Music according to David Afkham

What does one conductor learn from another?

Thirty-five. The age a hockey player thinks about retirement. Also the age of the youngest guest conductor who will be appearing with the OSM this fall. But David Afkham will be bringing with him the advice, support and experience of a number of leading conductors, including Valeri Guerguiev and Bernard Haitink. It was with the latter that he learned to extract a rich pianissimo from an orchestra, the kind where the volume drops without losing intensity and expression.


Does an orchestra really need a maestro?

Watching a maestro conduct a concert is to see only the tip of the iceberg of the work he or she has accomplished. For David Afkham, a conductor’s role is to study the sociohistorical context of a work to be able to give meaning to the thousands of black dots that constitute a score. This way, the musicians interpret a story rather than simply a melody.


Smitten with conducting

David Afkham was born in Freiburg, where he began learning the violin and piano at the age of six. He entered university at 15, and it was soon after that that he felt that something was missing from his life as a performer: a global approach to art. He tried his hand at conducting and was completely smitten. “This is the thing I was looking for. It combines so many things […] You have to know much more about the pieces: the history, the story or the composer or the literature.”

The “Wagner Symphony”

Afkham has a particular mastery of the European repertoire and will give audiences a concrete example of this when he performs Bruckner’s Third Symphony. Given that this work exists in at least three versions, the sociohistorical context is particularly important. The Sibelius Violin Concerto, performed by Blake Pouliot, winner of the Manulife 2016 OSM Competition, completes the program.

“Lithe and handsome, Mr. Afkham cuts a graceful figure on the podium. His expansive left-hand gestures and dancelike body movements are balanced by a right hand that delineates the beat with sober precision.”

– Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, New York Times


“Afkham, who’s in his early 30s, was a model of physical grace and musical purpose on the podium. His left hand traced broad arcs of sound while his right hand articulated beats and phrases with the utmost clarity and precision. Every interpretative choice was well motivated and grounded in an ability to maintain orchestral control that was exacting, yet never rigid. Always in evidence was a keen sense of what each score was about, structurally and expressively. And the orchestra came through marvellously for him.”

– John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune