Introducing RSNO Assistant Conductor Derrick Morgan - Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Introducing RSNO Assistant Conductor Derrick Morgan

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Introducing RSNO Assistant Conductor Derrick Morgan Posted Thu 14 March 2024

Introducing RSNO Assistant Conductor Derrick Morgan

(<5 minute read)

In June 2023, following extensive shortlisting of almost 200 applicants worldwide, the RSNO appointed Derrick Morgan as the RSNO’s new Assistant Conductor. This two-year post offers a rare opportunity for conductors to develop their talent and skills and is kindly supported by Solti Foundation.  

‘I think actually, as a society, we just need a little bit more odd.’ Derrick talks about his influences, which range from pottery to Max Planck. Hailing from the Scottish Borders, Derrick Morgan studied Musicology at the University of Edinburgh and completed his Masters in Conducting at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. He served as Assistant Artistic Conductor at the Nevis Ensemble before joining the RSNO. Here, Derrick tells us a little more about his musical journey, and why we should all be as excited as he is to hear new music. 

What brought you to conducting? 

I never really intended to become a conductor; I wanted to be a teacher and always looked up to my teachers. When I went to secondary school, I started playing in brass bands and my teacher, who I admired, was conducting. I saw him conducting away, helping people, helping the performance come together and enabling people to play at their best, and I thought, ‘Oh gosh, I’d quite like to do something like that’. 

At university I played in lots of orchestras. Being a trumpet player, you spend quite a long time sitting at the back counting bars. Watching these people coming in conducting, you got to see what people responded to and what worked and what didn’t. I eventually started chatting to them and getting lessons with them. At some point, somebody stupidly agreed to let me in front of an ensemble, and that was the point I was hooked. 

My first experience of conducting an orchestra was disastrous. You know, it was complete chaos, but it was a learning experience. But being able to shape and engage and work with the orchestra, it’s an almost spiritual experience. It’s about as close as you can get to touching whatever the ethereal stuff music is made from. 

When I left university, I took a conducting job with a little choral society. A friend of mine, Michael Bawtree (British Organist and Conductor), became a coach of mine and he said, ‘why don’t you try this course?’ I went up to the St Magnus Festival in Orkney and worked with Alexander Verdernikov. He opened the doors to me of what you could do as a conductor. 

You have worked with the RSNO previously. What was that like? 

I’ve worked before doing the calling for the live streaming, so in the little room at the back calling out camera shots for people much cleverer than me to zoom in on the right people. It was really fun. It tied quite nicely into my training for being a conductor. You had to be two steps ahead to make sure that everything didn’t fall apart because, of course, it was being live streamed. I’ve also been in to assist a couple of times with Thomas when the previous assistant couldn’t make it. We have a really good relationship and it’s always fun to see him working to change the Orchestra sound. 

You’re a champion of new and contemporary music. What draws you to it? 

Music is a living thing and all music has been a reflection of its time. There is just something special about giving life to a new work, something that no one’s ever heard of, no one has any expectations of – nobody knows what’s going to happen at the first downbeat of the rehearsal or the performance – and having that risk of ‘I might go to this and I might not like it, but at least it’s new and fresh’. I think the worst kind of music is not the music that you dislike, it’s the music that you have no opinion of. Contemporary music is a new voice. It’s the living breath of our time. 


This interview was first published in the Winter 2024 Issue of Inner Circle – an exclusive magazine for members of the RSNO Circle. Find out more about the benefits of becoming a member of the RSNO Circle here.

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