A New World Interview with Conductor Nadège Foofat

The Vancouver Island Symphony is getting ready to launch its 28th season entitled variations with a number of changes and surprises in store for music lovers. One major variation is a season with six guest conductors with three conductor candidates vying for the position of Artistic Director beginning in our 2023-2024 season.

We spoke with Nadège Foofat, who will be the first candidate to conduct the VIS on October 22. We asked what it would mean to her to be chosen for the position of Artistic Director. “Becoming the Artistic Director for the Vancouver Island Symphony would be a very symbolic coming home for me. While I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to conduct orchestras and forge partnerships in other parts of the world, being the music director of the VIS would allow me to explore my passion for championing Canadian composers and repertoire” explained Foofat.

Curious as to how Nadège was drawn to music and especially why she chose the path of conductor, we asked her to describe her journey. “I don’t ever remember a time before music was central to my life; I have been told that I begged for a violin as a toddler until my mother gave in, at age three. I would go over to the family upright piano, crawling up onto the seat and would improvise, just to figure out how the notes worked and explore how the sounds went together. (Yes, my parents would ask me to stop!) Music was my first language in many ways; I was interested in composing before I could read music, so I’d jot down alphabet letters and symbols to map out pieces.” Nadège explains.

She was fortunate to have been exposed to great live performances of classical music as a child. Around the age of six, her mother took Nadège and her two older sisters to a season of the Calgary Opera Company. “I can still remember the productions of Magic Flute and Carmen. My parents could only afford the seats up at the top of the theatre, but that turned out to be lucky for me, because it meant that I could have a clear view of the conductor. And that is when I decided that conducting was what I wanted to do when I grew up” Foofat reflected.

Foofat studied violin and piano through her childhood but hearing the viola up close for the first time at age eleven started her on a new path. “It was such a trans formative experience, like recognizing my own voice. Though my mother was disapproving, I found a large old violin, strung it up as a viola, and started experimenting. “I taught myself to read alto clef and started playing viola secretly on the side. Fast forward two years, and on a lark, I auditioned and was accepted to the National Youth Orchestra of Canada as principal viola when I was fourteen. It was an incredible experience, as I had never even played in a full orchestra, and it was life changing to play under the baton of Kazuyoshi Akiyama.”

Her evolution from player to conducting was not without its challenges. “All along the way I was told that I should be a player, and that conducting was out of reach. (Hard to believe today!) I remember one of my most supportive teachers, who was a conductor, saying that women’s brains were different, and could never understand a score the same way as a man. That was a devastating thing for a young aspiring female conductor to hear, and part of me believed it for a long time! It took me until I was already a member in a professional orchestra to realize that I had everything I needed to pursue conducting, including the invaluable experience of having been an orchestral player and learning the trade from the inside.” said Nadège.

It comes as no surprise that Nadège is an advocate for equal representation of women in orchestral concerts. “Conductors are in a unique position of being the curators who choose what music gets to come to life and be performed. For me, this means when I program a concert, I program not only from the great classical canon, but an array of voices, and make sure that the representation that is happening is not just token.” What Foofat means by this is that the women and minority voices are not just given five minutes of playing time out of 90 minutes of music on a concert. This will include looking at a whole season and beyond, evaluating who the composers are, who the soloists are, and who the orchestra is playing for to make sure they have a strategic plan that is fulfilling and inclusive for everyone.

We asked Nadège what she would like our VIS audience to know about her. “I think they would be tickled to know that I spent my favourite summer holidays on Hornby Island with my extended family who still own a home there. Another highlight of my teens was playing a movement from the Walton Viola Concerto at the Courtenay Youth Music Centre.” Nadège also has a deep wish to be able to have her young son spend extended time in Canada, to learn Canadian values and traditions, and spend time with his extended family who live in Alberta and B.C. “I am really excited to come back to Nanaimo!”

The VIS is delighted to welcome back the Bergmann Duo who were to play our final concert in April 2020 however due the pandemic this concert was postponed. The VIS will perform Marcel Bergmann’s composition Concerto for Two Pianos. Another Canadian work being performed is Christine Donkin’s Three Autumn Scenes. And of course – the name of this concert “A New World” refers to Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. Join us at 6:30 p.m. Pre-Concert Talk; 7:30 p.m. Performance.

Article written by Christine McAuley