English Arts Chorale

Leslie Olive

In conversation with Catherine Nasskau


CN  Did you always know you wanted to be a conductor?
LO  Since very early on. As a very small boy I picked up my Mother's No.8 knitting needle and "conducted" music on the radio.
CN  What or who were your early musical inspirations?
LO  Songs at Sunday school, which I picked out on the piano at Granny's house, using only the black notes. It was a great shock when my first piano teacher, Miss Wakeling, told me I would have to use the white notes as well.
CN  How did you first encounter choral music?
LO  I sang briefly in a choir which provided the music for huge religious services at the Royal Albert Hall. I was bowled over, and soon afterwards booked myself a ticket for Messiah there. I absolutely knew I had to do this thing.
CN  Of your own work, do you have any favourites, or ones you are most proud of having composed?
LO  I've done very little composing really, choosing to focus on conducting and on what these days I believe is called being a "Creative Entrepreneur" - someone who makes it all happen. But I am still very proud of my opera for young people, "The Master of Ashmore", written for my students when I was a young teacher. It's an absolute monster - a full three acts with two intervals, full symphony orchestra, girls' chorus, young men's chorus, chorus of boys with treble voices, and semi-chorus. With hindsight I'm also pleased with the liturgical music I wrote for St Mary's Church Reigate in the early 1980s and a little for BBC Radio 4's Daily Service while I was a music director there.
CN  What music do you like to listen to?
LO  Surprisingly little for the sheer pleasure of it because listening to music for me is almost always work-related. But there is no doubt about my ultimate piece of music - Richard Strauss's 'Vier Letzte Lieder'. I love music which seems to span heaven and earth, on the largest of scales. If my fairy godmother came and said I could have one professional opportunity it would be to conduct Wagner's "Ring" cycle. Just imagine what it must be like to lift your baton and set in train an epic narrative which will conclude 17 hours of music later. 'The Dream of Gerontius' matters to me hugely. I'm determined to conduct Mahler's 'Resurrection' symphony before I die. This is all music of endings and beginnings, of life out of death, of hope beyond the end of hope, music dealing with the great things of the human condition. Music which is just decorative has much less appeal for me.
CN  Do you have a special place where you go to compose?
LO  No. I do so little now. My life is consumed with the administration of music - creating audiences, trying to find money, making sure things happen. 10% of my time is spent preparing music for conducting, which is far from sufficient. Given those two things, there is no time for composing, although I do have projects I would turn to if all the admin was by some miracle taken off me.
CN  What led you to the Magnificat?
LO  To begin with, I was looking for a piece to fill a gap in a concert programme and decided to write something rather than going through the depressing business of digging through unknown things at the library. But as it started to emerge, and to matter to me, it became clear to me that I was actually writing it in honour of my Mother, who had died a short while before. It is a very inadequate tribute: she was a remarkable human being.
CN  What makes a good performance of this piece? What should the EAC try and remember?!
LO  One word: energy.



© 2017 Catherine Nasskau and English Arts Chorale Association

If your choir would like to use this material in your own concert programmes, please contact Catherine Nasskau at the EAC for permission.