Orchestra Conductor: Brett Weymark

Brett Weymark studied singing at the University of Sydney and conducting at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music under Mats Nilsson, John Hopkins, Henryk Pisarek and Patrick Thomas. He has more recently continued his conducting studies in England, Europe and America. During the 1990s he performed with Opera Australia, The Song Company and Musica Viva, amongst others, as well as lecturing in the Theatre Department of the University of Western Sydney. He was awarded a Centenary Medal in 2001, for services to choral music.

In 2003, Brett Weymark was appointed Musical Director of Sydney Philharmonia Choirs, whom he has conducted in performances of Bach’s St Matthew and St John PassionsChristmas Oratorio and many cantatas, the Requiems of Mozart, Verdi, Duruflé and Fauré, Orff’sCarmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah and Jephthe, Purcell’s Dido and AeneasThe TempestFuneral Music for Queen Mary and Ode to St Cecilia, Tippett’s A Child of Our Time and world premiere performances of works by composers such as Elena Kats-Chernin. He has also prepared the choir for concerts with such noted international conductors as Sir Charles Mackerras, Charles Dutoit and Sir Simon Rattle.

In 2010 Brett Weymark directed the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in world premieres of works by composers including Peter Sculthorpe, toured with the choir to London to appear in the BBC Proms and conducted the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra and the contemporary Indigenous ensemble Black Arm Band. Under his direction, the choir was awarded an 2010 Helpmann Award for it’s part in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex andSymphony of Psalms directed by Peter Sellars and was nominated for a 2010 Limelight Award for his production of Purcell’s King Arthur. In 2011 he opened the Sydney Philharmonia season with Bach’s St. John Passion and conducted the Sydney Symphony as part of the 2011 Sydney Festival in Midsummer Shakespeare with Australian actor John Bell.

Later this year Brett will be appearing as Guest Conductor at the following performances:|
· Die Fledermaus, WAPPA, Perth 15-22 Oct
· Messiah, Canberra Choral Society 17 Dec

Describe yourself in 3 words: Hardworking, Organised and Passionate

What is your life motto? Several: Music is about the people you make it with.  There is enough room for all of us in this world so be grateful for difference.

It is more about the team you build around you than the individual skills of the people involved.

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful? There have in reality been two main careers for me. Firstly as a singer that started professionally when I was 19. As I sang more, I realised the less I knew and around the age of 21 started to seriously pursue singing. I dropped my law studies and enrolled in music at the University of Sydney.  Following the death of a close friend in my late 20’s, I decided life was too short not to try and pursue one of my dreams of being a conductor and I enrolled in a Masters of Music at the conservatorium in conducting.

How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? You never stop thinking about music and you never really feel prepared enough for any performance so it is endless. There is always more to know whether it is the actual notes on the page or about the person who wrote them or where the first performance occurred or the language in which the piece might be written. But on average, combining administration, study, practice, meetings, rehearsals and performances, I sometimes work about 10 to 14 hours a day. The difference now is that I realised you need downtime and you need to make sure the body is fit for work. As one approaches forty, I have to take more care of the physical aspects – exercise, diet and sleep. Read more books and answer less emails!

Describe how difficult the business really is? You are always dealing with groups of people whether that is a choir, an orchestra, an audience or a board. So as much as we think music is all about being an artist, the reality is you are only as good as the people around you and the amount of preparation and study you have put into the work. Many decisions in the arts come down to money and budgets so every idea you have has to be rigorously defended, argued and altered until it comes to fruition. The arts are under recognised, under funded and under supported in Australia and will always be while we feel the need to defend what we do or terms like elitist are constantly part of the argument.

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Not so much a mistake but a wish that had I not been so scared of the unknown when I was younger, I maybe would have travelled more and possibly studied overseas. I often went with what I knew and what felt comfortable. Caution is important and knowing one’s own limitations, but at the same time the greatest lessons come from the greatest risks. The other is to not be afraid of conflict. Confrontation is always going to occur and rather than pretend the problem will go away, it is better to deal with the issue with speed and tact. Know what you want and be prepared to fight for it.stead of arguing about whether the arts are important or not, it would be good to have the argument and discussion about the work itself. 

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Let them know who is boss! That is, if you are in charge say as Artistic Director or conductor, it is your reputation and hence livelihood on the line. People expect a certain amount of leadership. Don’t be afraid to stand up for your values. That is what you are being paid for.

In your mind, is formal training essential? In my field, yes. Technical ability in an instrument, voice or conducting is essential but inspiration and passion cannot be taught but without knowledge and preparation, they are meaningless. 

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? Many conductors start as an assistant to a more established musician, but the reality is at some stage you have to take the podium and be in charge. Once you are in this career, you can glean advice and insight from other conductors but the reality is we work mostly in isolation – there are rarely two conductors in front of an orchestra! 

What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Look into all that is on offer from internships with symphony orchestras to local opportunities with amateur choral groups. Conduct as much as you can. Take every gig that is offered to you when you are young – it won’t kill your career but be careful when accepting your first professional gig – is it the right time? Travel. Learn languages and listen to as much music as you can. Improve your skills and be critical of what you need to learn. Once you start conducting, there is precious little time for yourself. Go to as many rehearsals with good and bad conductors as possible. They all have something to offer. Play for as many teachers of singing, violin and other instruments as possible – you will learn the repertoire and hear valuable advice. Go to theatre, opera, art galleries and dance.

What kept you going when you felt like giving up? In many ways, the next gig always keeps you going. If the work dried up, I am not sure what I would do. To a certain extent, the need to earn a living is a motivation. It is very hard to be a musician if you don’t have money to buy recordings, music, lessons, travel and go to concerts. But above all, you can be very low, nervous and feeling like it is only a matter of time before people work out how untalented you really are, but the music is the medicine. The music keeps you going. If that passion died or became routine, then I would have to consider another profession. It is not worth the stress, sacrifice and time. Music is the reward for all the hard effort.

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? I certainly was lucky to be seen at one of my first concerts as a singer by a well established conductor who offered me a job and then at the conservatorium, I become the assistant to the right conductor whose job I took over when he left to return to Europe. But in this career, every time you appear in public, it is an audition. You never know who is in the audience so you cannot afford to risk being underprepared or physically not fit enough for the performance. Better to cancel.
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