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July 11, 2019

A symphony to say goodbye: Australia’s youngest conductor leaves the ASO

For Nicholas Carter's final concert this weekend, the principal conductor has programmed a work of "incandescent genius" to farewell the city that helped shape him.

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  • Words: Johnny von Einem
  • Pictures: Supplied
  • Image 1: Simon Pauly

This weekend, Nicholas Carter will take the stage at Town Hall for the final time as the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra’s principal conductor.

His tenure started in 2016, when he was drafted into the role at age 29 as the youngest principal conductor of any orchestra in Australia.


Faith & Beauty
8pm on Friday, 12 July and 6:30pm on Saturday, 13 July
Adelaide Town Hall, King William Street, Adelaide 5000


Speaking with CityMag ahead of his final concert, Nicholas reflects on the generous gift of having such faith placed in him by the ASO.

Conducting is a uniquely difficult form of musicianship to master; unlike a pianist, who just needs to organise 88 piano keys to sit in front of, practical development for a conductor requires organising, upwards of 100 musicians.

“You only improve as a conductor with time on the podium,” Nicholas says.

“Any young conductor is desperate to become a chief conductor or principal conductor of a symphony orchestra because you obviously just get to do so much repertoire.

“Adelaide was one of the first orchestras to say ‘This guy’s got some potential, so let’s build something up logically, increase the scope of the repertoire, the scale of the repertoire as well.’”

Image above by Christian Kaufmann


Not only has Nicholas’ expanded his repertoire while in Adelaide, he was able to experience just how multi-faceted is the role of conductor.

“Conducting an orchestra, you have to be a very fine musician and a very fine conducting technician, but also a very fine diplomat and a very fine psychologist as well, Nicholas says.

“It’s all about psychology, of a room full of be it 50 or 100 musicians, to shepherd them all in the same direction.

“People have got different ideas about how the music goes, but you’ve got to get everybody onto the one page and form some kind of interpretative unity. And there are numerous ways to do that.

“Some old-school conductors might have done that through terror and tyranny, back in bygone eras, that doesn’t exist anymore these days, or maybe only a handful of conductors behave like that these days. These days it’s much more about the encouragement or the charisma that you show, and the efficiency with which you work.”

Nicholas will end his tenure as principal conductor at the ASO with Austrian composer Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No.5, which is a piece “very close to my heart,” Nicholas says, not only because of Nicholas’ own connection to Austria, where he has lived for the last eight years, but also for its metaphorical weight.

“It ends with this enormous fugue – one of the most remarkable fugues ever written,” Nicholas says.

“A fugue is when you’ve got one theme, one melody, and then that’s going along, and then another voice in the orchestra places it four or five bars offset, and then the next voice three or four bars later joins it.

“What [Bruckner] does is he gets that and he inverts it, so he’s got this fugue, inverted at the same time, and he’ll have two or three other fugue themes being inverted the whole time. It’s incandescent genius.

“It’s the idea of these different elements coming together into this glorious finale, in order to define, perhaps, the relationship, which has been all of these experiences from the very first time I came to conduct the orchestra, and how we’ve grown together as an ensemble.

“To hear these interactions of voices all coming together to this glorious chorale, as it does at the end of the symphony, I thought that’s quite a beautiful metaphor for the relationship.”

As Bruckner’s fugue swells under Nicholas’ careful stewardship, the orchestra coalescing and filling the beautiful Town Hall, it will be a bittersweet farewell – but rest assured the precocious conductor will be back.

“I’m coming back next year at the start of the year,” Nicholas says.

“I’d love to keep coming back as much as possible. I feel very much part of the furniture, part of the family here, and we have such great rapport and a great relationship that I’d be keen to always call Adelaide home in that regard.”

Nicholas’ last performance as Principal Conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Faith & Beauty, is happening at 8pm on Friday, 12 July and 6:30pm on Saturday, 13 July. Purchase your tickets at the ASO website.


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