RLPO conductor Domingo Hindoyan reveals his vision for his new Liverpool role
“It was fantastic – a unique experience for me,” says Domingo Hindoyan, sipping a cup of coffee in the late afternoon September sun.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s latest ‘latest signing’ has just returned triumphant from leading the orchestra at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and is taking a few minutes out ahead of his official Philharmonic Hall debut as chief conductor tonight.
“It was special because it was my first concert as chief conductor, it was the first time the orchestra had been full size together for 18 months, and it was my Proms debut.
“It’s quite an impressive concert hall with special audiences and a special atmosphere, and I also consider that we played very well.”
There’s also, some might say, a special atmosphere not far from where we’re sitting on the Phil’s first-floor terrace in Hope Street, with magic happening within the walls of the art deco landmark.
Hindoyan first felt it two years ago when he was guest conductor for a summertime concert of Mozart, Weber and Beethoven’s Seventh.
It appears he and the orchestra hit it off from the start – something which isn’t always a given.
Domingo Hindoyan with Sheku Kanneh-Mason and the RLPO in rehearsals at the Proms. Photo by Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
The 41-year-old Venezuelan explains: “One of the most important moments is those first minutes of a rehearsal, the very first rehearsal where you meet an orchestra for the first time, where you only say ‘hello, good morning, pleasure to be here, let’s start’.
“And then let’s see what happens, let’s see how the chemistry goes, if they trust you, if you trust them. If you can build something that week and you will have a happy week.
“And from the very first minute I felt it was right. I felt they were very open to my ideas, and I was open to the way they played, and there was great chemistry.”
An invitation was issued to return, this time with fellow Venezuelan – and fellow El Sistema graduate – trumpeter Pacho Flores for a concert whose rip-roaring programme, together with a warm and entertaining double act on stage between the pair, proved a big hit with the Liverpool audience.
Domingo Hindoyan and Pacho Flores. Photo by Mark McNulty
And the audience’s response to what happens up there on stage is key.
“I think a concert is a special moment of communion between a triangle,” says the conductor.
“It’s between the composition - the genius of the composer, the performer and the listener. And when there’s perfect harmony within this triangle, then is when you have a great evening.”
Domingo Hindoyan was born in Caracas in 1980 to a Venezuelan father (a violinist and former president of the Venezuelan Symphony Orchestra) and a lawyer mother of Armenian heritage.
He also started his musical life playing violin before gaining a masters in conducting at Geneva’s Haute École de Musique, then went on to spend three years as first assistant to Daniel Barenboim at the Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin. And opera has formed an important part of his conducting career.
While he has been principal guest conductor at the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra since 2019, the RLPO is his first orchestra ‘in charge’.
Under his predecessor Vasily Petrenko the Phil became dubbed ‘the best Russian orchestra outside Russia’ for its performances of his countrymen’s work, particularly Shostakovich and Rachmaninov, while Mahler and Elgar were also favourites.
So, what can Liverpool expect with Hindoyan at the helm?
“I have a very wide repertoire and I’m very curious about many, many things,” he says. “I am a symphonic conductor and also an opera conductor; in my diary there’s a lot of opera – in the future and also in the past. I like the voice.
“But I also like the German Romantic repertoire a lot, I studied in Geneva with a big influence of French repertoire, and I grew up in South America with a great influence of Latin American composers and American composers.
“So honestly I’m lucky that I don’t have a label of ‘he’s a conductor of these type of composers’. And I don’t want to have it.
“What I’m planning to bring to the orchestra is to keep the big repertoire with the great legacy that Vasily was doing here. We will play it again, with different versions, absolutely, of course.
“Then I will try to bring new composers like the South American and American composers. I love French music so I’m going to conduct as much French as I can.
“And there’s a fantastic tradition here of commissions. For me it’s very important to support new composers.”
He is, he admits, “totally fanatical for a rich and colourful sound”.
And he also plans to introduce at least one opera performance a year, revealing he has already had a conversation with the Liverpool-based European Opera Centre.
How much of a challenge is it, I wonder, to follow someone who was one of the longest-serving conductors in the Phil’s history and who made such an impact on both the orchestra and the city?
While Hindoyan says he admires what Petrenko achieved and is “very thankful because the orchestra is in a great shape”, he is clear that he won’t be looking over his shoulder constantly.
“I come with a consciousness of what I want to do with the music, the orchestra and myself, and with my own perception of sound and the repertoire I like, and we just go on.
“It’s like if you’re a football player and you wear this same number that Steven Gerrard wore for 10 years, you shouldn’t be nervous of wearing the number eight on your back. You have to play every game as best as you can. So that’s what I try to do.”
Music and football – they are, after all, two great pillars of this city.
Hindoyan is a Real Madrid fan and says, diplomatically, that he doesn’t “have a second or third team” but is looking forward to working in a “perfect city to enjoy good football, and to see great players and trainers”, red or blue.
Domingo Hindoyan in the Grand Foyer bar. Photo courtesy of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
It’s certainly going to be a different experience to Vaud, the picturesque mountainous canton of Switzerland sandwiched between Lake Geneva and France which he and his family – award-winning operatic soprano Sonya Yoncheva and their two young children – currently live.
With the in-demand Yoncheva travelling extensively for work and their seven-year-old son Mateo settled at school in Switzerland, there are no immediate plans to relocate the family fully to Liverpool – but Hindoyan says he is still committed to throwing himself into the life of the wider city here.
“I don’t want to be just a guest conductor who comes for 12 weeks,” he insists. “I want to be a chief conductor not only of the orchestra but also of the city."