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Matthew Smith, an 11-year-old Nottingham Elementary school student from the UK, will soon become the youngest person to ever conduct an orchestra. A master of five musical instruments – violin, viola, piano, drums and guitar – he was inspired to take up conducting after watching a video of an Uzbekistani boy leading a performance of the overture from Johann Strauss’ operetta Die Fledermaus. Smith became infatuated with the score, and now, four years later, can conduct it from memory. Next month, he will get the chance to do so, with the 75-piece Nottingham Symphony Orchestra – described by The Sunday Telegraph Magazine as "arguably the premiere amateur orchestra in Britain".
Smith’s music teacher and mentor Derek Williams told Sky News he is one of the most talented children he has worked with. “He undoubtedly does have a natural ability but he hasn’t finished learning. He’s doing lots of good things and he has a long way to go, but the orchestra is very supportive of what he is doing and hopefully come the time of his first concert he will be ready."
Matthew Smith in rehearsals with the Nottingham Symphony Orchestra. Photograph © SWNS.com
Smith has been practising with the orchestra once a week over the past few weeks – and the orchestra is delighted to make his dream come true. Proud mum Beverlyn Riley said “it’s fantastic. He is doing a marvellous job. I’m a bit nervous for him but I’m sure he will succeed. Most of all I want him to enjoy it."
Before Smith, the record for youngest conductor was set by 14-year-old José Ángel Salazar, who headed the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra in 2012. Despite the great responsibility placed on his shoulders, Smith is undaunted. “At first I was nervous but you just get used to doing it, but the thing is you just have to keep counting the beats." he said.
Neil Bennison, music programme manager at the Royal Concert Hall, told The London Economic that Matthew’s skill level is rare.
“Successful conductors have to be team managers, leaders, motivators and diplomats, and these people skills take time to develop and require a level of maturity that only comes with years of experience,” he said. “Orchestras can be pretty merciless to conductors for whom they have no respect, so you’d have to be a supremely confident young maestro to win over a lot of hardened professional musicians.”