header 7a 6cf3d807

Introducing Dr Nicholas Milton...

Published: 14/04/2022 9:06am

We are delighted to announce Dr Nicholas Milton AM as a continuing ambassador for Sydney Eisteddfod and as the conductor for our Opera Scholarship Finals. Renowned for his charismatic stage presence, powerful interpretations and compelling musical integrity, Nicholas Milton continues to attract international attention as one of the most outstanding Australian conductors working today. We spoke to Dr Milton about his musical journey and why Sydney Eisteddfod is so important...

Sydney Eisteddfod is very excited to have the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra under your baton for the Opera Scholarship this year, what first drew you to conducting? Was there a moment that stands out for you when you knew that leading orchestras was your passion?

I was in the doctoral program studying violin at Julliard and, initially just for fun, I wanted to see if I could pass the notoriously difficult entrance exams to get into the conducting program. The conducting professor at that time was an old-school German conductor, Otto Werner Mueller, who had devised three or four days of gruelling aural tests, musical dictation and score reading challenges. At the end of these exams, only three or four were allowed to conduct the orchestra. So, somewhat unexpectedly, my first experience as a conductor was with that amazing Julliard Orchestra, conducting Brahms First Symphony.

It was it some ways a disaster from my point of view, but something clicked. In that first moment on that stage, I felt the magic of being able to shape a sound and realised that conducting would be a wonderful way for me to develop as a musician and eventually become my passion.


Dr Nicholas Milton with Sydney Eisteddfod GM Annette Brown and the Willoughby Symphony Orchestra

You have travelled the world conducting leading Orchestras in Germany, London, and China but you started your career as a young Violinist in Sydney, what challenges do up and coming musicians face on the path to becoming a performer?

It sometimes seems that the way I grew up is so far removed from the way that young people are growing up, I don’t think I can really answer the question for today’s generation, which has so many more aspects to deal with than I ever did. But maybe one aspect that might be relevant to both experiences is the importance of developing and finding opportunities to practise a craft, as a performer, as a dancer, as a conductor, or as any sort of cultural exponent.

I think ultimately we have to find opportunities to simply “do”. It was Carl Gustav Jung who said: “You are what you do, not what you say you'll do.” And I sort of like this idea. Ultimately, to become a musician or probably, anything at all, you just have to do it. That’s the challenge, pure and simple.

 "In that first moment on that stage, I felt the magic of being able to shape a sound..."

We can’t wait to see the Opera Scholarship Final, an event blurring the line between competition and concert, what is the benefit of these kinds of collaborations between Sydney Eisteddfod and industry leaders like yourself? 

It is exactly this blurring of the line, as you put it, that is what makes this event important. Yes, there is a competitive aspect, but far more important to me, is the fact that these singers will be performing with an orchestra, and singing for a public in a wonderful venue with an outstanding orchestra. These experiences are life-changing. Friendships are formed, experiences are shared, and these moments are priceless. So, for me to be a part of them with my orchestra is also a gift.

I gave many of my first important musical performances as a competitor in the violin and piano sections of the Sydney Eisteddfod (back in the 1970s!!), and my love of performing grew out of those positive experiences. I hope that will also be the case for some of the singers who will perform with us in the Opera Scholarship Final.