It's not so much changed, as swung one way, and now returned. I started very early with my Grandmother - my piano teacher for 15 years - with aural training and analysis. She was rigorous! Melodic and rhythmic dictation, interval and cadence recognition, composing songs and identifying the different instruments on her old orchestral LP's before I was 5 years old. I don't think children get that sort of training these days, except perhaps in the Russian schools. My first conducting teacher, Jack Speirs, was also very focused on aural training and analysis: a 2-hour lesson would involve 1.5 hours of score-reading, harmonic and thematic analysis and only 1/2 an hour of discussing how the body could be used to put that into realisation. Then, I had a few teachers that were very focused on physical things, with little analysis. It was brilliant in some ways, as I've become far more disciplined in my gesture and become more aware of minimising habitual or instinctive body movement that doesn't actually add to the communicative process, but I really missed seeking out the deeper knowledge of what was going on. Analysis for me is like foreplay - you can do the final task without it, but it will never be as satisfying! I feel like I have a good balance now: a strong focus on analysis as I learn a work, but a greater awareness of how I can keep crafting my technique to become more efficient, expressive and useful to players. Lately, I've been embracing slow practice. It's a strange concept for a conductor: sitting with your eyes closed and going through the score in minute detail in rhythmic but slow motion - It's hard, but incredibly productive. I've never been one for practising in front of a mirror.

What do you think is the most important trait of a successful artist in today’s modern world?

I'd say that modern artists need the breadth of mind to be simultaneously humble and ambitious.
We need to act as our own promoters, managers, critics and billboards - but it pays to remember that we're all just wandering minstrels in the end.
The unique, and poignant, beauty of our art form is that in the very act of making it, it disappears.
Everything of value is in that split second of creation. Beyond that, it's just echoes and memory. We can also never be too open, curious, honest, playful, vulnerable…But ultimately, those are the things which give us value as humans, not just as musicians.

How much time do you spend every day on Facebook, Twitter, and which other ways do you use to promote yourself?

Too much…Facebook is also the main way for me to keep track of family back in NZ. I love seeing photos of my little nieces and nephews growing up while I'm so far away. I consider Twitter to be a work-outlet, and Facebook to be private, although anyone putting on their own gig will know that Facebook is a superb platform for organising and advertising events. It's just trying to find ways to do that which won't intrude on friends' personal cyber-space. I try to make any work-related posts funny, interesting, engaging , but never shove it down people's throats. HELLO STAGE is an amazing resource for someone like me, especially when you're working, but not yet signed to an agency. It's made a huge difference after just one year!

Holly, you juggle living between Glasgow, London, New Zealand…any tips on keeping organised whilst trotting around the globe?

I keep a full set of basic clothes at my flats in Glasgow and London, so that I never need to worry whether I've packed my toothbrush, deodorant and knickers (!) Also, pretty much everything in my wardrobe matches everything else. It sounds incredibly dull, but if everything is white, navy, grey and LOADS of black, then you're never caught out. Especially as it pays to keep your dress reasonably muted and unobtrusive as a conductor anyway. I also have every possible app for downloading boarding passes to my phone, so that I don't need to worry about pieces of paper, and my collection of international adapters deserves its own museum.

Tell us more about your upcoming concerts! :)

Next up is the Berlin launch of my ensemble the Horizont Musik-Kollektiv on March 18th. It's a group I've put together to be a platform for NZ composers and performers in Europe. There are some absolutely incredible composers in NZ, and it feels really good to share their work with the European music community - healthy cultural exchange as thanks for me being able to live and work here!
In the next couple of months I will also be working with the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Junior Orchestra - they're tiny people, but amazing - and I'm really looking forward to being part of the Christine Collins Young Artist Programme at Opera Holland Park this summer. I'll be doing a performance of Delibes' Lakme on July 27th. I can't wait!

Keep up with Holly Mathieson on HELLO STAGE!
Author: edited by Nina HELLO STAGE
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