This 11-Year-Old British Boy is Set to Make his Conducting Debut (Video)

Thursday, March 16, 2017 - 02:08 PM

Matthew Smith, 11, is set to conduct 'Die Fledermaus' in April. Matthew Smith, 11, is set to conduct 'Die Fledermaus' in April. (Nottingham Post / SWNS.com)

While his fellow 11-year-olds are playing video games or daring one another to eat stomach-churning food combinations, Nottingham elementary school student Matthew Smith is dreaming of conducting his own orchestra.

On second thought, “dreaming” is a bit too passive a word and takes away from the steps that he’s taking towards reaching his goal. He already plays five musical instruments — violin, viola, piano, drums and guitar — but was inspired to take up conducting after seeing a video of an Uzbekistani boy leading a performance of Johann Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus. Smith fell in love with the music, and four years later he can conduct it from memory. Next month, he’s putting that skill to the test; Smith is scheduled to head a concert performance of the work, with the 75-piece Nottingham Symphony Orchestra under his baton. And if conducting doesn't work out, no worries — Smith's backup is to become an engineer. You’ve got to admire those priorities.

Derek Williams, Smith’s teacher and the Orchestra conductor, says the boy “is doing some good things and has a ways to go yet…but the orchestra is very supportive of what he’s trying to do.” At age 11, Smith’s debut will spark conversations surrounding the question of the world's youngest conductor. The discussion was previously on the tip of tongues after a 14-year old José Ángel Salazar conducted the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra in 2012.

Johann Strauss might be Smith’s first love, but we wonder if he’s read a different Strauss’ golden tips for young conductors

Check out this exclusive feature from the UK’s Sky News, for comments from Williams and Smith himself.

British tabloid Daily Mail also received footage from one of the Orchestra's rehearsals, with the young maestro conducting. Take a look:

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Comments [4]

Jean from New York

Yes, Maazel should be mentioned whenever discussing young conductors; see http://pabook2.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Maazel__Lorin.html .
According to this site, a concert he led when he was 8 with the Idaho University Orchestra was very favorably regarded by a NYT critic. "He was also a guest conductor at NBC Symphony at Arturo Toscanini’s invitation when he turned eleven in 1941." At age 12, he conducted the New York Philharmonic.

That's not to say we shouldn't admire and encourage other young conductors!

Mar. 23 2017 12:37 PM
The Baron from Long Island City

This talented boy is getting off to a nice start and all music lovers should wish him well. I hope that he doesn't become too discouraged, however, when he realizes that there is a lot more to conducting an orchestra than keeping time and getting the musicians to play together. Just getting them to start and finish at the same time is quite an accomplishment in itself. I also hope someone has told him that in order to be in the top rank of conductors he will have to be fluent in German, Italian and French, at a minimum.

Isaac Stern once said that a great conductor should be able to convince the orchestra that he knows more about music and how it should be played than all the members of the orchestra put together. Of course it is even better if it happens to be true. If it is not, the musicians will be able to discern it in very short order, as will a sophisticated audience.

Yuja Wang tells about the time when Claudio Abbado once advised her at the end of a rehearsal that it would be better if she refrained from using the pedal during a particular measure in the score. (One measure!) Her comment was, "If he could hear that, well ... " (She was too amazed to finish the sentence.) Now THERE was a conductor.

If young Matthew Smith wants a jump start on his education as a conductor I would advise him to watch the YouTube videos of great conductors leading their orchestras, especially in rehearsal. The videos of Herbert von Karajan and Leopold Stokowski are priceless but probably my favorite is the video of a very disappointed and annoyed Leonard Bernstein stopping the Vienna Philharmonic (in Vienna) during a rehearsal of a Mahler symphony and telling the musicians (in German, of course), "This is not Mahler." They all squirmed in their chairs and looked down at their shoes because they knew that Bernstein was probably the greatest living conductor of Mahler at the time and that he was right.

If you are reading this, Matthew, make sure that you get a first-rate musical education that will serve as a solid foundation for everything that a conductor has to know. Listen to classical music on the radio and in recordings, attend concerts whenever you can and remember that it's all about the music and the composers. Good luck, young man.

Mar. 20 2017 04:12 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

Best wishes for the start of a noteworthy career. Here's hoping Matthew will continue his studies and acquire greater proficiency in rehearsal skills and score reading. Re sousafan's comment about Lorin Maazel's conducting debut, if my memory isn't faulty, I think his debut was with none less than the NBC Symphony Orchestra. He was, as commonly known, a music director of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

Mar. 19 2017 10:28 AM

Nice story and I wish him well! I believe the late Lorin Maazel made his conducting debut at age eight or nine leading a major orchestra, perhaps Pittsburgh?

Mar. 16 2017 03:24 PM

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