University of Melbourne Magazine

Conduct becoming

  • Nicholas Carter

    Nicholas Carter

    (BMus 2007)

    When Nicholas Carter was at the University in the mid-2000s, he was already deeply involved in the profession that would shape his life. Between his singing and piano studies, Carter was part of a small team that helped establish the Victorian Opera company. “I was loyal to the University, though,” he says, “I stayed three-and-a-half to four years, and actually graduated.” 

    Almost 10 years later, Nicholas Carter is one of Australia’s most exceptional and busiest conductors. He has conducted most of the state orchestras, including three years as assistant conductor of the Sydney Symphony. He’s quite busy in Germany, too, as Kapellmeister (resident conductor) at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, where he is musical assistant to its music director, Donald Runnicles, and conducts around four operas each season. Before then, Carter worked at the Hamburg State Opera, as assistant to its then music director, Sydney-born Simone Young.

    But it’s at home that Carter is making news. In April, at the age of 29, he was named principal conductor of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. He takes up the appointment next year. Intriguingly, Carter is the first Australian to be appointed to such a post with a mainstream Australian orchestra since the late Stuart Challender AO (BMus 1968) a quarter of a century ago. “I am humbled to be that person,” Carter says. “It seems to be that the chemistry was right: the right person at the right time.”

    Carter will be joined at the ASO by two most distinguished musicians: violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman as artist-in-association; and the British maestro Jeffrey Tate as principal guest conductor and artistic adviser. Carter has yet to meet Zukerman, but recently caught up with Tate in Berlin. “He’s the most extraordinary human being who’s had a remarkable career,” he says.

    Conductors, though, also have to be communicators about fine music in all its forms. The knack, Carter says, lies in bringing your audience along with you, especially with contemporary music. “But in trying to convert them, I’m not going to ram it down their throats. Trust is vital. If we put together a good program with contemporary music in context, they’re more likely to accept it than smashing them over the head with a Xenakis cycle.”

    Carter will have the best of two possible worlds: the mighty culture of Berlin, which has seven orchestras and three opera houses, and the smaller but, to him, just as thriving culture of Adelaide, which, he says, has “one of the finest orchestras not only in Australia but, as I am starting to realise, the world”. He can’t wait to get started. “My experience living in both cities is that each complements the other.”