AYO Alumnus and Donor Matthew Coorey (AYO/National Music Camp 1990-94) is a conductor based in the United Kingdom. His recent seasons have included performances with the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, tours with the Palestine National Orchestra and a debut at the BBC Proms.
Tell us about one of your recent engagements.
A real highlight was a concert I gave in Istanbul for the centenary of the Gallipoli Campaign. The Bilkent Orchestra commissioned seven Turkish composers to write on the Gallipoli theme. One composer created a Prologue and Epilogue as well as series of interludes that linked all the other works together. It was a brilliant experiment and a great challenge do so much new music; the greatest honour was as an Australian being involved in something that is so no less important to the Turks than to us. I also had family involved in World War One and Gallipoli so it felt like something really special.
How did your conducting career begin?
When I started playing in youth orchestras, I became really interested in what the conductor did and I started collecting scores; my first two scores were ‘Rite of Spring’ and Mahler’s 2nd Symphony. My Dad was a doctor and on weekends after I’d played sport somewhere (with little enthusiasm!), Dad would do his rounds visiting patients and I’d wait in the car. He had a dozen tapes and the Mahler was the one that I really got into. What a place to start, eh!
I sort of taught myself to conduct at first by mimicking what I saw and after a while I auditioned for Seiji Ozawa who invited me to Tanglewood, where I worked with Jorma Panula who then became my main teacher. While I was playing in SSO Edo de Waart was a great source of encouragement and I think Mark Elder was the first Maestro to give me feedback on my work. I left Australia to take up a position as Junior Fellow in Conducting – under Mark Elder – at the Royal Northern College of Music.
How do you approach each conducting appointment?
I want to approach every piece I conduct from afresh and that’s true of orchestras too, to a degree. I try to explain my approach and the rationale behind it, so the musicians can see it in the same way. That’s the ideal – everyone approaching a work in the same way and hopefully with great enthusiasm!
I think conducting is a funny balancing act. I want to work out how to guide the players and be the ‘safety net’, but also allow them to be as autonomous possible. Often I’ll I ask an orchestra to play without me. The standard always rises! I jokingly tell the players I’m slightly offended, but it’s a good way to find what they can do as an ensemble without you and to find out what they really need from you.
You’ve also conducted many youth orchestras; what do you enjoy about working with young musicians?
Young musicians are always so enthusiastic – it’s such a buzz doing great things for the first time. It still is for me! It’s great seeing their confidence grow as they learn how to listen and trust each other. The biggest thrill is when you get them doing things they thought they couldn’t do.
Why do you support AYO?
So, I can attend great concerts! Also, music is such a collegial industry; during my career I’ve been helped enormously by the AYO community and many other musicians, so I appreciate the opportunity to give back a little.