by Sarah Kim
Have you ever dreamt of being part of one of the most elite orchestras in the world? For conductor Nicolò Foron, this dream is now a reality – and as a fellow conductor, I wanted to get in his head and understand how he was thinking and feeling as he prepared, took the podium, and ultimately won one of the most prestigious conducting jobs out there.
Italio-German conductor Nicolò Foron will be the Assistant Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) for two years starting in the 2023/2024 season, after winning the LSO Donatella Flick Conducting Competition.
This wasn’t Nicolò’s first rodeo – he has worked with several professional orchestras before in both performance work and competitions. When I asked him about his experience competing in the Donatella Flick Competition, he shared, "This was definitely the biggest one and what I remember most vividly is just how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t feel like I needed to prove myself.”
He continued to emphasize that he was able to just be present, have fun, and enjoy the music. Easy enough, right? (Ha… not!)
Conducting competitions are a unique environment for music-making, even in terms of structure: You’re allotted a strict amount of time to rehearse and perform a list of repertoire, with an ensemble that has been playing the same repertoire all day with the other candidates, all while knowing you are being judged closely by a panel of distinguished professionals you only want to impress.
There are so many opportunities for getting in your head and removing yourself from the sound, and you might also be strategizing your pacing – for the current round, and if you progress through to finals…
But this time around, Nicolò was elated to share: "I was not thinking about that at all. I didn’t visualize the final rounds before going into it, I just went in doing music. I was super grateful for the outcome, and I think that showed that I just enjoyed it." It was also a helpful reminder to himself that he has “the easiest job out of everyone” because “the conductor technically does not make any sound” or has to worry about playing in tune and getting all the notes!
Most of us can probably relate to the challenge of being present and focused on the music, in any type of setting. Since this is something Nicolò was able to grasp, I was curious about what part of his preparation allowed him to successfully maintain this mindset:
“I think I changed during the week of competition. It has been a very interesting path... During competition, as musicians, we all know that the mindset is quite tricky. The week before, I basically didn’t prepare anymore. I just started playing piano – lots of beautiful pieces. And I went for a lot of long walks. I had a group of friends who would call or text me during the day, to sort of keep me in the right mental state.”
I asked if this week was a turning point for him or if it had been a gradual process getting to this point. He related it to his development as a musician, conductor, and human being, and coming into his own.
Nicolò started by sharing, "Music comes from a heritage: You take a lot of things from older generations. It is difficult to juggle development with reflection and criticism." He has had several teachers and mentors: “At some point I realized that I was almost shifting between them. I was becoming so good at imitating certain people or types. But I’ve graduated, and I think what really helped me was this time not being a student anymore.”
One key distinction he pointed out was that you can imitate and learn technique all you want. However, imagination is so crucial to bringing music to life, and this skill has to come from within yourself.
Engaging with the world around him has been inspiring to Nicolò in this regard – the “human” element, as he called it. He shared that he is constantly inspired by nature and strangers on the bus. As part of this, Nicolò expressed: “I do think my character has grown with conducting, and conducting is purely about character. It’s a very human job in such a human role. And it took many years to form into this way.”
As we both reflected on the ‘human’ aspect of the role, and how his personal development played a part in his success with the LSO, we got a bit more vulnerable: “As a musician, you’re emotionally very close to a breaking point when you do music, especially the further you go, like a performance. It’s very difficult to deal with emotions at a high level, and I think I managed very well this time and will try to keep it up.”
When I asked Nicolò what he is most looking forward to in being the new Assistant Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, he chuckled.
“It hasn’t fully hit me yet. I’m very humbled and looking forward to learning from the musicians. I’ve looked up to these musicians all my life, so it’s wonderful to have the opportunity to learn from them and be in a position where I can observe rehearsals and work with them. I’m very much looking forward to the next two years, and I think by the end I will definitely have changed."
Nicolò’s answer to this question did not surprise me at all. He is so rooted in growth as a human being, and hearing about the ways he incorporates this into his daily life was inspiring. As devoted artists who are often so focused on our studies, practice, and perfection – sometimes we need to remember to allow ourselves to take a step back and go for a long walk in order to propel ourselves forward.
Congratulations, and thank you to Nicolò Foron, Assistant Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.