Crossing the divide

By Nicole Wilson  -  04 May 2015

Principal conductor and artistic director of the Garvle Symphony Orchestra, Jaime Martin has crossed the tricky divide between orchestral musician and maestro but has he always wanted to be a conductor?

Jaime Martin

‘This was not a plan I’d had all my life. I have always been curious about conductors. Being an orchestral flautist, I was fascinated about why an orchestra changes so much from working with one conductor to another. When I was a student, I went to Holland to continue my flute studies and I went to the conducting class. It was not what I thought a conducting class would be. My idea was that it would be a room where we would talk in depth about music - say look together at a score of a symphony, looking at it from a different angle. This is what I thought would happen. But I found myself on top of a chair waving my arms up and down and doing funny exercises with my legs and arms which was probably interesting for some people but was not what I was aiming for at that point. I did 2 weeks and left. So then I played the flute.’ he smiles. Jaime’s idea of ‘playing a bit of flute’ would be anyone else’s idea of the most stellar and exciting musical career one could wish for. One of the most sought after flautists in the world, he has been principal flute of the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, London Philharmonic Orchestra, English National Opera and guest principal flautist all over the world. 

‘The flute for me, has been a great way of meeting wonderful musicians and making music at a very high level. Conducting then came much later and was by chance. A friend asked me to conduct a youth orchestra in Spain. The only reason he asked me to conduct was because he wanted me to give a flute masterclass and I was never available. So to tempt me he said - well what about you come to conduct the orchestra?’ Known for his modest and fun loving nature, Jaime was nervous of taking on such a task with no background in conducting. ‘I was very worried. I asked colleagues ‘do you think I should have a conducting lesson or something? ‘No’ they said, ‘just go there and see how it feels’. So I did and some of the professional musicians who were coaching there saw the rehearsals and came up to me and said ‘why don’t you come to my orchestra to conduct’? It was one of those things. Probably if I tried to become a conductor, it wouldn’t work.’

For a long time, Jaime carried on with his international flute career , ‘that’s what made me very happy-  making music with my colleagues’ he admits. But gradually word spread that there was a great new talent on the conducting scene and he was asked to conduct more and more, first by the Irish Chamber Orchestra and then the orchestra of the Royal College of Music.

‘The point where it suddenly became dangerous was when an agent approached me out of the blue and said they would like me to sign with them and manage my conducting career. From that moment I thought maybe this is going somewhere… I was at English National Opera and whenever there was an opportunity to conduct it was difficult to be free to do it because of the way operas are scheduled. So I moved to the LPO and from that moment things started to happen’.

He was invited to conduct a Swedish Orchestra in Gävle and were so impressed by him that they offered him the position of principal conductor.

But what is the difference between being a visiting and a principal conductor?

‘I know what it feels like to be sitting in a chair  and having new conductors on the rostrum- we’re looking at this new person and waiting to see what they have to say. So I know that there is this expectation from whoever is there standing in front of this group of very well trained people. So when you go as a guest conductor you are being judged. The rehearsal period is short and you don’t have much time so you are always worried if people like you .

Once an orchestra invites you back or even better if they invite you to be principal condcutor, you can breathe out. I am accepted here. It makes you feel freer.’

Do you worry that if you go somewhere too often, the orchestra will become bored with you and take you for granted?

‘I’m sure it will happen. So far this is my second season with my orchestra in Sweden and so far I feel we haven’t arrived at that point-  at least I don’t feel that! We are still in love. But eventually the moment will come when I have said everything I have to say to this group.’

What will you do when you come to that point? Will you say thank you and move on or push through?

‘I think when you realise that this as far as you can go with a group then you have to move on. But I’m sure this is something you would recognise. It is the same with teachers. To change teachers doesn’t mean you don’t like them anymore. It is not disrespectful to your teacher. If you go to a masterclass with another teacher this is a wonderful thing. I used to teach a lot and I always encouraged my students to go to other teachers and find other things. A change is not a bad thing. I think to force a relationship is impossible. ‘

What is the lifestyle of a conductor like compared to that of an orchestral musician? 

It is lonely. It is no way near as fun as travelling with an orchestra. When you are travelling with an orchestra you are with friends. You can go out and have dinner with your colleagues. When you are conducting in a strange city you are mostly on your own. Thank god the Kindle exists. Because when you are having dinner in a restaurant on your own, you always feel a little bit weird about it. Usually all the other tables are filled with groups of 2 or more people having fun and there you are on your own. You have to look at something-  so you look at the book. Pre-Kindle times were a disaster-  you had to find a salt cellar or jug to hold down the pages of your book while you ate to keep the book open at the right page. The Kindle is the conductor’s friend!’ he laughes. 

But of course there are long lonely hours of preparation for a conductor. ‘All musicians need to do lonely work but this is silent work and it is very long. At the same time it is wonderful In the sense that you are discovering things  - all the things that you always wish you’d done when you were a student - like ‘I must read those letters of Beethoven - but you don’t have time and you never get round to it. We all have our things which we hope to get around to doing at some point  - and now I have to do this, and it’s really nice. I’m discovering all sorts of wonderful things’.

What is it about conducting which attracts him? ‘Many people say ‘it must be great to have the power!’ But this sounds completely alien to me. I don’t feel that at all. I don’t think that being there you have any more power. When I conduct, if I had to choose a word to describe it, it would be ‘freedom’ . For me conducting is to feel free to do things the way you would like it. That doesn’t mean anyone else would like it. Taste is something very open and impossible to predict’.

How does it feel ‘being on the other side’ now?

So far, maybe because I’m used to playing in orchestra, I still think we are all on one side.  When I left the LPO, in my leaving speech, someone said ‘you’re going to the other side’ and I replied ‘it’s funny you say that as I don’t feel that I am on another side, I feel we are all on the same side, which is music. I do feel this maybe because of my past as an orchestral musician’.

Do you have a plan for what you would like to do in the future?


‘It’s impossible to have a plan like that-  it can only bring you frustration. My only plan is to try to keep being as serious as possible at what I do, and see where it goes. I’m so happy doing what I’m doing at the moment. Look at me, I’m doing Brahms Symphony no 1 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra - full of friends. What else can I ask?

Find out what Jaime is up to now here

About Nicole Wilson

Principal freelance violinist in London, ex London Symphony Orchestra and English National Opera, Nicole is also a CD producer, TV/Radio presenter and founder of Musical Orbit.

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