Ludovic Morlot to perform at Harrogate Royal Hall with City of Birmingham Orchestra

Ludovic Morlot has worked with orchestras around the world. The acclaimed music director talks to Chris Bond ahead of his performance with CBSO in Harrogate.

Even though Ludovic Morlot had been playing the violin since the age of six, it wasn’t until several years later that he set his heart on a career in music.

“My love of music came quite late because my family isn’t musical at all. It was only in my late teens when I realised that I couldn’t spend a life without music in it. But I didn’t know if that meant playing, teaching or composing,” says the French-born conductor.

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In the end his curiosity about the structure of music scores pulled him towards conducting.

Ludovic Morlot conducting on stage. Credit: May Zircus, L’Auditori.Ludovic Morlot conducting on stage. Credit: May Zircus, L’Auditori.
Ludovic Morlot conducting on stage. Credit: May Zircus, L’Auditori.

Having studied at the renowned Pierre Monteux School in the United States, he went to the Royal Academy of Music in London and then the Roya College of Music as a recipient of the Norman del Mar Conducting Fellowship.

His career since has taken him all over the world. He has worked with the likes of the Berlin Philharmonic and the Boston Symphony and during his eight years as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony he pushed the boundaries of traditional concert programming, picking up a couple of Grammys along the way.

In 2022, he became Music Director of the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra and next month he’s back in the UK, taking the baton as City of Birmingham Orchestra (CBSO) performs an opening night concert at the Harrogate Music Festival.

“I’ve always felt very close to CBSO,” he says.

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Ludovic Morlot. Picture: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.Ludovic Morlot. Picture: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.
Ludovic Morlot. Picture: Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.

“I’ve performed with them many times going back 15 years or so. It’s one of the UK orchestras I’ve worked most regularly with.” Which brings him to Harrogate’s Royal Hall.

“I haven’t been to Harrogate but I’m looking forward to it. It’s always fun to discover new audiences as well as new spaces.”

The 50-year-old has worked with such renowned figures as Sir Colin Davis in London and Bernard Haitink.

“I don’t think there’s one conductor I haven’t learned from. I was lucky enough to be an assistant long enough to see a lot of different conductors and see what works, and what doesn’t, and I think that’s how you create your own voice as a conductor and your own identity as an artist.”

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The role of a conductor can seem mysterious and baffling to the untrained eye, but Morlot likens it to being the coach of a sports team.

“We work a lot in rehearsals like a sports team does in training. We polish as much as we can so that when we reach the concert the players can give the best of themselves.

"That’s how I see my role, as someone who is there to help and support so that each player can perform to the best of their abilities. I don’t see my role as telling people what to do. I’m part of a team.”

He says there’s no magic recipe when it comes to what makes a good conductor.

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“What one orchestra thinks is a phenomenal conductor another might not bear working with. If there was a recipe I’d like someone to give it to me.

"But I would say a good conductor is one who listens and someone who is open minded and curious to learn something from the orchestra every day.

"That’s more important than someone who has a beautiful technique, or is very charming on the podium.

"Those things can be very important but for me it’s about growing, listening and learning.”

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Classical music isn’t necessarily associated with adrenaline rushes, but Morlot says there’s nothing quite like being on stage with an orchestra.

“It’s one of those moments where I forget where I am and who I am. It’s like time stops. It’s a bit like sport with that adrenaline rush. In a concert you can’t go back. If you make a mistake it’s more about how you can fix it or live with it.”

His passion for classical music runs deep and he believes it’s in rude health having learned from past mistakes.

“I’m very optimistic. We’re always going to need those great paintings and great books and great concerts. I think it’s doing better than it ever has in terms of accessibility. In the orchestral world I think we have been our own worst enemy in a way by wanting to make it very exclusive at some point in history. If you think of the 80s and 90s we made it very exclusive, so you had to dress up and to know what you were going to experience. We made it very intellectual and I think now it’s much more about how it can touch people emotionally.”

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He also thinks classical musicians can learn from other music genres.

“When I was in Seattle I became quite close to members of rock bands like Pearl Jam. I went on tour with them as a VIP backstage and I saw the level of adrenaline built up before they go out on stage and I think we can learn something from those guys. I think it would be more exciting to see orchestra players go out there and do a dramatic solo. I’m very close to Mike McCready [Pearl Jam’s lead guitarist] and commissioned him to write a piece for the orchestra in Seattle when I was there.

"Mike was telling me his dad would take him to see the local orchestra and this was the first music he heard.

"So they have tremendous respect for what we do and we have tremendous respect for what they do. There’s only good and bad music as Duke Ellington said, right? We just have to decide what’s good and what’s bad.”

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra concert at the Royal Hall, Harrogate, June 8, 7pm. For tickets visit Home - Harrogate International Festivals or call the box office on 01423 562 303.

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