Congratulations on your new job as assistant conductor at the London Philharmonic Orchestra. What are you looking forward to about working with them?
Well they’re a great orchestra, you can take that as a starter. They are very inquisitive and enjoy playing in a huge variety of different ways. So they have conductors like Vladimir [Jurowski] and Yannick [Nézet-Séguin] who are both completely different, for example, but they’re able to adapt to their different styles.
You founded the Aurora Orchestra in 2005 who recently received Arts Council funding for the first time as well as a Royal Philharmonic Society award. Why do you think it has been so successful?
The youth, the energy and the virtuosity of the players is very important and always has been. I think we take quite a fresh look at programming. We present concerts innovatively and so people get quite a different concert experience: not just the repertoire but the way we present it – a bit of fresh air. One thing we had to answer [to get Arts Council funding] was ‘Why support another orchestra in London?’ And our only answer could be, ‘Look at the work we’re doing, and that’s surely a completely different kind of way of engaging new audiences.’ That seemed to be an answer that worked.
Do you think the Kings Place residency helped you to explore more adventurous repertoire and programming?
We actually tend to do our slightly more innovative, adventurous programming at LSO St Luke’s and Kings Place has provided an unexpected benefit in terms of playing more traditional repertoire. This year, for example, we’ve been doing Mozart concerts as part of the Mozart Unwrapped series and musically it’s been tremendously helpful because it’s allowed us to show that we’re a very versatile orchestra. We can play contemporary music, we can play Baroque music, we can even do pop music, but at the core of it we can still play Mozart and hopefully play it as well as anyone.
With such a varied CV – from conducting a community opera at Glyndebourne last year, to Nico Muhly’s music recently at Kings Place – you seem to try your hand at every kind or music, but which repertoire do you feel most comfortable with?
I aim to try to be comfortable with everything. My overwhelming musical God in life has always been Bach and my top three would have Brahms and Beethoven in there as well. So I’m quite core in my repertoire – I’m certainly not a contemporary music specialist, never have been and I actually fell into it, to be honest. The Aurora did lots of stuff with, say, 15 players, and lots of that stuff happens to be contemporary music. But I feel like if you attack each piece or idiom with the same enthusiasm then that’s probably the way to go about it and that’s what I’ve done with contemporary music.
So with the LPO job under your belt, appearances at this year’s Proms coming up and a CD with the Aurora soon to be released, what’s next?
Aurora is the thing I give most energy to – and to be able to work in a relaxed environment with brilliant musicians on great repertoire is a wonderful benefit to me as a conductor. But I can’t just do Aurora all the time, I have to develop my career with other groups. My basic feeling about conducting is that I’m 28 and Colin Davis is 85 and that’s another 57 years if my maths is right. Conducting is a job that you can carry on doing and develop and get better at, the older you get. So I’m not really in a rush.
Nicholas Collon will be conducting the Aurora Orchestra at LSO St Luke’s on 10 July
Interview by Elizabeth Davis