A STRAIGHT LINE CAREER PATH
Late in 2005 conductor Kenneth Montgomery,
who was then at home in the Netherlands,
spoke with MARIA NOCKIN
about his life, his music
and upcoming events
Maria Nockin: What was your childhood like?
Kenneth Montgomery: I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. My family was not at all musical, but one of my aunts pointed out to my parents that every time I visited a house that had a keyboard instrument, I was curious about it. She said, 'Why don't you start Kenneth on piano lessons?' She suggested I go to her daughter's teacher and she allowed me to practice on her piano.
I began to study piano at the age of seven and shortly after that I found myself singing in that city's Cathedral Choir. When I was ten I decided that I wanted to be a musician. By twelve I could play fairly well and my parents bought me a wonderful piano. It was then that I thought I would like to conduct, so you can see that my career path really was a straight line.
My parents let me get on with what I liked so much. They never stopped me and I'm full of admiration for them. Of course, it was a totally unknown world for them, but they supported me throughout. I was very lucky in that.
MN: When did you become interested in opera?
KM: When I was nine years old I had my first operatic disaster. An amateur company was doing Hansel and Gretel and I was one of the angels. We first performed it in a town near Belfast where it was a great success. It was decided to bring the production to the city and we held a dress rehearsal on a Monday night. On Tuesday morning I woke up with the mumps, so that was the end of my first opera!
When I was twelve I was sent over to the Edinburgh Festival where I saw The Magic Flute and Salome! Eventually, I attended the Royal College of Music in London where I studied with Sir Adrian Boult. After that, I continued my studies in Hamburg, Germany, with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and in Siena, Italy, with Sergiu Celibadache. Of all of these wonderful teachers, I think I learned the most from Schmidt-Isserstedt who always called me 'Monty'. I loved his very classical, traditional German approach. It was not at all dull or heavy handed. He had a wonderful beat and he was a very sympathetic man with a great sense of humor. He often worked in England as well as on the continent.
Kenneth Montgomery. Photo © Marco Borgreve
While I was still in college I was engaged as an assistant conductor in Glyndebourne where I worked with John Pritchard. That first season, when I was 20 years old, I was also assistant chorus master. My job was to teach the chorus and conduct back stage, all that sort of thing, and to play the piano for rehearsals. The people at Glyndebourne encouraged me a great deal, and after a couple of seasons they had me conducting some performances of L'elisir d'amore. After that, I was invited to join the conducting staff of Sadlers Wells Opera, which is now known as English National Opera.
Copyright © 22 January 2006
Maria Nockin, Arizona USA