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March 22, 2016

How to be Australia’s youngest principal conductor

When he's not preparing for concerts like tomorrow's performance of Mozart at Elder Hall, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra principal conductor Nick Carter is ruminating on how cities aim higher when they have good art to show them the way.

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  • Words: Farrin Foster
  • Pictures: Andrè Castellucci

“I live in Berlin and that’s paradise, it is Utopia,” says Nick.

“It’s a city that is the size of, I guess, Melbourne – four and a bit million. It has three opera companies – and they’re not just companies that do three operas a year. I’m with the Deutsche Oper Berlin and we do 33 operas each year. Not every single night is sold out, but at the Deutchsce Opera we average 90 per cent or so – and that’s on a rainy Tuesday evening in the middle of winter.


Nick will be working in his role as principal conductor at the ASO between his responsibilities in Berlin and in the many other cities around the world where he has appointments and projects.

He will be conducting the ASO tomorrow – Wednesday, March 23 – in a concert of Mozart’s Horn Concerto no 4
and Shostakovich’s Symphony no 9 at Elder Hall at 11.30am.

“That level of interest is because education in the arts is taken so seriously over there, because they realise this is the way you cultivate a society. Interestingly, all great cities around the world have a great orchestra and a great opera company and it’s all tied into a flourishing cultural scene.

“What a thriving arts company does is provide a paragon of what thriving life can be in a city, in the same way that having a flourishing sports scene is also great for the city because it brings a real focal point to the city and a sense of community too.

“It affects the way we make all decisions around the city – whether it’s architecture, new buildings being built – it’s all part of educating our aesthetic taste and the less understanding we have of great aesthetics from the past the more we’re going to make bad decisions in the future.

“We need to cultivate our decision-making process through interaction with the greatest minds in humanity – and those are the minds we reach through the arts.

“At the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra (ASO), there are different concert formats we’re exploring to engage new audiences and also to acknowledge that there are different kinds of audiences out there for classical music.

“There’s not just the traditional Master Series subscriber audience who we want to expand, but there’s also the students – recent graduates with a new job and a new salary and they want to know how to live for the next 30 or 40 years in Adelaide and have a really enjoyable and enriching experience the whole time.

“When you have such greatness – an orchestra of 75 brilliant musicians playing week-in, week-out, we’d be mad not to want to share that with everyone. By sharing these experiences – that’s what makes it more rewarding for everyone.

“It’s interesting because usually I fly into a city and spend a week there with an orchestra and then fly out straight away, so I don’t have as much time exploring the city as I would like.

“Fortunately, with Adelaide, I’ve built up a relationship with the orchestra over the last couple of years.

“In 2014 there was a seven-week block where I was here living in an apartment block down on North Terrace. That sort of gave me the opportunity to feel the heartbeat of the city a little more and explore a bit – going up to Chinatown, North Adelaide and even up to the Barossa for a weekend as well.

“When something clicks like it seems to have done here in Adelaide – it’s not immediate, but the first time I conducted they thought I might have some talent so they brought me back for repertoire that was a bit bigger and it built and built. It’s just such a rewarding experience to bring music, great music – we’re doing Wagner and Mahler and Schumann as well – to bring it to people with an orchestra where you feel so at home and you’re not fighting for the next gig.

“It’s such a fulfilling experience so when they asked me to take this role there was no question.

“This orchestra has an extraordinary ability – they’re like a chameleon, whatever musical environment they find themselves in, they adapt themselves immediately. If we’re playing early Baroque music they have great stylistic taste to play that and they have real knowledge in that style and the ability to adapt their technique to play stylistically in the form.

“And then you put something contemporary on their stands – something written last week – and they have an amazing ability to sight read and approach contemporary music as well, and also the big hearty romantic repertoire – they have a real reputation for that as well because of the things they’ve done like The Ring Cycle.

“This orchestra can be that thing we need – to evolve as a civilisation and as a society we need to have a shining light – something that says this is the greatest, this is the finest, this is the most refined human beings have ever been and it inspires the soul.”


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