as, in the words of Julie Andrews, it’s a very good place to start!
I am Michael Seal and I am a professional musician. For the last few years I have been trying to establish myself as a professional conductor, having been a professional violinist now for 20 years. I have been lucky so far – I have just been promoted from Assistant to Associate Conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, have conducted many great orchestras and have been involved with many fabulous concerts and projects. So how did I get to this point and why do I want to conduct?
It would be a lie to say “I always wanted to conduct”! I know some had a calling from an early age but with me that just wasn’t the case. From the age of 14, all I wanted to do was play the violin in a professional orchestra. It stemmed from watching the BBC documentary about life in the LSO, “Life of an Orchestra”. I couldn’t believe that people got to do what I loved as a job and travelled the world doing it. All of my efforts went into getting in to a pro orchestra and on September 7th 1992, I started as a member of the CBSO. I had got there and intended to play for the rest of my working life. But one day in 1999 changed all that….
Four of us were given the amazing opportunity of conducting the CBSO for one hour each, in repertoire of our choosing. Now, what would you do? Conduct a piece which you know they can play on their own or conduct a piece you know they don’t know that well? I’d had lessons at music college and conducted an amateur orchestra in a concert but this was going to be different! This was the CBSO……
I chose the riskier option – I chose Nielsen’s Symphony No.2, a piece the orchestra hadn’t played for over 5 years. After finishing my hour, I was exhausted but exhilarated beyond belief! I remember thinking at this particular moment, “just enjoy this, you might never do this again”…….
Well, it turned out I would do it again. After that day the CBSO gave me a Schools concert, and a Family concert and I then stood in for the Music Director, Sakari Oramo when he cancelled some concerts at very late notice. It was this that led me to be announced as the Assistant Conductor of the CBSO in 2005.
But after many years as a player, why do I want to become a fulltime conductor? For me it was all about the music. Even with some of the great conductors I often sat in my chair in the Second Violins wondering “why are you conducting it that way, why are you balancing it that way, surely it should be faster / slower” and occasionally with some conductors, “I can do better than that”! I felt I had something to give to the music and that if I wanted my voice to be heard, I would have to “put my money where my mouth was” and try to become a conductor. My musical thoughts were never going to be heard from within the Second Violins and there was no point moaning and groaning about things, I just had to do something about it for myself.
I intend this blog to be a journal of my experiences past and present, as well as my thoughts as I continue my journey towards my ultimate goal – the day I have to shut my violin case for good as my diary is too full for me to continue as a player. The next post will be about my next engagement – two days studio recordings with the fabulous Ulster Orchestra. And by a lucky coincidence, we will be recording a piece that is rather close to my heart, Nielsen’s Symphony No.2!