‘I loved Liverpool from the first day’ - Exclusive Q&A with one of world’s best conductors Domingo Hindoyan

The new chief conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has revealed his love for the city and excitement about taking on the new role.

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Domingo Hindoyan at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. January 2020. Photo by Mark McNultyDomingo Hindoyan at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. January 2020. Photo by Mark McNulty
Domingo Hindoyan at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. January 2020. Photo by Mark McNulty

Domingo Hindoyan, one of the world’s most innovative young conductors, starts his job at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra next month and has a packed programme of music.

Hindoyan, who has led orchestras around the world, will be conducting the Liverpool-based musicians at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 5 September as part of the BBC Proms calendar.

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The orchestra will appear alongside British cello sensation Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who won international acclaim after playing at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2018.

The full orchestra will be on stage for the first time in 18 months at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 9 September, starting with a concert from Sheku’s sister, talented pianist, Isata Kanneh-Mason. She is the Philharmonic’s Young Artist in Residence.

Venezuelan-born Hindoyan started playing the violin aged 5 in El Sistema, a hugely successful publicly financed, voluntary sector, music-education program, founded in Venezuela in 1975.

He later went on to study conducting in Europe at the Haute École de Musique de Genève, in Switzerland, where he met his wife, the soprano, Sonya Yoncheva.

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The 41-year-old conductor has spoken exclusively to LiverpoolWorld about his career, new job in Liverpool and taking over from outgoing chief conductor Vasily Petrenko.

What is it like stepping into Vasily Petrenko’s shoes – taking over the baton after his stint of 15 years with the Liverpool Philharmonic?

First thing to say is that it is a great honour to have this role with this amazing Orchestra and organisation – Vasily has left an amazing legacy!

I am extremely happy that we are planning to return to our concerts and see our wonderful audiences again.

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In Liverpool you have incredibly loyal followers – and this means there is big responsibility to take this on. I am looking forward to working with all the musicians, the choir, the youth orchestra and youth company, all the staff and volunteers that make up what Liverpool Philharmonic is today.

The last 15 years have seen so much happen and we will have exciting plans for the future which build on that foundation. It will be exciting and I just can’t wait to get to Liverpool next week – I have been waiting too long to get there now, I just want to get on with the job.

Domingo Hindoyan at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Photo by Mark McNultyDomingo Hindoyan at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Photo by Mark McNulty
Domingo Hindoyan at Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Photo by Mark McNulty

What do you like about conducting the Liverpool Philharmonic? Do you have a set time frame for how long you will be in the role?

I see many, many orchestras all over the world – but when I came to Liverpool for the first time something strange happened.

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I knew that they we relooking for a new Chief but I didn’t think that would be me at that time. It was another guest conducting concert in the diary but when I arrived something about the people and city hit me.

I felt totally at ease, I loved the city from the first day walking around (even though it was a cold January), and then I knew I really wanted to come back. Now, later, I find myself knowing I can explore more of the place, learn about its people and history, and what an amazing history this city has experienced.

The programmes we are planning we hope will keep our audiences happy and engaged – but we also want more and more people to come to hear us for the first time. This is the challenge we have ahead.

I don’t have a set time frame in my head – but we have so many plans (but they are still confidential so please don’t ask me too much) so that we can keep going for a long time.

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What drew you to conducting and how long have you been conducting?

I would say I have been a professional conductor since 2009. My family in Venezuela is a musical one and my father was a leader in the orchestra so there was always music playing. When I was very young I dreamed about playing the violin before I thought about being a conductor.

Do you have a special baton you use or any rituals before a performance? How do you cope with the pressure of performing in front of large audiences?

I have a certain type of baton that I use – but they do break so I have several of the same kind in my case.

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About rituals – I don’t have any. And if I did I wouldn’t say (he laughs) – but seriously, no I don’t have superstitions or special rituals as some performers do.

