Cumbria’s got talent

Feature Musician March 2019: Conductor Leon Reimer

This month’s feature musician is a Scottish-based musician with a strong connection to Cumbria as conductor of both our own Cumbria Youth Orchestra and the City of Carlisle Orchestra.

What’s your job? My job is that of a Conductor, but the definition of this role varies greatly from job to job. I currently work as freelancer across Scotland and Northern England and so my work takes me to many different geographical locations but also to many different sets of requirements. This ranges from working with children and adolescents in youth and community choirs/orchestras to working with other professional musicians. In each case it is my responsibility to encourage the best possible musical outcomes from the ensembles I work with. How I go about this varies greatly from ensemble to ensemble as does the amount of additional responsibilities that each job requires.

What instruments do you play? I grew up playing the Piano and singing in local youth choirs from very early on. A little later in life I was desperate to learn how to play the French Horn, but I was encouraged to play the trumpet instead as it is a much more straight-forward instrument at beginner level. I carried on playing both instruments and singing well into my time at University. Today, I still regularly sing in choirs and play the piano but haven’t picked up my trumpet for a few years now due to my focus on conducting.

How and when did you first become interested in music? One particular event that I remember to be significant was when my parents took me to see Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in Berlin. I must have been about 10 years old at the time and so this wasn’t the first time that I had been to a concert like this, but I remember being completely overwhelmed by the experience. From the passion for the music from the musicians of the orchestra and their conductor to the glorious acoustics of the Berliner Philharmonie Concert Hall, this concert left a real impression on me. What I remember is likely to be a greatly over-romanticised version of the actual event, but I do remember being in awe of all those talented musicians on stage and the wonderful music being produced by them. (Which in this case was Debussy’s La Mer, a piece that has remained close to me ever since).

How did you start your career in music? I received my first conducting tuition from Steven Lloyd-Gonzalez while I was still at school but when I left school, I wasn’t fully set on seeking a career in music yet. I began University by studying Politics, Economics and Music but involved myself heavily within the music scene at the University at the same time. My conducting only really took off when I was invited to become the next Music Director of the University’s Wind Band, during my second year of studying at the University. It was also around this time that I began receiving regular conducting tuition by James Grossmith, then the Chorus Master at Scottish Opera. Shortly afterwards I spend a summer in the beautiful country side of Maine in the US, under the tutorage of Kenneth Kiesler, studying conducting with about 20 other conductors each at very different stages of their careers. It was a very intense summer but ended up being one of the most inspiring experiences of my life. And so, it was after this course that I decided to seek a career in music. When I returned to University that summer, I began to seek initiatives to get as much conducting experience as quickly as possible. I became the conducting scholar of the University’s Chapel Choir and, together with some other like-minded friends established a string orchestra and an opera group which I conducted during my last years at University. When my time at the University came to an end, I was fortunate enough to be offered a place to study for an MMus in conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland under the expert guidance of many notable conductors such as Garry Walker, Martyn Brabbins, Sian Edwards, Christopher Seaman, Jean-Claude Picard, Jessica Cottis and Alasdair Mitchell.

What’s the best thing about being involved with music? That is a difficult question and depends on so many factors. I think this is because music is such a subjective experience. Everybody experiences it differently and everybody has different preferences. Music is fundamentally an experience made up of relationships. Whether it’s between the artist and the listener, between the composer and the interpreter or between teacher and a pupil. It is an art form that is very much alive and never standing still. I deeply cherish these relationships and the joy that they can bring and, as a conductor, I quickly learned that it is vital to have good social and communication skills in order to work effectively with others. Conducting is essentially an interactive activity. Conductors spend hours preparing scores and practicing at home but when it comes down to it no audience would come to a conductor without an ensemble there to play the music! Conductors need other musicians to work with and so it is a social job through and through. So, if I were to try and put my finger on what the best thing is about being involved in music then I would have to say that it is the collaborative experience of creating a musical outcome with other musicians.

What’s your most memorable musical experience? Every concert I have ever participated in has had its ups and downs. When I prepare for a concert, I immerse myself fully into that experience and so what came before or happens in the future is of little consequence to me at that moment in time. Music making happens in the present and I always try to give my best in every rehearsal and concert. I think I’m still at a very early stage of my career so if I were to allow myself to become overly nostalgic about past glory then I would allow myself to become complacent. It is important to me to keep pushing towards a more memorable musical experience and never to give up looking for them. Nevertheless, there are of course experiences that do stick out from the rest. This could be a performance, a rehearsal, my preparation of a score or even how well I slept after a particularly exhausting day of music making. One such occasion was a recent performance of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony with the City of Carlisle Orchestra. This is an emotional roller-coaster of a symphony whether you are conducting it, playing it or even just listening to it. We had worked really hard fine-tuning the interpretation of this major work and the result was one of those performances when everything just came together to create something beyond what we could have hoped for.

Do you have any other interests? Reading books, listening to podcasts, watching films, football, learning languages, walking the dog, enjoying a good beer or cider, spending some quality time with my better half Susan.

What are your top tips for young musicians? Music doesn’t just happen in the relative privacy of a practice room or your home. It incorporates so many different factors from all sides of life. Therefore, to truly perform music with any kind of authority we need to have curiosity beyond just the pages of our music. And I don’t just mean other forms of music or even other types of art. It’s everything from relationships, to sports, to reading a good book, to travelling and everything in between. Becoming a more educated individual and one with a wide range of interests will lead to you becoming a more fully formed human being which will greatly enhance your ability to perform music. So as important the rigorous practicing of music is, don’t forget to have a life!