Conductor Fergus Macleod
PUBLISHED: 20:57 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:01 20 February 2013
Brilliant young conductor Fergus Macleod has the whole world in his hands. Joanne Goodwin spoke to him about his career and his Shropshire life
Fergus Macleod attributes his success so far to being in the right place, at the right time, with the right person. And it is true that the list of those who have nurtured, taught and inspired his talent thus far reads like a musical Who s Who violin teachers Kathy Taylor in Shropshire and Kathryn Hardman in Bristol, the conductors Peter Stark, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Tadaaki Otaka, the Music Department of Shrewsbury School and its Musical Director John Moore, Chris Hirons at Cambridge and his manager and mentor Jasper Parrott to name a few.
But this is a man who from a very early age (he is still just 21) has taken control of his own
musical direction with the same strength and passion as he holds his baton. His biography is a musical maelstrom. He started to play the violin at the age of three when his family lived in London. At the age of six he moved with his parents Andrew and Kim and sister Rebecca to Shropshire where he studied with Kathy Taylor.
He joined the National Children's Orchestra while at Packwood Haugh Prep School and at
the age of 14, while a pupil at Shrewsbury, the National Youth Orchestra under the Japanese conductor Tadaaki Otaka: "That was when I decided what I wanted to do. He inspired me.
He treated us like any other orchestra and expected the same standards as he would from
"What was important to me was seeing how much joy he was able to give to so many people. The conducting world has been dominated by the great maestro figures - what they said went - but here was a man with no ego who let the audience see past him to the music - that is what conducting should be about."
He credits Shrewsbury School and particularly John Moore with giving him the "time and freedom to make music in an equal society". "The Music Department there becomes your
friend, there was time to discuss and I was allowed by John Moore to conduct the school
orchestra which was an amazing experience."
By the age of 15 and inspired by his successes with the National Youth Orchestra and at
Shrewsbury School he decided that "conducting was something I felt very passionately about, and realised that it was what I wanted to do with my life" and, baton firmly in hand, sent out emails to the "people who know most about careers in conducting - the agents". International artist manager Jasper Parrott of Harrison Parrott Artist Management picked up
the email and arranged a meeting. "He has been my mentor, it was another case of being in the right place at the right time with the right person," says Fergus.
While at Shrewsbury and now at Cambridge, where he is enjoying studying the academic side of music, he has been a driving force in establishing ensembles. He conducts the Cambridge University Music Society in the major symphonic repertoire, and is Music
Director of the new and cutting-edge contemporary Ensemble CB3. He has also conducted the National Youth Orchestra Composer's Sinfonietta and his first opera was Handel's Xerxes, for the newly formed Fitzwilliam Chamber Opera Company.
In August 2008 he was selected as one of only four conductors to work with Pierre Boulez at the Lucerne Festival Academy. He has also led performances at St John's Smith Square in London, the CBSO Centre and the Royal Northern College of Music, and, for two summers, the Consonance Players at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In January Fergus made his professional debut with the Tokyo Philharmonic.
This summer he travels to Aspen to study with David Zinman. He visits Shropshire regularly and enjoys the "exciting, innovative and inclusive" free concerts by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group at The Edge Arts Centre at Much Wenlock. The family home is at Great Ness. His father is a consultant at the Royal Shrewsbury, and his mother a physio at
Severn Hospice. His sister is also a medic but the whole family are musical. "Rebecca plays
the violin as well as me," he says. Beyond Cambridge his ambition is to become "as good a conductor as possible", to learn German and perhaps get an assistantship in the States.
"My mission is to become a conductor who will encourage audiences to embrace modern
classical music. The barrier to classical music used to be class, now that barrier is being
broken and I want to bring it to as many people as possible. "
"I would love to take the CBSO (City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra) and make it
known all over the world. Birmingham has the most wonderful concert halls and the whole
world should know about it. I want to bring as much music to as many people as possible and get rid of the exclusivity that has surrounded it. "
"If I could do anything... it would be to get a musical education for every school child, not
just for those who can afford it."
With Fergus Macleod conducting, it may well happen...
Fergus Macleod's Shropshire Life
Where were you brought up in Shropshire?
I was born in London but moved to Shropshire when I was six.
What is your family connection to the county?
We moved to the county 15 years ago when my father was offered a job in Shrewsbury.
How has the county and its people influenced your career and outlook on life?
I was lucky enough to go to Shrewsbury School for five years, and before that Packwood Haugh. Kathy Taylor taught me violin for six years when I first came to the county, and was key to my musical development. John Moore, the Music Department and Shrewsbury School as a whole had a big influence on me; not only as a conductor, but also as a person. I think what is special about Shropshire is that it is full of people with real passion, doing things
to the best of their ability. Their modesty is remarkable.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in Shropshire?
Right now having just finished a busy term at Cambridge; going for a walk in the hills with family and friends, finding a good country pub with local beer and probably playing some chamber music.
What would you do for a special occasion in the county?
For a very special occasion, dinner at Mr Underhill's at Dinham Weir, Ludlow is perfect. The food is amazing, and the service and setting is really relaxing.
What's the best thing about Shropshire?
The countryside and how proud the Salopians are of it.
And the worst?
How long it takes me to get to London.
What's the most underrated thing about Shropshire?
I don't know. I like the fact that it is underrated and lots of people aren't too sure where it is. It keeps it hidden, which makes it special.
What characteristics define a person from Shropshire?
Happy, content and modest.
What's your favourite view in Shropshire?
The view from the top of the Nesscliffe Hill.
Name three basic elements of the Shropshire.
Shrewsbury, hills and sheep.
What's your favourite Shropshire building and why?
I am a big fan of the new theatre (Theatre Severn), but it would probably have to be St Mary's Church in Shrewsbury because of the fantastic Jesse window. It's a really tough choice, ask me on another day and I would probably say something completely different.
What's your quintessential Shropshire village and why?
Nesscliffe: It's a great community, everyone meets at the village shop/petrol station, it has good walks, windy lanes, a warm pub with local ales and a cracking Chinese restaurant (Nesscliffe Seven) that you would never guess is there, not all is as it seems in Shropshire.
What would you never do in Shropshire?
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to Shropshire?
Don't worry about feeling like you have just arrived, it'll feel that way for the next 15 years!
And which book should they read?
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth; don't read up about the county just go out and explore.
Have you a favourite Shropshire walk?
The Stiperstones is difficult to beat.
Which event, or activity, best sums up Shropshire?
The Shrewsbury Flower Show.
To whom or what should there be a Shropshire memorial?
Well we have a few to Darwin, so what about Charles Burney? He was a really important
musician when it comes to the written resources he left for scholars. His writings were in a way the first encyclopaedia in music, certainly in English, and still are one the most important sources for music historians today.
With whom would you most like to take a Shropshire stroll?
It would have to be a musician. At the moment, it would probably be Christoph von
Dohnnyi, a pretty legendary conductor, or if I could bring someone back from the dead it would probably be the composer Olivier Messiaen - the greatest musical genius of the 20th century
Where's the best pub in the area?
Baschurch - The New Inn.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
I am not really the greatest fan of tea, but for a cup of coffee you can't beat the Old Market Hall in Shrewsbury.
Which piece of music best represents the county?
There is a song called Is my team plowing? by George Butterworth from a set of six songs using the text of AE Housman's A Shropshire Lad. It is simple yet sincere and evocative; I think it's the best setting of Housman's iconic text. I don't normally associate pieces of music with places but it seems to fit.