My job: Leading music to great heights

By Donna McIntyre

Pietari Inkinen leads the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for about 12 weeks a year. Photo / Supplied
Pietari Inkinen leads the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra for about 12 weeks a year. Photo / Supplied

Name: Pietari Inkinen.
Occupation: Conductor and music director.
Employer: The New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO).
Age: 30.
Qualifications: Graduate of the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and the Hochschule fur Musik in Cologne.It's crucial we keep this great culture and tradition alive for the next generation.

Describe your job.

The most important, of course, is conducting concerts. As music director, the job is to programme the whole season and invite guest conductors and soloists to join the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. A key responsibility is developing the orchestra in general - finding new musicians and developing the current ones. Elsewhere, as a guest conductor, I just decide my programme for that week - after that, you're done. Being music director is a totally different responsibility.

What is your background and how do you train/study to become a conductor?

I started to play the violin and piano when I was 4 years old in Finland. Violin soon became my favourite instrument, and I still perform as a violinist today. At 10 years old I entered the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki as a violin student. I started conducting lessons there with Jorma Panula, at age 14. I conducted my first concert with a professional orchestra when I was 15 years old.

After that, I studied for three years in Cologne and soon after I stepped in for a conductor who cancelled a concert with the Helsinki Philharmonic. That concert was a huge success, and launched my international conducting career. By that time I was also already a prize-winner of various violin competitions, including the International Sibelius Violin Competition. Soon my calendar was filled with conducting invitations I couldn't refuse. I would say that stepping in for another conductor in a big concert has been the start for many other conductors, as well.

On a performance day, what would be your daily routine?

First I start with a healthy breakfast and then there is usually a general rehearsal in the morning before concert. Then I eat some lunch and have a short sleep before the concert.

What skills/characteristics are needed to be a conductor?

Natural musical ability is essential, and having natural leadership. You must have the knowledge and understanding of the repertoire. It's important to have the physical technique and body language to get your musical ideas through to the musicians. You need rehearsing skills, to improve the standard of the orchestra. The first two cannot be taught - the latter three you can practice.

What do you think is your "signature" in the way you conduct?

That's hard for me to define. I just focus on the music at hand and try to make the most out of it.

Why is the job important?

The arts in general can enrich our lives tremendously. To hear a great, quality symphony orchestra live is an amazing experience that everybody should have. Especially in today's world, it's crucial we keep this great culture and tradition alive for the next generation to enjoy and appreciate.

What are the job's main challenges?

I would say there are two things: once you really get into this, the number of great composed works is huge and our time is very limited. So this career is about constant, never-ending learning. The other thing is, with your own orchestra you start to know the musicians better and better - but as a guest conductor, you meet 100 new people every week in different cultures and from different backgrounds and you must quickly reach an understanding and find a way to bring the music to life, together. Both of these things make this job far from boring.

What are the strengths of the NZSO? And what could it improve on?

The NZSO is a very responsive orchestra with many quality players. Our style, sound and music-making together are improving all the time.

There is a lot of travelling with your job? How much time do you spend in New Zealand, and how much overseas?

I spend roughly 10-12 weeks a year in New Zealand. The rest of the time I travel - guest conducting in Europe, Asia and in the United States. I spend 300-plus nights in a hotel a year.

The best part of your job?

Having the chance to get my hands on these wonderful pieces of music and performing them with great orchestras around the world.

And the worst part?

Jet lag!

Do you take any notice of music critics?

No.

What is on your agenda for this year?

This month I'll be conducting WDR-Symphony in Cologne, SWR Freiburg in Mainz and Strasbourg, the Hamburg State Opera orchestra, and La Fenice in Venice. In July I'll be back in New Zealand for a tour with the NZSO. Following that I'll be in the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. One of the most exciting things for this year is the NZSO International Tour in November, touring some of the greatest halls in Europe.

Is your role something that a young New Zealander could aspire to?

I certainly hope to see a young Kiwi in my shoes one day. We do have some plans to help young conductors in New Zealand take the next step.

- NZ Herald

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