Interview: Simon Thew - Future Music Director & Chief Conductor of the Houston Ballet

You can see Simon Thew conduct this weekend for BESPOKE at the Houston Ballet, which is comprised of three ballets never-before-seen on the Wortham Theater stage!

By: Mar. 14, 2024
Interview: Simon Thew - Future Music Director & Chief Conductor of the Houston Ballet
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The 2024–2025 season at the Houston Ballet will begin with Australian Conductor Simon Thew’s appointment as Music Director and Chief Conductor, effective July 1, 2024.

Interview: Simon Thew - Future Music Director & Chief Conductor of the Houston Ballet
Houston Ballet Associate Conductor and Music Director Designate Simon Thew.  
Photo by Alana Campbell (2023).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving in the fall of 2022 as associate conductor, Thew has made a tremendous impact as a steady source of support and symphonic consistency, conducting the Houston Ballet orchestra with Maestro Ermanno Florio across all productions.

Thew has had an illustrious career as a conductor all over the world. He gained a Master of Music Performance–majoring in conducting–from the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. In 2007, he was the first–and only–conductor to be awarded the prestigious Dame Joan Sutherland/Richard Bonynge Travel Scholarship from the Australian Opera Auditions Committee, which enabled further study in Europe. He served as an assistant conductor on various productions with Opera Australia between 2007 and 2010. In 2010, he held the Hephzibah Tintner Fellowship, giving performance and mentoring opportunities with The Australian Ballet Company, Opera Australia, and the Sydney Symphony.

In 2011, Thew was The Australian Ballet Company’s Conducting Fellow, and in that same year, he was also awarded the renowned Churchill Fellowship, launching further study and professional development opportunities with world-leading ballet companies, opera houses, and orchestras in London, Birmingham, Vienna, Berlin, and New York.

As a regular guest conductor with The Australian Ballet Company between 2013 and 2016, he conducted performances in most of the company's seasons during that time. In 2017, he accepted an invitation to become The Australian Ballet Company’s assistant conductor, a position he held until mid-2022. In this position, Thew conducted an average of half the company’s performances working with orchestras across Australia.

In 2016, Houston Ballet traveled to Australia to present Stanton Welch’s Romeo and Juliet. Accompanied by Orchestra Victoria, Thew joined Maestro Ermanno Florio as a guest conductor, marking the beginning of his working relationship with Houston Ballet. Now–after joining Houston Ballet's Orchestra as Associate Conductor in 2022–he gracefully accepts the passing of the baton with the upcoming 2024 - 2025 season, as Maestro Ermanno Florio steps down after 32 seasons.

BroadwayWorld got the chance to speak with Simon Thew about his worldly career, his experience with the Houston Ballet as well as the city of Houston, and his goals for the future of the Houston Ballet.


To start us off, Simon, can you tell us your background? What brought you to conducting? Were you always looking to conduct for a ballet company?

I grew up in western Sydney, which is traditionally a working-class area. I always had an interest in classical music just from hearing it on the radio and in movies. Thank you, Mr. Williams for writing such great scores! Then, at the high school I went to, every student had to learn an instrument for the first semester of their first year. So, that's year seven for us, like 7th grade. I decided to play tuba, and I took to it like a duck to water and loved it. However, I always thought for some reason that I wanted to conduct. I had a chance to do that at the end of high school, and then I talked some of my lecturers at university into letting me do it because–in the course I was doing–conducting was not an elective that was allowed. However, they let me do it, and it felt comfy yet challenging at the same time. At home, I discovered ballet, as well. I had come in contact with it through working in orchestra management for an orchestra while I was a student, and I fell in love with the art form. I thought, I want to do that!

What connected you with the Houston Ballet, and how has it been working with Maestro Ermanno Florio?

My connection with the Houston Ballet is a little bit new. I knew of Stanton as a famous Australian choreographer, and he would come back, create works, and present his works with the Australian Ballet Company. So, I got to know of and got to work with him when I was working with the Australian Ballet Company. Then, when the Houston Ballet came to Melbourne in 2016, I was asked if I would share some performances in the season. Mr. Florio was conducting then, and that's where our working relationship started. They came back a few years later and asked if I would be interested in a position with them, and here I am!

The opportunity to work with the legend that is Ermanno Florio is amazing, and that was one of the draws to come here. Additionally, I was excited for the great company as well as Stanton, who is amazing.

I see you have a lot of experience with both symphony orchestras and ballet companies. What do you enjoy about being the music director for specifically ballet companies?

