From Cellist To Conductor, Meet The Talented Musician Leading Queensland Symphony Orchestra
Ode to clericiBy Penelope Pelecas | 24th April 2023
His career spans more than two decades, he’s performed all over the world as a leading cellist, and now heads up one of the most prestigious orchestras in the country. Meet Umberto Clerici, the Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s new chief conductor. Umberto, who grew up in the northern Italian city of Turin, home to Fiat, Alpha Romeo, and Juventus Football Club, is easing into this new role with excellency, finesse, and charm.
Hi Umberto, thanks for chatting with us and congratulations on your new gig as chief conductor of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra. How does it feel?
Ciao. It’s my pleasure, grazie for having me! It’s been a whirlwind few months, that’s for sure. We’ve had a big start to the season already and it’s wonderful to be getting to know the orchestra better, and also to start to explore Brisbane.
What’s your favourite part about the role?
From an orchestral perspective, I’m really enjoying the feeling that we’re building on our work. When you conduct different orchestras all the time, you can enjoy the progress you make in the week you are there, but you don’t necessarily build anything long-term. Being fortunate enough to be a chief conductor means that you start to consolidate the experiences. My other favourite thing has been meeting more of our audience.
As a cellist, did you always think you’d make the transition to conducting?
It honestly didn’t cross my mind as much as it apparently occurred to others. In an orchestra, the musicians only have their part of the music on their stand. I used to always bring the whole score with me because I liked to see what the other instruments were doing at the same time as me. My colleagues in the Sydney Symphony saw this and asked me if I was planning to be a conductor. I wasn’t, but they invited me to conduct them and after that, things just took off.
What inspired you to start playing an instrument?
Less inspiration, more forceful mum! My mother was extremely keen for me to learn an instrument. The first few years I approached it as a chore (like most young kids), but something eventually clicked and when I was eight I announced that my calling was music and my goal was to be a cellist for a living.
Why the cello?
To begin with it was either cello or violin and after receiving a demonstration so I could make an informed choice, the cello sounded way better when being played by a five-year-old. We probably don’t have enough time to discuss all the things I love about cello. It’s a very physical instrument because you can wrap your arms around it and because the sound it produces is the closest of any instrument to the human voice, it has a range that can express so much emotion.
With your new role, do you still have time to play?
For a while after I moved to conducting, I didn’t pick up the cello and I became very cranky and difficult to live with. I hadn’t realised how much the cello was a part of me and something I need to continue as a creative and stress outlet. So even though I am playing only a handful of cello concerts a year right now, I am playing a lot at home – if only to avoid being evicted!
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
Getting to the concert venue and on stage as late as possible. When I was a cellist in the orchestra that was tricky because I still had to time it to make sure I was onstage before the concert master and conductor, who come last in that order. Now that I’m a conductor, not only am I expected to be the last on, but they also can’t start without me! Perhaps that should have been a sign that I was a conductor at heart.
Are you enjoying living in Brisbane?
Very much so. Coming from a city in Italy which has hosted a Winter Olympics the humidity has taken some getting used to! I’m slowly doing an inventory of the Italian restaurants and I really enjoy the vibrant cultural precinct of South Bank – no other Australian city is lucky enough to have a hub as extensive as us.
Does your cello have a name?
Carlo Antonio, after his maker Carlo Antonio Testore who made him in Milan in 1758.
It’s a perfect Sunday in Brissy, what are you up to?
Running around with my Bernese Mountain Dog, Pablo.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Behave yourself, this is not your country.
What music do you listen to outside of classical music (if any)?
Nothing. Weird, but true.
Italian or German opera?