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NYO alumni 2000s


Duncan Ward

Instrument and dates

Composer (and Piano/Organ when required) 2004 – 2008.

You are the alumni pages’ only composer – tell us about NYO composers’ programme.

It’s an incredible opportunity for young composers to work alongside the musicians of the orchestra, developing works for players and ensembles within it under the guidance of leading figures in the profession. It’s so important to have the luxury of trying out your ideas with top quality players, and with pre or post main-concert performances you can gain exposure in some amazing venues too.


I’m now receiving increasingly exciting engagements as both Conductor and Composer, working with such ensembles as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Bamberger Symphoniker, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and International Contemporary Ensemble in New York, and in masterclass with the Staatskapelle Berlin, Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich and LSO under the guidance of Daniel Barenboim, David Zinman and Valery Gergiev. Recent composition projects include for the LSO, BBC Singers and Streetwise Opera.

Most memorable NYO experience?

Coming crashing in on the Royal Albert Hall organ in our dress rehearsal for Janacek’s Taras Bulba in 2006 – I hadn’t had a chance to investigate the stops beforehand, and the sound was so mighty the orchestra just fell about laughing. A BBC representative came to suggest it was too loud, but Sir Colin Davis simply bounced the question to the orchestra and on receiving a cry of ‘NO’ told me that it was exactly as it should be!

What makes an NYO performance different from any other orchestra?

The freshness and energy you get from many of the players tackling a piece for the first time, combined with the most thorough preparation you could imagine – individually, in sectionals and tutti rehearsal – meaning you can delve deeper into the heart of the music than time usually allows.

Name one thing you don’t think people know about NYO.

The tradition of a two-minute silence before each rehearsal. I remember many of the guest conductors being visibly astonished at the level of focus from the very start of the rehearsal.

How has being in NYO influenced your career?

At 15, nothing could beat the experience of being thrust into a rehearsal space with 150 amazing young musicians with the common aim of collectively producing the most astounding performance of a particular work. It taught me a lot about people and life as well as music. As a composer it was a critical time in developing my understanding of each of the instruments of the orchestra, and as an aspiring conductor I had the privilege of absorbing the radically differing approaches of several of the world’s most eminent maestros in hours of rehearsal every day.

Do you see many NYO alumni in your professional life?

Yes – everywhere!

How and why do you stay connected with NYO?

It always strikes me, when meeting someone who was in the orchestra several decades ago, that they tend to talk about NYO not with rose-tinted reverence but as if they are still very much part of it now. I feel the same way too, and it only takes hearing one of their (or perhaps our!) concerts to re-live the thrill. It is an extraordinary organisation and long may it continue to transform the lives of all those who experience its fruits – whether audience member, sponsor, or musician.

Were you in the 2000s NYO? What memories do you have? What did you learn that proved useful in later life?
Contact NYO’s Alumni Manager, Elmley de la Cour, on or 020 7759 1889 to tell us your story and you could see yourself on the NYO website!

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