Last month Elim Chan, a Music, Theatre & Dance graduate student, became the first female winner of the Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition, a competition sponsored by the Prince of Wales to introduce young conductors to the professional stage.
Initially competing against 225 other conductors, Chan and 19 other students were selected to fly to London and compete in the final three rounds with the London Symphony Orchestra.
“Looking back it still feels kind of surreal,” Chan said. “For a long time I looked at myself as a student. I studied something I really love and then all of a sudden this kind of put me on the map.”
Prince Charles attended the concert and personally gave Chan her award. Chan said she didn’t know she would meet him and was occupied with the opportunity to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra.
“He was trying to talk to each of the contestants and when he saw me, he just came straight to me and he was just like, ‘You know you’re amazing, right?’” she said. “I could see that he was so moved. That he felt something in the concert, in the music and he was just like a normal person.”
As winner of LSO’s conducting competition, Chan will receive a year-long contract as assistant conductor of the LSO and receive a cash prize.
Chan said she is happy to receive the award as a female artist and hopes it leads the conducting field to acknowledge more of its female members.
“There have been female conductors out there in leadership positions,” she said. “But of course if you compare it to the other men out there, we don’t have a lot of us working.”
While Chan had a musical childhood singing and playing piano, her interest in conducting derived from the first orchestra concert she attended, which coincidentally was orchestrated by a female conductor.
“It’s so interesting what the conductor does,” she said. “You don’t make a sound. You make all these gestures and people will play. And it’s interesting because that first concert that I’d seen in my life, the conductor was also a female conductor, so immediately something kind of stirred up in my heart.”
Chan said the best part of conducting is the leadership aspect of the role.
“In the end, you really make the team better,” she said. “That’s what I love about it. You inspire people to become better and at the same time you become the spirit behind the team.”
After she completes her conducting degree in May, Chan hopes to join the LSO and put on a concert in her hometown of Hong Kong sometime this year.
“It has also been a dream for me to bring what I have been learning back home to share with people back there, like my family,” she said. “It would be wonderful if a concert could happen.”