New conductor a young Australian

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 21/05/2014
Benjamin Northey
Vinnie Lum
NEW GUY: Benjamin Northey is the new chief conductor of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra.

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Christchurch Symphony Orchestra's new conductor, young Australian import Benjamin Northey, promises his tenure will be a "Waltzing Matilda-free zone".

Northey, 43, starts as chief conductor of the CSO in 2015 and admits he is younger than average.

"It all depends on your definition of young," he says. "But every conductor under 70 years old is probably classed as young."

He steps in at a crucial point in the orchestra's history. Homeless since the 2011 earthquakes, the orchestra could be making vital decisions on a new headquarters and practice space by the time Northey takes over.

"You have to think of it as an opportunity," Northey says. "Here's an opportunity to be optimistic about the future."

Northey is currently an associate conductor with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. Despite the logistics of Northey being based in Melbourne and dealing with a new CSO venue, he is anticipating great things for the orchestra's 2015 season.

"I've had such good times with the orchestra as a guest conductor," he says.

"They [the CSO] are quite adventurous, which I really, really like. They're willing to take some risks and I think that's what every audience wants - to be taken on an intellectual journey."

Northey is planning to put the orchestra through some current New Zealand works, modern international pieces and the classics. "I believe in good music. I don't discriminate between different kinds of music.

"Modern orchestras have to be versatile."

Northey will remain based in Melbourne while chief conductor of the CSO - a common arrangement in the international music scene.

He will lead the orchestra for many of the big concerts, with guest conductors stepping in for others, which he says is great for variety both for the CSO and the audience.

The commute will be important for Northey, who has two toddlers and a wife in Melbourne.

"Whatever city I'm in for work, the first line in my biography on the concert programme will be chief conductor of the CSO. That's great promotion," he says.

Northey will conduct the CSO for a Christmas concert towards the end of this year, with his official tenure beginning in March 2015 when he will conduct the orchestra for a Masterworks performance.

"It is very exciting," he says.

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