Sir Simon Rattle has long said that a conductor is the only performing musician who does not have an instrument on which to practise.
But nowadays orchestras are bending over backwards to encourage and welcome young conductors, whether they are amateur ensembles anxious to tick the right educational boxes which will secure funding, or professional outfits who see it as their remit to reach out.
And the CBSO is going way down that road in its cultivation of ambitious young conductors.
One spin-off from the establishment of the remarkable CBSO Youth Orchestra is its sleek hand-picked Academy, with attendant conducting masterclasses taken by Michael Seal, CBSO associate conductor who has himself risen from the ranks of the parent orchestra’s second violins to become an internationally-acclaimed presence on the podium.
One of those masterclass hopefuls was Alpesh Chauhan, who has now won the accolade of being appointed the CBSO’s first-ever conducting fellow, a year-long professional development opportunity.
This will offer the fortunate young man unprecedented access to some of the best musicians in the world and Alpesh is thrilled at the chance he has been offered.
“I’m very excited at the announcement of this prestigious post with the CBSO and to be the first person to take it up. I feel extremely privileged to hold this position of learning, developing and working alongside my home team,” he says.
And this really is his home team. Alpesh’s family home is in Hall Green, where he went to the local primary school before going on to Handsworth Grammar School.
With the help of the Birmingham-based Young Musicians’ Trust he studied cello with Elaine Ackers, and CBSO co-principal cellist Ulrich Heinen, before going on to study with Uli’s co-principal CBSO desk partner Eduardo Vassallo at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music.
The 23-year-old is now close to completing his MA conducting course at the RNCM, whilst still keeping his musical roots in Birmingham firmly planted as conductor of the Bournville String Orchestra and assistant conductor (to Michael Seal) of the Birmingham Schools’ Symphony Orchestra.
Alpesh, who was an enthusiastic and willing presence during Andris Nelsons’ rehearsals and performance of last Thursday’s CBSO concert at Symphony Hall, tells me how he has come to this exciting stage in his career.
“I learnt the cello through the Birmingham Music Service, with Veronica Raven who was a goddess of the service. You have to remember that I come from a totally non-musical background where classical music was an alien concept and it was through Veronica Raven’s inspiring assembly back in Year 2 that made me venture into that alien world.
“ I suppose my interest in conducting started to surface as I made the transition from Birmingham Schools’ Concert Orchestra to Symphony Orchestra. I really was inspired by Peter Bridle at BSSO.
“ However, back then it was the stuff of dreams. So being interested in conducting was a terribly exciting prospect but still a lot to take in and I had so many questions.
“ It wasn’t until halfway through my secondary school education that I began conducting small ensembles at school and having a go. At the same time I was also a member of the CBSO Youth Orchestra and I put myself forward for participation in its first-ever conducting workshop with Michael Seal. And that was where it all began. My first-ever lesson was a public one after which I began being mentored by Mike.”
Alpesh is refreshingly enthusiastic about the world in which he is now moving.
“I’ve been privileged enough to meet some great conductors both at CBSO and in Manchester at the RNCM. At CBSO, Andris Nelsons really is a huge inspiration. His speed of rehearsal ensures that players are always excited while always performing at the highest levels – even in rehearsal. I can’t wait to receive mentoring and feedback from him as part of the fellowship. It’s something that I’m certain will aid my development.
“Also at CBSO I’ve been lucky enough to meet and see Sir Simon Rattle work and perform with the CBSO. Another Birmingham legend. His rehearsals were a lesson in rehearsal planning. His use of time was nothing less than perfect and his standards were always to match. Both Andris and Simon electrify Symphony Hall, leaving everyone involved (including the orchestra) buzzing afterwards.”
What does Alpesh expect to get from the CBSO experience?
“A lot! I’m excited to be receiving mentoring and feedback from the three main conductors - Andris Nelsons, Edward Gardner, Michael Seal – and to develop myself in reaction to that feedback.
“Also to be on hand for the orchestra to help with balance issues. I think this post will teach me so much about all aspects of conducting, including outreach work and seeing what goes on behind the scenes; something that Rattle, for instance, was and is outstanding at.
"I also look forward to being able to drive this world class sports car that is the CBSO – the amazing orchestra that I have grown up with.”