Mark Heron has rapidly developed a reputation as an outstanding teacher of conducting. Currently, he teaches:
- at the Royal Northern College of Music (Junior Fellow and Masters conducting programme; courses for non-principal study conductors at undergraduate and postgraduate level; masterclasses for external participants; courses for music educators and student teachers)
- at the University of Manchester (an auditioned class who conduct student orchestras and ensembles; final year principal study students; 2nd year undergraduate course)
- for the Royal Air Force Music Service and Royal Marines Band Service as part of their professional development training for future Directors of Music
- at Sherborne (formerly Canford) Summer School of Music
- as a guest at various masterclasses and courses
Click on the links to find out more about these various activities.
I am fortunate to work with some extremely talented young artists. The RNCM has a long history of successful conductor training through it's unique Junior Fellowship programme, and Gergely Madaras is a fine example of that. He recently finished his 2 year period as the inaugural Sir Charles Mackerras Conducting Fellow at English National Opera, and is now Chief Conductor of the Orchestre Dijon Bourgogne and Savaria Symphony Orchestra in Hungary. Alexandre Bloch is Chief Conductor of the Orquestra Nationale de Lille and Principal Guest Conductor of Düsseldorf Symphoniker. Dane Lam is Chief Conductor of the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra.
Since its inception 10 or so years ago the College's Masters programme has rapidly become recognised as one a handful of elite postgraduate programmes globally. Graduates of the Masters course have gone on to be awarded the Junior Fellowship, and others have met with considerable success in competitions and assistant auditions. Courtney Lewis is assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic having held the same position with the Minnesota Orchestra, and has just finished his first season as Music Director in Jacksonville. Early in 2014, whilst still in his final year of the Masters programme, Alpesh Chauhan was appointed as the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's inaugural conducting fellow and assistant conductor. He has made a stellar start to his career, and will make his debut with the London Symphony Orchestra in a main season concert in early 2017. Jon Malaxetxebarria is forging a career with orchestras in his native Spain. Carlos Agreda Arango graduated in July 2017 and takes up the position of conducting fellow at the Curtis Institute of Music.
For some time it has seemed to me that the UK punches a long way below its weight in the training of conductors. I think it was thought for a long time that "one just became a conductor". I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to develop a programme for training young British conductors at undergraduate level at the University of Manchester. Since its inception in 2009 the results have been remarkable.
Duncan Ward (graduated 2010) is on the books of Askonas Holt; was assistant to Sir Simon Rattle and Conducting Scholar of the Berlin Philharmonic; and has made debuts with BBC Symphony, CBSO, RSNO, RLPO, Bamberger Symphoniker, Deutchse Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, NYO and many others. He is now principal conductor of Sinfonia Viva.
Jamie Phillips (graduated 2012) came to prominence in the 2011 Bescanςon Competition, reaching the semi-finals at the age of 20. He was then one of 3 finalists in the Nestlé Salzburg Festival Young Conductors Award (resulting in an invitation to conduct Camerata Salzburg at the 2013 Salzburg Festival), and signed by Intermusica. In June 2012 he was appointed assistant conductor of the Hallé Orchestra, and "upgraded" to Associate Conductor in April 2015.
Leo Geyer (graduated 2013) is currently a cover conductor at the Royal Ballet, and Artistic Director of the Constella Opera and Ballet Company. Jack Sheen (graduated 2014) is rapidly gaining an excellent reputation as a contemporary music conductor, having been selected for materclasses at the Luzerne Festival Academy, Britten Pears Young Artist Programme, and the London Sinfonietta Academy, alongside further studies in composition at the Guildhall. Robert Guy founded his own professional chamber orchestra in North Wales, and works with orchestras all over the north of England.
But what is it to teach conducting? Leopold Stokowski once said "Conductors are born, not made". So can you teach it, and if so, how? Well, that's not a question easily answered but I firmly believe that (as with other musical disciplines) the appropriate guidance from a skilled teacher can enhance and develop the natural ability and talent required of any conductor.
As with instrumental playing, there are many different levels to consider. A basic technique of direction can most certainly be taught, and for anyone working with ensembles in music education or community music making arguably should be - a bit like driving a car, it can be dangerous to let novices loose before they have learned the consequences of their actions! Beyond that, we are into a wide variety of skills which contribute to make up the complex package that is a successful conductor.
What I do not believe in is the production of clones. One can often spot a student's teacher from the way they conduct: for such an individual and personal activity I cannot see how copying the gestures of a stocky 80 year old man of 5 feet 6 inches height can help a 23 year old who is 6 foot 3 and as thin as a rake. But many would disagree...
My teaching is therefore influenced by the fundamental principle that each individual must develop their own language of gesture and the way the teacher can best help this to happen, initially, is by helping the student to get rid of what does not help, as opposed to imposing solutions that have worked for them, or their teacher. The next stage is to helpthe student to develop their own individual approach and physicality. This is not something which happens overnight, and it is not something which is black and white in terms of "Do this". I constantly remember my studies with the great Finnish conducting teacher Jorma Panula. Often he would say next to nothing, and what he did say appeared to make little sense at the time. Very often though, during a rehearsal weeks or months later, the penny would drop and I would finally understand what he was getting at. That process of self discovery is vital to the uniquely personal activity that is conducting.