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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Youngest orchestra conductor Brent John Stewart

Posted in: Hall of Fame
By - 14th June 2008

Brent John Stewart
A lifelong passion for music led 23-year-old Brent John Stewart to become Australasia's youngest Principal Conductor. "Music has an incredible grip on my emotions - it can turn me into a water feature very quickly," the Wellington-based baton-waver confides. Tell us about your journey with the piano. How long have you been playing, and where has it lead you?

Brent: My piano playing started when I was eight years of age. I was sitting on the cold, arctic-lino assembly floor at primary school and was just utterly fascinated by the teacher who accompanied the singing-school on the piano. I think half the time my lyrics comprised of 'um&blah' because those magic fingers of hers were just so enticing. I remember approaching my Mum and asking if I could learn the piano – So then it began.

I continued on learning through my secondary school years and even won an award from the Trinity College of London for achieving the highest mark in New Zealand for one particular year. But, piano is horrifically lonely and I expressed that despair to my piano teacher who suggested I learn the drums. WELL! Every boy wants to be a drummer, but instead I was enrolled into classical percussion classes. What gobbledygook I thought. However, I just excelled at it having an already sound background with the piano. Several thousands days later…. after completing a Bachelors of Music with Honors specializing in Performance Percussion and Conducting, I work as a professional percussionist and conductor.

I have played with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, I'm the acting sub-principal percussionist with the Vector Wellington Orchestra and just a few works ago I appeared as a Xylophone Soloist with the Auckland Philharmonia presenting a world premier of a piece composed especially for me by Karlo Margetich.

My biggest joy is being the principal conductor of the Hutt Valley Concert Orchestra and being a guest conductor with the Kapiti Concert Orchestra. On top of this, I am fulfilling a dream I've had since I was 13 – as currently whilst juxtaposing everything else I'm training to become a secondary school music teacher, because my ultimate passion is teaching and sharing my mania of music.

What do you love about playing music, and conducting?

That's really difficult to explain. Music for me is like feeling small when you stand beside the ocean. It's bigger than me, and has awe-inspiring things to be found. As simply a listener, I love unlocking all the secrets to be found in any genre of music. These aren't secrets that the composers or performers necessarily left for me to find. I discover my own secrets that make each individual piece of music special. Kind of like a doctor creating a new mental disorder for a patients diagnosis. Also, music has an incredible grip on my emotions. It can turn me into a water feature very quickly or into a giddy fit only comparable to girls who faint when listening to Hanson's MMMBop. It's like tasting a glass of wine and being able to explain all the ingredients.

With music I hear so much, I go into such a deep analysis and it effects me on such a radically spiritual level. When listening to music I just can't sit still – I'm terrible in the orchestras as a percussionist because I can't stop swaying in the same direction as the violin bows – how embarrassing.

This is where conducting comes in. Since I was a kid I was secretly air-conducting all the time. My baton was usually a coloured pencil and the orchestra was my stereo system playing the CD titled Greatest Classical Hits in the World…. EVER! The first person to catch me was my identical Twin Brother (sorry guys he's on the other team). I didn't really care; he couldn't tell anyone anyway for I had more dirt on him haha. However my Dad caught me several times. Flustered and hot from the eccentric baton waving I felt like I had been caught masturbating. I think my Dad was a little disturbed especially when I continued to do it through my late teens, and continued to get caught, right on the climaxes too. Oh dear lord this is sounding bad. Anyway, as embarrassed as I was look at me now! I get to do it with real people hahaha… this still sounds bad. Stop laughing, get your mind out of the gutter.

Where did you grew up?

I grew up in Bucklands Beach, Auckland. Like I said earlier I have an identical Twin Brother Paul whose existence wasn't known until birth, surprise, and I also have two older brothers Shane and Kerry. I have a supertastic Mum and Dad who through their own relationship have taught me so much about love.

When did you come out as gay, and what was it like for you at the time?

I sadly didn't ‘come out' until I was 21 years of age. I consider coming out to be when you tell your family. I was already out to many of my friends, and obviously and hopefully my ex-boyfriend knew I was gay. I wish I did come out when I was back in school but I just didn't have the confidence or any guidance. I didn't know anyone who was gay and I was, and still am quite heterophobic.

