Meet the child genius who became world’s youngest orchestra conductor at 11

Mildred Europa Taylor January 31, 2020
Matthew Smith leads Nottingham Symphony Orchestra's performance of Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus in April 2017. Photo:

At just 11 years old, Matthew Smith could play four instruments. He could play the guitar, drums, piano and viola.

But what brought the child music prodigy to the limelight was when he led Nottingham Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus in April 2017.

This made him the world’s youngest conductor ever to take to a professional stage in Britain.

Leading a 75-strong orchestra as part of their ‘Animal Magic’ show at the Royal Concert Hall, the Nottingham lad conducted the whole of Strauss’ operetta from memory to the joy of the audience.

 He was discovered at seven-years-old by NSO conductor Derek Williams
Matthew Smith conducts symphony orchestra. Photo: South West News Service

His mum, Beverly, was so proud of her son’s performance at the concert.

“I was quite nervous for him because he is 11-years-old and he is young.

“I just want him to enjoy the experience, I am very proud of him,” she said at the end of the show.

Four years earlier, Smith had seen a video of a young child conducting Strauss’ nine-minute piece and he had wanted to try it.

“I managed to conduct the whole thing a few weeks later,” the primary school pupil said.

11-year-old UK child prodigy to become world’s youngest orchestra conductor
Matthew Smith

That same year, at the age of seven, Smith was discovered by Nottingham Symphony Orchestra’s conductor Derek Williams, who described the Grade 5 violinist as someone who had “music coming out of his pores.”

“I spotted Matthew’s musical talent very early on in his musical tuition as I’ve been teaching him violin for five years,” Williams told ITV.

“There aren’t many children who have the ability to conduct a 75-strong orchestra from memory and it’s a really incredible thing to witness.”

The music teacher added that Smith has “an inherent natural ability the like of which I have not seen for 30 years.”

In April 2017 when Smith led Nottingham Symphony Orchestra’s performance, he beat the record of Jose Angel Salazar, 14, who conducted in his native Venezuela in 2012.

Meet the child genius who became world’s youngest orchestra conductor at 11
Matthew Smith rehearsed for some weeks before the concert.

Ahead of Smith’s performance, the talented child had to rehearse with Nottingham Symphony Orchestra for a couple of weeks.

“There are some difficult parts where the music gets faster so I have to move my arms more but I’m getting the hang of it,” he said days before the concert.

“I have been practicing a lot and can now conduct the whole piece from memory and I’m really excited to put my skills to the test and conduct a real orchestra.”

Smith, whose father plays the saxophone, didn’t disappoint the 1,300-audience that showed up to watch him be in control of 75 adult musicians.

 Matthew's mum felt 'quite nervous' for him because he is so young
Photo: Photo: South West News Service

Neil Bennison, music program manager at the Royal Concert Hall, indicated that young conductors like Smith are rare.

“Successful conductors have to be team managers, leaders, motivators and diplomats, and these people skills take time to develop and require a level of maturity that only comes with years of experience.

“Orchestras can be pretty merciless to conductors for whom they have no respect, so you’d have to be a supremely confident young maestro to win over a lot of hardened professional musicians,” the music program manager said.

“The other thing is that conductors have to carry a huge amount of repertoire around with them and be able to deliver performances of very different music week in, week out, knowing the ins and outs of all the orchestral parts.”

The British child prodigy before taking the stage in 2017 said he didn’t know if conducting will be his future even though he would continue to do music.

“I know one day I will conduct again.”

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Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: January 31, 2020


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