Once the concert is starts I don’t feel any pressure – honestly – because my head is full of the music we are playing and I and totally occupied by the music. It doesn’t matter whether the audience is large or small, always the music leads me through and there is no room to “feel the pressure”.

Of course, there is pressure before the performance – pressure to get all the work done in rehearsal, pressure to learn the scores before the rehearsal, pressure to get ready – but in the performance, no.

Domingo Hindoyan. Picture by Victor SantiagoDomingo Hindoyan. Picture by Victor Santiago
Domingo Hindoyan. Picture by Victor Santiago

You played the violin in El Sistema, how old were you when you started? What did it teach you, what would you say to those who claim it was a strict environment?

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I was just five years old when I started the violin in El Sistema. This education, I realise now many years later, was so important. The love of music, the discipline which had to be learnt, the passion of performing in an orchestra, so many things I know now we were given by being taught in this way.

I have many, many friends from my younger days – we are all in touch still and have this very strong bond between us. Later I knew I had to go on and I was curious to learn more so I realised I had to get to Europe. I came to Switzerland to study in Geneva and this really helped the next part of my development.

Yes, El Sistema was strict, but it has to be otherwise less will be achieved. Music has to be disciplined. Playing has to be disciplined. But the rewards come when the concerts are great.

Are you still very involved with the Geneva branch of El Sistema you set up in 2011?

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I am very much involved with the Geneva El Sistema project – I conduct them as much as I can even though I am often travelling. I go and see them whenever I am in Geneva and I keep in touch with all of the teachers. I brought some of the teachers from Geneva to Liverpool so that there could be a good connection and I hope that we can build on that further.

The sessions are all after school hours and it runs in a wide range of different communes in the Geneva area. I really enjoy visiting and seeing the children grow and develop each time – you can see their smiles and how proud they are of their own achievements.

Are you looking forward to working with Isata Kanneh-Mason – why?

I first heard Isata on the recording of the Clara Schumann Piano Concerto recorded with the orchestra here in Liverpool – and that was before I knew that I was coming here. I am delighted that Isata, as the Young Artist In Residence this season, will be playing the first Liverpool concert on 9September. She is a sensitive musician and of course I will be seeing her brother next week as Sheku is playing at the BBC Proms with us at the Royal Albert Hall. So my first two soloists will be siblings!

Domingo Hindoyan in action. Photo by Mark McNultyDomingo Hindoyan in action. Photo by Mark McNulty
Domingo Hindoyan in action. Photo by Mark McNulty
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You live in Geneva with your wife and two children, will you be living in Liverpool with your family?

Today I am travelling in Switzerland between my home near Lake Geneva on the way to conduct opera in Gstaad.

I am a Swiss citizen and have lived here for 21 years. Actually, I first met my wife, Sonya, while we were both students in Geneva. We now have two young children and for the time being they are settled here though, of course, they want to come to Liverpool too. We are a crazy family – both my wife and I spend so much time working outside Switzerland but we try very hard to make sure we have time together. The last few months has allowed time for us to be at home more and we realise it is important for the children for us to always make time together when we can.

Are you looking forward to connecting with the people of Liverpool?

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On my visits to Liverpool, I like the people because they are so friendly and keen to help. I feel at home straight away, I even understand most of their Scouse accents now! I know that the restrictions and social distancing have prevented many things happening but I hope that we can get back to “shaking hands” soon and I can’t wait to meet more friends in Liverpool.

We believe you are a Liverpool fan – have you had a chance to see the team play yet or met the manager or any of the players?

Well let’s say I am a football fan! I know your city has more than one team so I am worried about upsetting one of the sides. I haven’t met Jurgen Klopp yet but I really would like to. I think he is not only a fantastic manager but also when you hear him speak after a match, he always says just the right things. Just today colleagues on the staff at Liverpool Philharmonic told me they are looking at the rehearsal schedule to see if I can fit in football match this season – I am very excited about that!

Thank you LiverpoolWorld for asking me about my new job in Liverpool – I really can’t explain to you how excited I am!

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