Mind the gap: supporting graduate musicians

Making the jump from conservatoire to concert hall is never an easy step, regardless of talent or training. Conductor Claire Lampon explains the challenges for emerging classical talent, and why she co-founded the London Graduate Orchestra.

I’ve always been astounded by the amount of musical talent that can be found in London. It has a force that seems to cause great musicians to gravitate towards it, creating a unique hub of electric and energetic creativity.

Young musicians graduating from the world-class conservatoires and universities of London are a substantial source of this passion and energy, stemming from the incredible performance and compositional opportunities offered to them at their institutions, alongside the extraordinary teaching on offer.

However, there is a gap between this land of opportunity at degree level and the ultimate goal for many of these young musicians, that is, to hold a regular seat in one of the world-class professional orchestras of London.

Of course, this is inevitable due to a number of factors, namely the abundance of musical talent emerging from conservatoires and universities compared to the small number of orchestral places available at any given time. It can be difficult for young performers to find regular, high-class performance opportunities once they’ve graduated.

Similarly, young composers can find it difficult to merely source opportunities for new commissions, let alone workshops or performances of their new work. Conductors can also struggle to find work and opportunities to continue to hone their craft at the high level they have become accustomed to.

This is not to say that these opportunities do not exist – of course there are many schemes established by the world-leading London orchestras and organisations which provide opportunities for young musicians.

But what’s missing is a regular, high-class outlet for their musical creativity, an ensemble that is formed solely of the next generation of musicians, enabling them to work collaboratively to hone this energy and passion for what they do through a single orchestra.

LGO musicians in rehearsal
LGO musicians in rehearsal

My colleague Kemal Yusuf and I co-founded the London Graduate Orchestra in order to address this gap. The LGO not only offers performance opportunities to the finest young talent in the capital, but also provides opportunities for young composers to have their music commissioned, workshopped and performed by LGO musicians, encouraging creative collaboration between these young artists (for example, through our new Chamber Series in June). Young conductors will also have the opportunity to conduct the LGO in open rehearsals throughout the season.

As a young female conductor, my situation is something of a hot topic when it comes to classical music current affairs. I have certainly come across resistance from established figures in the music world regarding my desire to pursue a conducting career, which are only heightened by the fact that I also conduct left-handed.

I had the pleasure of meeting Marin Alsop a few years ago in Bristol and spoke to her briefly about the subject. Her answer was simultaneously straightforward and inspirational: although it’s likely that I will be met with resistance from some, she said, this should not discourage my desire to pursue my goal.

LGO musicians in rehearsal
LGO musicians in rehearsal

My reasons for co-founding the LGO stem from my view that there’s a need for a vibrant, forward-looking and determined young orchestra to make an important mark on London’s thriving musical scene. Support for young talent is prevalent throughout the UK, but more emphasis could undoubtedly be placed on addressing the gender gap in the conducting field.

A programme such as the Taki Concordia Conducting Fellowship in the US, founded by Marin Alsop, is a great example of this. I suspect, and hope, that a similar form of musical support for young musicians in the UK will develop over time.

Following an open call, over 100 applications and three weekends of auditions, the LGO is comprised of around 50 of the best young performers in London. We are currently rehearsing for our inaugural concert on 8 March at St James’s Piccadilly, which will feature a new piece by Kemal alongside works by Schoenberg and Tchaikovsky. This concert will mark the start of the LGO’s debut season, and I for one can’t wait.