Coming out was certainly not a bed of roses. I cowardly wrote an individual letter to each member of my family and gave them a day to digest the information before I arrived in Auckland to see them and hear their rebuttal. Paul, my twin already knew because he found something 3 years back in my room that he shouldn't have... but looking back... it's rather funny. Anyway, I decided no matter what their reaction was I wasn't going to get angry or get upset because I had well over a decade to come to grips with this so why should I expect them to take a day.

The reaction was honestly mortifying, and really tested that unconditional-love-thing I had for my parents. I have slowly worked patiently with them over the last couple of years and my relationship is now already better than it ever was with them. Slowly they're realizing that I'm still the same guy, they just know something more about me. And I'm certainly not going to start wearing dresses (not that there is anything wrong with that may I add) and flop my wrist around everywhere – terrible conducting technique... terrible!

Why do you think Wellington is so much better than Auckland?

There is such a zany atmosphere here. The arts are huge and well supported and the people here are so kind, spontaneous and wear bright colours rather than Auckland's black, grey and ash. The city here is so compact, people come into town at night and in the weekends and there is such a buzz. Auckland city is pretty much deserted after work and this has a lot to do with Auckland's massive suburban sprawl. And only Wellington has blanket man usually seen on the streets naked – apart from a blanket, which he wears as a sort of loincloth! Have you interviewed him yet?

What's your relationship status?

Well it's been a rather fluctual status since I ended ‘things' my ex last year on my birthday. But, as my facebook says “It's Complicated with Richard Cooper”. I met him while on tour to Auckland and shared a very short sort of 4 day romance with him. But, well ahhhh he's incredible and he's even made the dramatic and brave decision to move to Wellington at the beginning of July. When he does, that complicated part disappears yay! Anyway, I'm a little scared because I can only lose things I have plus four days and several hours on MSN just doesn't allow you to truly get to know someone completely! If you know anything, please email me hahaha. From what I do know, is that he's beautiful, incredibly selfless yet very driven. And he can have my heart to break if should choose to. I certainly believe in him and can't wait to be with him.

What do you think are the most pressing issues currently facing the NZ's gay people?

Religious Discrimination is something that upsets me a lot. I have a strong faith in God and believe that at the end of the day our main purpose in life is to love God and to love others. Passed down from Randal to Heather to I, “ask God to teach you how to love more deeply”. The best prayer ever! However, sadly churches like Destiny Church seem to be preaching a message of hate. Unfortunately a lot of religion today is merely pushing people away. Threatening us with hell doesn't help either. God made me the way I am, end of story.

What's your worst habit?

Only ever seeing the good in people. I'm easy to trick and have been stepped on a few times. I'm getting a little better now and I'm becoming less naïve.

Are there any books are you currently reading or recommending?

No, I'm not a book person. Never was. I could recommend a score but that's not really the same. I find books utterly boring. My best stimulus is achieved aurally.

Your favourite music at the moment?

John Psathas, Three Psalms Piano Concerto performed by Michael Houstoun and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marc Taddei. This piece is absolutely gripping and rhythmically delicious. If you hate waffly classical music, then listen to this. It contains a Timpani part powerfully executed by Larry Reece that's pretty close to sounding like a drumkit part. Seriously, it's perfect for those who like music to sound aggressive and dramatic.

Your favourite movies?

Blades of Glory – I haven't laughed so much in a long time, and I already laugh enough as it is.

Your favourite TV programmes?

Boston Legal. I love how eccentrically charming it is. Incredibly refreshing and I love the relationship between Denny Crane and Alan Shore.

Your favourite websites? I love news, very addicted to it.

If you could have one wish granted what would it be?

To conduct a professional orchestra overseas or study conducting overseas. I'm unfortunately restricted financially on that front.

What's coming up in the near future for you?

I usually have a concert a week so how about I just give you a biggy. I'm performing a xylophone concerto solo in the Wellington Town Hall on Sunday 17 August with the Wellington Youth Orchestra. Come along for something completely different…

Otherwise in general I hope to be in a secondary school teaching music, and coming home to a loving husband who runs to the door like the personified yoghurt container with hands reaching out. Awww cute.

A video clip of Brent John Stewart conducting a rehearsal of the Hutt Valley Concert Orchestra is shown below. - 14th June 2008