"This symphony is so powerful!"

Conductor Nicholas Collon spent a lot of time trying to understand Dmitri Shostakovich’s symphony No. 8. Now he can't get enough of it.

Written by Fred-Olav Vatne

Nicholas Collon conducts the Oslo Philharmonic in music by Anatoly Liadov, Benjamin Britten and Dmitri Shostakovich on Thursday 30th August. (Photo: Fred-Olav Vatne/Oslo Philharmonic)

 − It is quite enigmatic, Nicholas Collon (35) says about Shostakovich’s eighth symphony, the day before he’s conducting it in Oslo and a few years after encountering it for the first time.

−  It’s much less obvious than the seventh or tenth symphony and it took me some time to get into it and understand it. But as I got to know it, I realized it has amazing depth to it. And the more I conduct it, the more I realize the richness of the symphony.

Dmitri Shostakovich composed the symphony in 1943, in the shadow of World War II, and the work has a profound darkness to it.

− This symphony is so powerful and has an incredible structure! After a very long first movement and two brutal, almost warlike scherzos, the fourth movement is ten minutes of complete despair, absolute hopelessness. The last movement is quiet, beautiful and surprising, almost like a catharsis.

Read more about the concert: Liadov, Britten and Shostakovich

− I was turning to look at the brass the entire time

Nicholas Collon grew up in a musical family, learning to play the violin from his mother and piano from his grandmother. As a teenager he began playing viola and organ.

− I grew up surrounded by music. I heard my grandmother practice and give piano lessons from very early on, I used to be lying under her piano listening. I ofted stayed at her house for days, and we’d do eight hours of piano together every day.

At ten, he joined a youth orchestra as a violinist and was deeply fascinated by a less familiar group of instruments:

− We were playing the overture to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Wagner. The sound of the brass was so exciting! I was turning to look at the brass the entire time, thinking “what is that? It’s amazing!

Nicholas Collon rehearsing with the orchestra. (Photo: Fred-Olav Vatne/Oslo Philharmonic)

Thinking outside the box

In 2004 Nicholas Collon founded the Aurora Orchestra together with fellow conductor Robin Ticciati, where Collon today holds the position of principal conductor.

− The orchestra’s emphasis now is thinking outside the box in the way we present concerts. We do a lot of collaborating with other art forms: film, ballett, text, plays, videos, always trying to keep the music in the foreground.

The Aurora Orchestra also enoys challenging themselves on playing without sheet music:

− The last five years we’ve been playing many symphonies from memory, the whole orchestra, which allows us to do very unusual things with the music. We often go out into the audience and allow them to be inside of the orchestra.

Read about our next Shostakovich concert: Åm, Grieg and Shostakovich