Andrew Nunn (MMus Conducting 2014) is rapidly earning a reputation as one of the leading choral directors of his generation. As he prepares to conduct a mammoth performance featuring more than 200 musicians in Glasgow’s City Halls, Mark Good chats to April’s Graduate of the Month.
For Andrew Nunn, the tension was almost unbearable. A Master’s conducting student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, he was about to step in front of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, a formidable musical force, for a masterclass with Christopher Seaman. It was the first time he had taken the podium in such exalted company but he needn’t have worried. In fact, Andrew looks back on the session as a turning point in his musical career: “I was the first one on and before it, I felt terrible. The nerves were unreal. It went well though and I came away from that session knowing I could do it. Suddenly I felt at home.”
Andrew’s flourishing professional career has been underpinned by those studies at the Royal Conservatoire, which have helped him evolve from undergraduate woodwind student to esteemed choral director.
The 30-year-old began at Scotland’s national conservatoire with a BMus (Hons), studying oboe with Rosie Staniforth (Scottish Chamber Orchestra), cor anglais with Stephen West (formerly RSNO) and second study singing. He then pursued a Master’s degree in oboe before spending a further two years honing his conducting technique. It made for an enriching, if intensive, eight years of his life.
“Those years at the Royal Conservatoire were really special they were some of the best experiences of my life. We had a great undergraduate year group and I had the chance to perform so many major pieces. Playing oboe in the symphony orchestra for Ein Heldenleben was a highlight, as was performing The Rite of Spring under Nicholas Cleobury in Glasgow’s City Halls.”
An instrumentalist from his early years, Andrew came to singing comparatively late in his development (around the age of 16) and acknowledges that, had things been different, he may have pursued that path earlier. Equally, he admits that every single moment pursuing his instrumental studies has helped shape the musician he has become.
“Naturally, I was encouraged to be the best oboist I could be but Heather Nicoll (Head of Woodwind) was always so supportive, allowing me to pursue my other interests like my singing work. RCS offered me modules in the Kodály method. That’s a fantastic world to tap into, something for the institution to be proud of.”
Andrew leads what seems like a myriad of choirs, one of which came into being during his student days. Les SirÃ¨nes was established in 2007, quickly becoming a female chamber choir of some repute. In 2012, it triumphed in the Choir of the Year competition, winning its musical director deserved acclaim.
Andrew is also responsible for the direction of all five choirs at RCS Junior Conservatoire, an intensive role which sees him nurturing talented young voices between the ages of seven and 18 on a weekly basis. Saturdays are intense but they are merely the tip of the iceberg, stacked against the hours taken to devise programmes and prepare scores. It is a role of which he is extremely proud.
“The standard at the Junior Conservatoire is very high,” Andrew said. “They just do it and that never fails to take me by surprise. “At the end of the day, my body is physically exhausted but I’m on such a high.”
Then there is Bearsden Choir, a group of around 100 talented amateur singers seeking new musical challenges. “They are doctors, teachers, retired people,” said Andrew. “We talk about leaving troubles at the door, walking in and enjoying making music together.” “It is about motivating a room of people and getting them on board, empowering them to believe they can do anything.”
His regular choral commitments go further. Sundays see him in Carlisle leading a community choir and he is Musical Director of Thomas Coats Memorial Choral Society in Paisley. He regularly works with the National Youth Choir of Scotland (NYCoS), a relationship which has blossomed since he was named the inaugural beneficiary of the organisation’s conducting fellowship in 2013.
Indeed, one of Andrew’s career highlights came when he directed NYCoS at commemorations marking the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele. The event took place in July 2017 at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium. It was attended by descendants of those who had lost their lives in the conflict along with celebrities and world leaders, broadcast across the globe.
Andrew reflected: “I will always look back at that day with NYCoS as a huge moment. I don’t think anyone was prepared for just how moving it was. At the Menin Gate, there were thousands of names of boys who would have been the same age as many of our members but the choir rose to the occasion and performed so wonderfully.” Following a fleeting pit stop with his family in the north of England, Andrew is quickly back in the saddle, beginning with the NYCoS Boys Choir course at Loretto School in Musselburgh.
“Those weeks are exhausting,” he admitted, “but I love it. It’s intense so you often end up getting to bed quite late and getting up super early but everyone keeps going. “Seeing the journey that the young people go on is really impressive. Often they arrive fresh-faced and apprehensive if they’re here for the first time but that is soon forgotten.
“They can be pushed musically and rise to it every single time it never fails to leave me amazed.”
At the end of April, Andrew is conducting more than 200 performers in a concert featuring Bearsden Choir, Junior Conservatoire Chamber Choir, RCS Symphony Orchestra and a sparkling line-up of soloists in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. Whether working with seasoned professionals or nurturing the next generation, Andrew’s approach is built on respect, passion and outstanding musicality. Based on the success of his choirs, it’s clearly a recipe for success.
Andrew Nunn conducts Dream of Gerontius in Glasgow City Halls on Sunday 29 April at 7.30pm. Tickets are on sale from the Glasgow Concert Halls website.