It is different every night in the same way that a theatrical show is. If you put three actors in a room and give them all the same Shakespeare monologue, everyone's going to be different. If 3 ballerinas or three dancers are on a stage with choreography, it is also going to come out different for each artist because they are different artists in different bodies. We have to work with and incorporate that into music that also makes sense. Sometimes, there will be something that happens in the spur of the moment, and that is the joy of live theatre! Something will be a bit quicker, something a bit slower, a dancer will hold the balance a bit longer, they'll turn faster…we are then judging, trying to anticipate those changes so that we can still make the music work for them.

Your resume is so impressive! You have been around the world for your career. Why do you pursue such an international role? What is your favorite aspect about your career around the world?

For me, what is special about an international career is that you can absorb as much of other cultures as you can by gaining as much experience with other companies as possible. Each company has different ways of working. They have different ways that their orchestras and dancers are trained, and the companies are all organized differently. These differences just broaden your own experience base, which can only help you grow as an artist and as a person.

What have been your favorite moments of working with the Houston Ballet company so far? 

Goodness! There's about a million of them, and I've only been here a year and a half. Working with the company in their first performances in Japan with such an iconic work as Swan Lake was an amazing version of that goodness. The fact that we reached so many people was beautiful. The Nutcracker is also an amazing production! I particularly love the student matinees; I think they're fantastic. Student matinees are great fun because you are reaching kids of all ages, and you feel their excitement and energy. The fact that the students completely buy into the show is magical. There are also so many other great works that we get to do. Romeo and Juliet, Swan Lake, and premieres of new works that are being created all of the time are a lot of fun.

To clarify, what has specifically been your role of in all these productions?

My current role as associate conductor is essentially being the "number two" for most of the repertoire. My job has been to take over seasons once they have opened. So, Maestro will do the majority the orchestral rehearsal, I will do some of it, and then we will have the dress rehearsal. He will open it, possibly do the second show, then I will go in on the third show. Then, we go from there, except in the mixed bills, where I have been responsible for a work or a couple of works within each of those. Also, some admin is mixed into the role, which always comes with these roles once you are in a company.

Do you have any big goals or missions as you're stepping into this “number one” position? Do you have any insight about what you want to do with your future with the Houston Ballet?

I am conscious that I am standing on the shoulders of a giant in this role. We have a great orchestra here, and I essentially want to continue the great tradition that we have in the company when it comes to the commitment to live music.

I have been exceptionally fortunate in my training to be the beneficiary of some great mentorship along the way, and I am hoping to be able to open up opportunities for young and early-career artists in a similar way. I am not sure how yet, but I would like to have some connection to help at least crack that glass ceiling. We all know that as artists, you get to a point where you wonder, how do I get there? It is just this secret, and I would like to help new artists learn how to get where I am through exposure and experience.  

Have you moved permanently to Houston? If so, how is that transition going? How do you enjoy Houston?

There is great food! I have also found some good coffee. This is some going to sound very parochial right now, but there are some great Australian-run cafes that do amazing coffee around town, so I have tapped into that as the self-confessed caffeine addict that I am. Also, there are great people in this city. Everyone has been really nice and welcoming. It feels kind-of like Australia in that people are quite welcoming to people who have moved from other parts of the world. Houston really opened up for me about six months ago when I finally got a car, which changed my life! Everything is so far apart in Texas, and public transportation can be tricky to navigate. So, I am now able to fully explore the city!

Interview: Simon Thew - Future Music Director & Chief Conductor of the Houston Ballet
Houston Ballet Associate Conductor
and Music Director Designate Simon Thew.  
Photo by Alana Campbell (2023).
Courtesy of Houston Ballet.

 

To finish us off, is there anything else you would like to share with the readers of BroadwayWorld Houston?

I just look upon myself as very lucky to have this opportunity and to take on this role. I am also very thankful and grateful to Stanton Welch, Julie Kent, and the company for inviting me to take on this role. The responsibility of it does not escape me. While it is amazing and fun, there is great responsibility that goes along with it, and I am very aware of that. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to taking that responsibility on.

 

 


Houston Ballet’s commemorative season of Stanton Welch’s 20 years as Artistic Director continues with Bespoke, which is comprised of three ballets never-before-seen on the Wortham Theater stage. Simon Thew will be conducting the performances of Bespoke this weekend (Friday and Saturday, March 15th and 16th at 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 17th at 2:00 pm). Of the triple bill, he will be leading the orchestra in live music to accompany the ballet dancers, and the third act is recordings of 48Nord, an electronic band from Germany. Tickets start at $25, and you can get them on the Houston Ballet website or by calling (713) 227-ARTS (2787).




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