Dancing with the conductor’s baton

Photographs: Regula Bearth © ZHdK

Student portrait Alena Jelínková

Growing up in a small village in the Czech Republic, Alena Jelínková hardly dared to dream of conducting. Today she is part of the renowned Conductors Studio ZHdK. As a conductor, her highest goal is to be authentic.


Lea Ingber: What do you consider to be the highlight of your studies?
Alena Jelínková: I was very happy to be selected for the master’s programme. Johannes Schlaefli’s programme is known worldwide. I really appreciate the fact that not only my conducting is of interest, but also my personality. This approach enables Professor Schlaefli to get the best out of each and every student. I’m very pleased that his successor Christoph-Mathias Mueller will be continuing this approach. At ZHdK, we benefit from a large network and lots of practice — in the classroom or with partner orchestras abroad.

Why did you want to become a conductor?
When I conduct, I feel complete. I love working with others on pieces of music. I’m also fascinated by the movements involved in conducting. Ideally, they should embody the music. I often joke about being the only person privileged to dance to classical music during a concert.

As a conductor, you’re very exposed during concerts. How do you deal with that?
The music helps me: it stands above everything. I love the feeling of being part of the music. It’s not about me. I want to embody the music. And I can rely on the musicians: we work together.

The notes are always the same. As a conductor, how do you influence a concert?
I want to go deeper than the score. I want to find and reproduce the meaning of the music. At the same time, my ego mustn’t become too strong. It’s an interesting balance. But I must bring in myself. Authenticity is one of my highest goals. I want to find my own movements, my own style.

What energizes you most?
Positively minded people, my closest friends and nature. My faith is also important and helps me put my life and my problems into a larger context.

The globally successful “Conductors Studio ZHdK” fosters a learning culture that promotes intensive exchange for a wide variety of personalities through curricular activities and learning spaces. The programme trains eight to ten bachelor’s and master’s students in a strikingly gender-equal distribution. With long-standing professor Johannes Schläfli retiring in 2023, Christoph-Mathias Mueller will be taking over as director of ZHdK’s highly reputed conducting programme.
Further student portraits published in Zett
Lea Ingber (lea.ingber@zhdk.ch) is a project manager at ZHdK University Communications.
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