‘In order to control the nuances of an opera, you have to be able to give the orchestra immediate pinpoint physical communication…to help the orchestra play freely and with confidence, they need to trust you completely’
Kǎrin Hendrickson makes her Opera Holland Park debut this season as the Conductor for Hansel and Gretel. With a background in conducting both orchestras and opera, Kǎrin tells us about her approach to the different forms as well as her focus on mentorship in the industry.
Can you tell us about your role at OHP this year?
This year I’ll be conducting Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel.
Hansel and Gretel is your OHP debut; what are you looking forward to this season?
There’s so much to look forward to about joining the Opera Holland Park artistic family. Opera Holland Park has a stellar reputation, both musically and in their company ethos. They are also great at identifying talent. If you go back and look at directors, singers, and conductors that are working at the highest levels, many have had that next artistic breakthrough thanks to OHP. And of course I have huge excitement to work with such a fantastic cast and artistic team.
As someone who conducts both operas and symphonic repertoire, what do you value about each artform?
Well, one certainly influences the other, even though my approach between the two really isn’t that different. Both forms are essentially efforts in drama and narrative, but with opera we have the addition of the text. With an orchestra on its own, I’m looking for the narrative between the instrumental voices and the pacing that unfolds based on the structure of the melodies, harmonies, articulations, phrases, sections, and movements. With opera, I’m looking to define the same journey, but dealing with the wider narrative and exchange between the individual singers and their text, the subtext or punctuation that the orchestra provides against the soloists, and then the narrative that the orchestra might be providing when playing on their own.
Also, in order to control the nuances of an opera, you have to be able to give the orchestra immediate pinpoint physical communication, sometimes in a timing that they are not expecting, so opera keeps you slightly more on the edge of “this must happen NOW – GO!”. To help the orchestra play freely and with confidence, they need to trust you completely, which is why excellent physical communication is essential.
How do you develop and establish a relationship with the director in the rehearsal room?
You have to step forward with a lot of trust from the very start. Every conductor I know wants a great director, just like every director I know wants a great conductor. What makes this relationship so important is not just because it involves the two of us: it’s essential for us to have a great partnership because it frees up the entire cast to do their best work. There must be a lot of open conversation, respect for ideas, and care taken with moments that might not be working quite right. The team then works through the ideas and the elements together, looking for the solution that provides the best result.
You worked as Lead Mentor on the international ‘Girls Who Conduct’ programme and this year you are working with Charlotte Corderoy, the conductor of the Young Artists production of Hansel and Gretel. What do you think is the value of mentorship?
It’s absolutely essential. The great thing about the OHP Young Artists Scheme is that there is individual mentorship and mentorship from the Artistic Administration. As a Conductor, I can do practical problem solving in the room, if a gesture needs to be clarified, and help to give a young conductor eyes that can see further forward. Mentorship really takes a village. The OHP programme gives Young Artists a platform with administrators, donors, and audience members to engage with the wider community and industry. It’s very inspiring to see.
Do you have a dream work that you are yet to conduct?
I’d like to do some Verdi – either the Requiem, or La traviata.
Hansel and Gretel are sent into the woods for an adventure into the unknown – what is the best adventure you have been on?
Swimming in a cenote in Mexico – an underground lake that has water naturally filtered from the limestone sinkhole that created it. Pristine water, crystal clear with blues and greens, very cold, but so beautiful!
What’s one piece of advice you’ve been given as an artist that has stayed with you?
My conducting teacher at the Royal Academy of Music, Colin Metters, told me to think of an artistic pathway like stepping on stones in a stream – “sometimes you can’t see the many available stones ahead until you step on the next closest one”. This is also a lot like making music – we have to prepare to be vulnerable and then uncover the journey step by step, much more than plan it.
Interview by Lucy Hicks Beach