Q&A with Nathaniel Griffiths

APO's Joshua Clark interviewed our newly appointed New Zealand Assistant Conductor-in-Residence Nathaniel Griffiths as he commences his tenure with the orchestra.

Q. Preparing scores and developing knowledge of the orchestral repertoire is such a huge part of being a conductor. Tell us about your process in preparing for a performance?

I like to start by flicking through the score fairly quickly, to get a first impression. Some cursory research begins here too – I read about the composer’s life, whether or not there were any special circumstances around the composition of the work, and get an understanding of the time period the work is from. Once I have this general impression, I start marking the score. At the moment I’m using a lot of colour to help sort the information, but this depends on how complex the piece might be. There’s more likely to be crazy colours on a huge Strauss score than on an early Haydn symphony, for example. I mark my score a lot more than some of my colleagues I think – I use a different colour for entries, dynamics/expression, articulation etc.

I’m also gaining an understanding of the form and harmony whilst I do this, and I play different lines of the score on piano to start embedding the music in my inner ear. From all of this information comes the start of my interpretation – harmony, for example, can have a big impact on where/if I slow down or speed up.

Once I’ve come this far. I start listening to recordings. It’s really important (especially as a young conductor) to have a solid understanding of what I would call the ‘collective’ interpretation of a piece – developed through many decades of recordings, and passed down from teacher to student. By leaving this listening to later in my study, I’m trying not to influence my own interpretation. This listening also really helps me decide what I don’t like the sound of! The more I study a piece, the more questions come up – but this just helps shape my interpretation further.

Q. What do you look forward to most about working with our Musical Director Giordano Bellincampi?

There’s a reason that Giordano has been with the APO for as long as he has – he is a truly wonderful conductor, very passionate and knowledgeable.  His rehearsals are a real pleasure to watch; they’re extremely efficient, and of course he knows exactly what he wants for the music. One of the best things about assisting Giordano is that he’s also trying to shape your ear – he is always very genuinely interested in my thoughts on balance, interpretation, articulation.

Q. Is there a composer or work you haven’t performed, that you would like to?

I haven’t had the chance to do any Brahms yet – I’ve studied some excerpts in lessons, but never actually conducted any of his symphonies (or other works) with an orchestra. As a young conductor there’s SO MUCH that I haven’t done though!

Q. Who has had the biggest influence on your career so far?

Johannes Fritzsch has been my teacher and mentor for around six years now, and he has had such a significant impact on my career. I studied with Johannes in Hobart whilst I was finishing my undergraduate studies, and then undertook my Masters with him in Brisbane. I also frequently work with him in Australian Conducting Academy modules. He has such a compendium of knowledge, and is a wonderful and patient teacher. He is deeply admired by the musicians he conducts because of the respect and good nature he shows them – this is something I greatly aspire to.

Q. Best orchestral recording ever, GO!

The Jacqueline du Pre/Daniel Barenboim recording of Elgar’s Cello Concerto.

Q. What opportunities would you like to see in your journey beyond working with the APO?

I really love opera – some of my fondest memories to date come from assisting on various productions. I hope that my career brings more opportunities to work in the field!

Q. Which conductors do you love to study in terms of gesture and interpretation?

I really love watching Andreas Orzoco-Estrada (and also love the way orchestras play for him!) – especially his Dvořák and Beethoven interpretations. I love Claudio Abbado for similar reasons – his Mahler performances are absolutely incredible.

Q. What advice would you give to our up and coming musicians studying at high school and tertiary institutions?

I always try to make sure my practise (or score study) is considered and productive, and that I’m practising doing things the right way. My most successful colleagues don’t necessarily practise the most, but they do it efficiently and thoughtfully. Of course, if you’re practising efficiently, that leaves much more time to spend at the pub…!

Q. What has been the high point of your career so far?

Tricky to say – so many wonderful things have happened in the past few months, between becoming APO’s Assistant Conductor-in-Residence as well as being a part of the 2023/24 Australian Conducting Academy.

When I was assisting on the Queensland Conservatorium Opera production of Street Scene (Kurt Weill), Johannes had to leave suddenly before closing night. There were still a lot of border closures happening in Australia in 2021, and he was worried about not being able to make it home. Of course, the show must go on, so I was lucky enough to step up and lead the orchestra and cast in the closing night performance. Not without fault I might add, but I don’t think I’ll forget that evening any time soon.

Q. What is your favourite thing you do for yourself?

I’m generally a pretty sociable person, and often find myself out and about much more than I should be. My favourite thing to do for myself is having a quiet day to relax and regroup; whether that’s binging Netflix, sleeping in, going for a hike or some combination of the above.

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