If Only I’d Known: Rachael Young

If Only I’d Known: Rachael Young


New Zealand-born Rachael Young started out as a cellist but is now a renowned conductor, one of very few women in the profession. Rachael tells us how finding the right teacher took her in a new direction...

What is your name/age/job title?

Rachael Young, Conductor 

What one thing do you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now? 

As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself; everybody else is taken." 

If you could go back and give your younger self any practical advice, what would it be? 

Just begin. My experience is that circumstances and events very rarely, if ever, turn out the way you imagined – but that’s the point. Life is always reflecting you back to yourself and this process enables you to discover who you really are and what you have to give. 

If someone had told your 16-year-old self that you would be a successful conductor in your 40s, would have believed them? Or did you have other ambitions? 

Until relatively recently I continued to develop and work as a cellist but I always knew it was conducting I had a deeper love for and it was only a question of how to begin and of finding the right teacher. Luckily this happened in 2008, when I was introduced to Leonid Grin by Paavo Jarvi, a former student of Leonid, who was then teaching me in a masterclass. 


Conductor Rachael Young


Is there an embarrassing episode from your past that you wish you could edit out?

Oh you mean the incident involving the circus and the juggling bear?

Is there a single thing that you wish you’d had/known about when you started out? Something that has shaped the way you work today? 

Conducting is intimately related to singing in that we have to learn how to create sound in our bodies, then allow this sound to be carried on the breath through our bodies to the musicians of the orchestra and this process also allows them to breath with the music. Eventually it all comes down to learning to listen to, and trusting and working with the wisdom of the body.  

Is there a project of which you are particularly proud?

Performing Russian music in the spirit of Russian music making – with total commitment to the moment – in the concert I performed with the Russian Virtuosi of Europe at Cadogan Hall last year. We are presently planning another concert later this year. It's matter of finding the right level of sponsorship so as to not compromise the content and quality of our music making. 

What would you consider your ‘big break’? And how did you get it? 

Having the opportunity to study with my teacher Leonid Grin, everything else has flowed from this.


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