New Directions: A Conversation with Conductor Nicole Paiement

Nicole Paiement

Conductor Nicole Paiement will take the stage Nov. 15th for a very special New Music Ensemble concert that is full of surprises.

Before lifting her baton for a New Music Ensemble concert the SFCM newsroom sits down with director and conductor Nicole Paiement to find out what inspires her to perform, the surprises to look out for during the concert, and what she thinks classical music needs to do in order to survive in the next century.

By Mark Taylor

Try new things, collaborate, and listen. Those are all key messages from SFCM professor and conductor Nicole Paiement who will take the stage November 15th for a New Music Ensemble Concert in the Sol Joseph Recital Hall. The presentation will include a piece by acclaimed composer Nico Muhly, who recently included a new work by an SFCM alum in his curated SoundBox series with San Francisco Symphony. This concert has the distinction of featuring all new music by composers living and working in the industry today.

Tell us about your introduction to music? 

I learned to read notes as I learned to read words, for me it was just another language I was learning. It has been part of who I am since I can remember, since I was four years old. My parents were musicians, my mother was a music teacher, my father loved music, I came from a very musical and artistic family. There were always two pianos in the house and a lot of music making. 

What drew you to conducting?

As a teenager I was very interested in becoming an architect, and I studied that as well as music, and when I became advanced enough, I started to look at full scores, and realized that looking at a full score was very similar to looking at a blueprint, in that you have the information and you have to start looking at the structure. Basically rather than creating a building, it creates a sound.  I thought connecting this would bring my two loves together, one of architecture and one of music. 

I still am a person who analyzes scores and likes to bring it down to a very small blueprint picture of what it represents. I also love collaborative work and helping musicians hear better together. I am not here to give my thoughts on how it needs to be, rather to encourage us listening together and figuring out an interpretation.  

What are you currently listening to? 

I love Jazz, I love all kinds of music. I have been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen because there is an exhibit of him going on in the city. I love to listen to string quartets on Sunday mornings. It really depends on my mood. I also love to just listen to nature sometimes and not put music on. 

In an industry sometimes criticized for being male dominated, especially conducting, what is your take on being a female succeeding in it?

Classical music is a very traditional art form, and traditions take a long time to change. It used to be felt that as a society, leadership came from males. It took a long time for even society to see women as qualified leaders, but I think it’s catching on, orchestras are more comfortable with seeing a woman on the podium. It used to be that people were very surprised by it, but the world is really changing rapidly now. I feel I am now part of a growing group of female conductors! 

What is your favorite part of conducting? 

I love rehearsing. I love building, working and collaborating with musicians and then being surprised because we are all working together to create music. I love score study at my table, I love giving it to the audience, it’s quite a beautiful art form. 

What do you hope to pass on to your students? 

The generosity of collaboration. The only way that we will survive as an art form is if we are willing to collaborate not only with fellow musicians, but composers, with different art forms, with the community. The time where you could just be a musician, practice your instrument, just prepare for a concert is kind of a thing of the past. The art of music has to be part of all things, and all things evolve.  

What can listeners expect from this New Music Ensemble Concert on November 15th? 

The theme this year had innovation in it, so I tried to find works, so in each of them I tried to find an element of surprise, so people will hear something new. Expect to come and hear music from composers that most of our listeners have probably never heard before with styles that are completely different. You will have a panoply of taste, you might love one piece and not like another and that’s great. You will be exposed to a variety of all living composers! 

What are you most excited about in the future of music?

The fact that classical music is more and more not an elitist form of music, it is really breaking barriers through collaboration and creating a new life that is open to a much larger number of people. People are starting to see there is something for everyone in classical music! 

Anything else you would like to add?

For new music. Don’t be scared! Dare. Come. Conservatory students used to be scared to even audition for new music, now I see a difference, they are like, “The harder the better, lets try this! We need to change our attitude. 

The New Music Ensemble Concert is general admission and is scheduled for 7:30pm at SFCM’s 50 Oak street in the Sol Joseph Recital Hall. 

Learn more about studying Conducting or learning about New Music Ensemble at SFCM.