Return to Oz – Matthew Wood and the Darwin Symphony Orchestra

In 2005, Australian conductor Matthew Wood became an RNCM Junior Fellow in Conducting . After working extensively with UK orchestras, including the Bournemouth Symphony, he recently returned to his homeland to take up the position of Artistic Director and Chief Conductor of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra. Here’s what he had to say about his incredible journey…

Congratulations on your new position with the Darwin Symphony Orchestra (DSO). Why did this  role appeal to you?

The last few years of freelancing as a conductor have been amazing, but, after long and wonderful relationships with organisations such as the RNCM and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, I started to miss that sense of belonging. I like to build relationships with those I’m working with, and to share and grow together. As a result, I was actively looking for a project of sorts and had always intended to return to Australia at some stage – it was just a question of ‘for what?’ Then the position with the DSO opened and after I’d met all the wonderful people who make up the orchestra I felt my question had been answered. I was struck by the vibrancy and enthusiasm of not just the members of the orchestra, but of the people of Darwin and the territory in general. It feels like a place of great opportunity and diversity and it is an exciting time for all of us. The role of Artistic Director alongside Chief Conductor was also significant as it includes a variety of new challenges and stimulus for which I’m keen to explore. The only really gruelling thing about doing the audition in Australia was, and continues to be, the arduous 24 hours of flying to get there!

It’s great that you’re conducting the Darwin Symphony Orchestra at its first ever concert at Uluru. This must be added excitement for you?

The DSO is all about taking classical music to the people. We exemplify this with our tour to Uluru and Alice Springs this October, where we will be the first orchestra to perform at this iconic Aussie landmark, along with other projects we do in and around Darwin. This is an enormous undertaking. The Northern Territory is six times the size of the United Kingdom! However, music has always been itinerant. Musicians in the past, just as today, have always been on the move and I look forward to the challenges and excitement of bringing classical music to the people of the NT and beyond.

How do you feel about returning to Australia?

Australia is a pretty amazing place and Darwin is stunning. However, I do love the UK and really feel as though I had found my home here. I am very lucky to have some orchestras that will continue to regularly invite me back to conduct, mainly the Royal Ballet Covent Garden, so my life over the next few years will be a balance between Australia and the UK.

You were a Junior Fellow at the RNCM. Why did you decide to study in England and how did your choice aid your development as a conductor?

The RNCM’s Junior Fellowship in Conducting is renowned throughout the world as one of the best conductor training courses available, and I was fortunate to hold the position between 2005 and 2007.

The course is utterly unique and extremely successful in providing the student with the training required for successful entry into the profession. The quality of teaching is of the highest level, and paramount to the success of the course is the training that comes from highly regarded industry professionals such as Sir Mark Elder and Clark Rundell. This offers the student not only the highest level of training, but also an exceptionally important link to the industry as a whole, with close connections to organisations such as the Hallé, BBC Philharmonic and other leading ensembles.

Furthermore, the student is granted a large quantity of practical conducting time. Most institutions offering conducting are theoretically-based courses with little practical experience. The RNCM differs significantly, offering the student vast podium time and performance opportunities. It is an unusual day for a student at the RNCM not to be conducting. This is unique and makes the RNCM a leader in its field, producing highly experienced students that are prepared thoroughly for careers in what is a highly competitive profession.

This is why I moved from Australia and it’s a decision I’ve never regretted. The training I received at the RNCM prepared me to successfully audition for the post of Associate Conductor with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, something I held for a further three years.