In Conversation with Domingo Hindoyan – The Art of Conducting

Last week saw the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, under instruction of new Chief Conductor Domingo Hindoyan, present a World Premiere performance of Roberto Sierra’s Symphony No. 6 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

Now I’m not sure about you but when I think of an orchestra playing, it’s like watching a sailboat on an ocean. You see the boat being carried along with billowy sails but don’t appreciate the wind carrying the boat along – the orchestra being the boat and the conductor the wind leading them.

So what work goes into being a conductor – the master and commander of an orchestra? Musicvein had the privilege of sitting down with the RLP’s chief conductor, Domingo Hindoyan to find out.

Domingo welcome to Musicvein! Now, knowing your background as a violinist, was there a pivotal moment for you when you decided on conducting instead of playing in the orchestra?

I was lucky to grow up in a musical family as my father was a violin player, so as a child, I attended concerts every week. I always found a curiosity in watching the conductor, they were so mysterious to me. My father had a nice music library at home and lots of scores which I would eagerly read while actively listening to and following the music played.

Later, I travelled to Europe where I studied violin and there was a moment, I cannot say exactly which day, but I felt that I wanted more than the violin repertoire – instead of playing Brahms in the orchestra under great conductors – I wanted more, I wanted to conduct!

And so began your journey! So, when I listen to a piece of music, it’s like seeing a movie unfold, there’s all kinds of scenarios from danger to romance. As a conductor with your score in front of you, how do you tease that out of the musicians so that they are giving you what you can see and where you want to go?

That is a very good question because the music at first, it isn’t really sound, it’s written in black on the paper by the composer. It’s very important that the conductor and the orchestra understands the context of the piece they’re playing, and we really follow what the composer instructs on how the music will sound to the listener. 

This orchestra (RLPO) is made up of great musicians who have studied as much as the conductor, they have own opinion, they have their way, their sound and the challenge is to put all this energy and knowledge together to have one way – this is the great challenge a conductor faces every day, every rehearsal, to convince fellow musicians that this is the way we are to take. 

From there the conductor and the orchestra try to take the deep context of that music and express it in a way so that the listener with active listening can both feel with the emotions they have and the emotions they receive from the music. It’s very complicated, but leads to a very special communion in the concert.

Wow, well on the night of a performance as you stand poised and the audience go quiet, in that moment before you start, how does it feel?

It’s a moment of big concentration and exactly the moment when we say ‘On’, ‘Reset and On’. I have to feel the connection with the orchestra – I look at them, are we all ready? Are we all focused? I feel for the energy behind me in the audience, are they ready? Those 20-30 seconds are very very important, then we start.

Do you think there’s an element of ego in being a conductor?

That’s a very good question, I think the fact that you’re up on a podium alone and have 80 players in front of you and any amount of audience behind you, I think there is going to be an element of ego but in a positive way. 

It’s necessary to have conviction, to be convincing and to remove doubt. A conductor more than ego is a person with plenty of doubts! When I open myself to a score there is no ego there, there is only doubt – What? Why? When? Where? How can I do this? How can it sound? How can I build it? And it’s just a process of questioning and questioning. Even after the concert has finished, there is a lot of doubt.

Has it taken a long time to get there yourself? Do you feel strong and at a place where you’re very sure of what you’re doing?

I know myself and when I’m well prepared I feel very convinced and strong. If for some reason I’m not well prepared – that doesn’t happen very often I have to say (Ah, there’s the ego! which makes us both laugh!) – then of course doubts are more obvious and you can feel it in every musician. When someone is not prepared you can feel it before they even start to play or conduct.

I guess it’s like with anything you can always tell when someone is prepared over someone who is let’s say winging it. So, To baton or not to baton? That is the question!

(He laughs) Ah yes for me personally it is to baton. The baton is a symbol of the conductor, it comes from very ancient times but the most important are the eyes! There is a lot of connection with the eyes, seeking the energy of the orchestra – where is it coming? Where is it going? You’re moving around the orchestra and talking with the expression of the eyes.

Wow, I never knew that, I always thought it was the whipping of the baton! Tell me, what advice would you give to young conductors?

I would advise them to have;

  1. Patience
  2. Discipline
  3. Patience – again
  4. Go and follow other conductors to see how it works. 
  5. Finally to take care of their main instrument because it’s the main instrument that will afterwards give the material to be a conductor.

Tell me about your involvement with the project ‘In Harmony’?

Well, I grew up in Venezuela where we have an important musical education system called El Sistema. It’s general music education that includes everyone, even children from deprived backgrounds. They get to learn orchestral music and learn the disciplines. So, I’m planning on being very much involved in the ‘In Harmony’ project as it is similar to the one we have in Venezuela.

How does it feel to be a part of a project like that?

I feel it is a duty and a part of a Chief Conductor’s job, in a sense that apart from rehearsing/performing, rehearsing/performing you have an important responsibility of bringing the stage to the community outside of the concert hall.

Outside the philharmonic hall, we bring our knowledge, we bring culture, we bring art and all these composers to the community and more importantly the community bring the other way all the experience to the stage – it goes both ways. So that’s why a project like ‘In Harmony’ is important because you work with the children and the youth of the community of Liverpool, they will know that the Philharmonic hall is here for them – I want to work a lot on that connection.

Well I wish you all the best with that project. And finally Domingo, tell me what is the most unexpected thing to have happened to you while conducting?

Erm, Most unexpected thing? (he taps the table, wracking his brain). Well, I never had any animal come onto stage, no dogs all of a sudden, I’ve heard that happen to some colleagues they even had a donkey come on stage! But in my case? OK, it happened while conducting in Opera – a lot of unexpected things happen in Opera. I was conducting a performance and expecting a stage change but the stage was not moving and I’m thinking “but if the stage does not move I cannot really go on because what happens next, we need a new stage for!”, So we just had to stop and wait because the stage got blocked.

Also once while conducting a ballet, we had a one minute blackout in the pit because the light engineer made a mistake and blacked out the whole stage and orchestra! But the orchestra was brilliant and kept on playing! I was conducting with a little light from the audience, they could see a little bit of me but we kept going till the lights came on!

Well sounds like you handled both scenarios very well indeed! I’m certain that under your leadership, the RLPO will endure a great and exciting voyage.

Visit the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to find out what they have in store for the rest of 2021 and beyond.

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