Euan Shields, who graduated from The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music in 2021 with a bachelor’s in cello performance, has won the Siemens Hallé International Conductors Competition in 2023. First prize is a two-year engagement as assistant conductor to Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra’s music director, Sir Mark Elder.
“All this is still resonating in my head,” said Shields, after winning the competition. “I’m so excited to get to know the entire family of the Hallé Orchestra and to learn as much as possible from the musicians of the Hallé.” Shields will also take over directorship of the Hallé Youth Orchestra for the next two years.
Over 200 conductors from six continents applied to participate in the competition. Eight finalists were selected for the three-day, intense competition, ultimately whittled down to three candidates for the final day on March 14. At Bridgewater Hall, home of the Hallé Orchestra, the candidates conducted four works by Mozart, Elgar, Sibelius, and Stravinsky. Shields, the youngest in the competition at 24 and still completing a master’s in conducting at the Juilliard School, won over the judges’ panel “with an outstanding display of talent.”
For Shields, the final day of the competition was exhilarating.
“I didn’t focus on winning,” said Shields. “rather, I focused on making music and being myself. The competition had a friendly and supportive atmosphere, so I conducted the Elgar Enigma Variations with the Hallé Orchestra completely myself without reservation.”
That did not mean that Shields wasn’t nervous. Part of being an artist means accepting one’s feelings, including the nerves, insecurities, and even fear while standing alone on the podium. They are part of what produce an honest performance.
“It’s not always pleasant,” Shields admitted. “But walking off the stage, I had no regrets. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it felt somewhat like a culmination of all the things I’ve learned over the past years. I’m very grateful of everyone in UCLA who has guided me and supported me all this time.”
Shields was born in Osaka, Japan in 1998 and moved to northern California at the age of 13. He performed with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra as a cellist. Interested in conducting, he founded and directed a chamber youth orchestra. He chose The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music for his undergraduate studies, entering as a student of cello professor Antonio Lysy.
“Euan was a formidable cellist,” said Lysy. “But he always had a burning desire to conduct. And he had the determination to follow that dream. We don’t have an undergraduate conducting program, but he opened doors with our distinguished faculty directors in contemporary ensemble, opera, composition, early music ensemble, choral and orchestral studies. He was a force.”
Shields possessed a relentless curiosity. Lysy remembered fondly Shields’s uncanny ability to recruit friends into fascinating musical projects that he directed and conducted, all with (as Lysy put it) his signature “amiable effortlessness.” It was a rare instance of natural leadership abilities blending with extraordinary musical talent.
“Many times I got friends together and read through big repertoire,” said Shields. “I called it SRO or ‘Sight Reading Orchestra.’ We did Tchaikovsky 6, Mussorgsky Pictures, Brahms 1 and many other cool pieces. I learned so much that way.”
Shields recounted the mentorship of faculty, both his mentor Antonio Lysy, and Neal Stulberg, Peter Kazaras, Richard Danielpour, and Gloria Cheng. Although there is no undergraduate conducting program at UCLA, faculty extended Shields opportunities and assisted him when he took initiative. He had so burnished his conducting skills by graduation that he was accepted to Juilliard’s master’s program in conducting.
“I’m so pleased that others are learning what we’ve known since Euan Shields arrived at UCLA as a first-year undergraduate,” said Neal Stulberg, professor of conducting. “He is an extraordinary musician and a prodigiously gifted musical leader. We’re all so excited for him and wish him all good fortune on the next phase of his musical journey as assistant conductor of the famed Hallé Orchestra in Manchester.”