Chloé Van Soeterstède presents a rare species: a female conductor. And a highly successful one at that. Born and brought up in Paris, Chloé moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music. In 2012, at the age of 24, Chloé created her own symphony orchestra, The Arch Sinfonia. She is currently based in Manchester, after having been invited for postgraduate study at the Royal Northern College of Music. She commutes to London regularly for The Arch Sinfonia, operating in the capacity of conductor and artistic director.

"I never really questioned myself about being a musician."

“I never really questioned myself about being a musician.”

Interview

Q. Why did you choose to move to London to pursue your music career?

A. I was born in Paris where I began my music studies. When I reached a very high playing level (violin and viola), I wanted to broaden my knowledge and study abroad. I heard so many good things about orchestra playing in England and especially London, so I auditioned and got a place at the Royal Academy of Music. Paris is a really good place for solo playing, but I didn’t fit there as solo playing was never for me; I always loved ensemble playing, chamber music, orchestra practice.

Q. What did you find most challenging when you first moved to London?

A. From Paris, where most of the people are closed-minded, selfish and arrogant, it was a shock of freedom of thought and respect! I was taught English at school so this wasn’t so much of a barrier. People in London were really welcoming and helpful, I really appreciated that.

Q. Music is renowned to be a very difficult industry to succeed in. Did you ever feel that you were taking a risk by pursuing music without what some would refer to as a “back up” profession?

A. I never had the feeling of taking a risk by pursuing music, luckily. I was encouraged by my parents, non-musicians but music lovers and very open-minded people. I never really questioned myself.

Q. What gave you the impetus and determination to create The Arch Sinfonia?

A. In Paris, while studying violin at the conservatoire, I took some conducting classes for a year. I knew conducting was an area I would belong, where I could express myself in a way I can’t on the violin or viola. After a year, I realised how important it was for me to be a very good instrumentalist before stepping on a podium: I wanted to be able to fully know my instrument and the skills it demands.

In London, I took conducting as an elective for three years. I felt I needed to conduct an ensemble so I decided to gather a few friends to play through a Haydn symphony and a Beethoven violin romance. We ended up organising a concert – the players really enjoyed it so I organised many others after that.

Q. How is The Arch Sinfonia unique?

A. The Arch Sinfonia is a very unique chamber orchestra:

At first I created it as I saw a lack of collaboration between the four London music colleges (each college has its own ‘protection’ and doesn’t really encourage going to other classes / listening to concerts in other institutions): the players are students and graduates from those 4 music schools (Royal Academy of Music, Royal College of Music, Guildhall Music School and Drama and Trinity College) and they meet and play with other students, new colleagues from different colleges. Everyone is there because they want to be there.

The atmosphere of work is unique and very exciting, the players and conductor (me) are young and in a learning process. This is a very unique aspect.

We want to collaborate with soloists, composers and also other arts: last June we collaborated with a dance company; in September we had a few sessions and a performance in collaboration with Imperial College (study on stress level on a group of musicians). Cross art is a very challenging aspect and we want to involve many other arts in our concerts.

The Arch Sinfonia is unique in its embrace of cross-art performance.

The Arch Sinfonia is unique in its embrace of cross-art performance.

Q. What obstacles and challenges did you have to confront when creating and ensuring the success of The Arch Sinfonia?

A. Organising rehearsals and a concert is a big challenge and that’s why so few young conductors have their own ensemble: thinking of all the possible aspects an orchestra musician will need from an organisation, where the concert and the rehearsals will take place, who do you invite, designing flyers, contacting the players on time, chose when your concert will attract the biggest audience, providing a full schedule to the musicians… At first I did everything alone and learnt a lot. I went through phases where I thought it would fall apart, but my determination and my energy are the most important things in me: never give up and work for what you want and you will get it.

I am currently developing The Arch Sinfonia: we need funding support and this needs a lot of time to work on. The team and structure is expanding.

Q. As a female conductor in an industry that is mainly dominated by men, could you give some insight into your drive to succeed?

A. It’s true that conductors are represented by male figures and authority. Even in 2015, it’s still a bit of a taboo to speak about female conductors. Time moves and females are getting more and more ‘powerful’ at the head of industries. I don’t see why a female couldn’t manage a business. And this is my motivation: to go on and do what I want to do. We need to be strong and prove we can do it.

Q. What are you most proud of?

A. I am very proud of being at the head of a small company which, I hope, one day will be big!

Conducting