It’s all about the ‘S word’ for young CBSO conductor Nicholas Collon (Sibelius, Schubert and Schumann that is…)

Nicola Lisle meets conductor Nicholas Collon ahead of his Oxford concert

When conductor Nicholas Collon arrived on the music scene fresh from Cambridge University it wasn’t long before he was being hailed as an exciting new talent. The Evening Standard summed up his appeal by describing him as “a born communicator as well as an innovative programmer, and high-calibre interpreter of a wide range of repertoire”.

He first grabbed the headlines as a 22 year-old when he and fellow conductor Robin Ticciati founded the Aurora Orchestra, a dynamic and virtuosic chamber ensemble that is now famed for its imaginative and diverse programming.

This quickly led to invitations to guest conduct for some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras, including the Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Academy of Ancient Music, Danish National Symphony Orchestra and many more.

One of the orchestras he has worked with on many occasions is the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, and tomorrow night he will be in Oxford conducting the CBSO in a quartet of stirring works, including Sibelius King Christian II Suite and Symphony No.7 in C, Schumann Konzertstück for four horns and orchestra and Schubert Symphony No.8 in B minor.

How, I wondered, did he come up with this selection? “Well, they’re all composers beginning with ‘S’, but that wasn’t the real reason!” he chuckles.

“The Sibelius symphony is a wonderful piece. It’s so concise – it’s one movement, only 20 minutes long and with extraordinary concision and power. In those 20 minutes he manages to create something that’s wholly individual and unlike any other symphony ever written, and so wonderfully colourful and powerful.

“The King Christian II Suite is a lovely, little-known piece. I adore conducting Sibelius.

“I’ve also conducted lots of Schumann. I have a soft spot for Schumann. I’ve never conducted the Konzertstück before, so that’s a nice opportunity. It’s an amazing piece, which showcases the four horns of the CBSO.

“Schubert’s Unfinished is one of the most beautiful, haunting bits of Schubert that there is. Both the Sibelius and Schubert symphonies are short, compact pieces that go together in the same half. So just four wonderful pieces, really.”

A musical career was more or less inevitable for London-born Nicholas, who was brought up surrounded by music. “My grandmother was my piano teacher and my mum was my violin teacher,” he says. “So music was very much part of what I grew up with.”

As a choral scholar at Clare College, Cambridge, Nicholas played viola, piano and organ, but the desire to conduct was never far away. “I guess I always knew I wanted to conduct from when I was much younger,” he acknowledges. “When I left university it seemed an appropriate time to do it.”

Coming up later this year is a return to the BBC Proms with the Aurora Orchestra, as well as projects with the Residentie Orkest in The Hague, for which he has been Principal Conductor since 2016. For now, though, Oxford and the CBSO beckon. “They’re a wonderful orchestra,” he says. “I’ve known many of the players for many, many years. They always have a huge energy and enthusiasm, and incredible skill.”

The Oxford Times article