Simone Young is a trailblazer in the male dominated world of classical music. She is the current Chief conductor of the SSO and was famously the first woman to conduct the Vienna State Opera, amongst many other accolades and firsts.
She is also a knitter! We posed a few questions for her recently…
Knitting can have a rhythmic and meditative effect. Clicking of needles... the metronome. Is that a trigger or comfort for you?
Actually, it’s more the counting that takes my focus! I love doing complicated, lacey patterns, so that I have to concentrate and count! Takes my mind away from everything.
Do your skills and habits as a conductor transfer to your knitting life, and vice versa?
I am pretty obsessive about things. Once I start working on a score, I can get lost for hours in it, and knitting is the same. I have to ration it, or I would spend far too much time indulging my hobby.
Conducting looks like quite the workout… all those wrist, elbow and shoulder movements! Do you need to pause on the knitting when you are preparing for a performance?
Well, I had to take a big pause of nearly a year from knitting, after a bad fall in Paris and shoulder surgery. I have just started knitting again, and am still trying to find the most advantageous hold, angle, etc. Not quite found it there, so rationing myself to an hour’s knitting a day….
If musicians are particular about performances… could you describe how conductors feel about mistakes in their knitting? Do they even make mistakes?
I am pretty rigorous about errors. Doing a Shetland lace shawl, I lay lifelines all the time, and check everything as I go. But if I find an error 10 rows down, I will probably rip it out back to the error and fix it. At 20 rows, it would have to be a significant error….!
Can you tell us how and why knitting is an important part of your story?
Well, I learnt to knit as a child, like most girls born in the 60’s. Mum knitted, both my grandmothers knitted, and so I did too. It stopped in my mid-20’s when life just took over and other priorities emerged. But some things brought me back to it in my mid-50’s: my Dad passed away, and knitting was something that could unite myself and my mother; my daughter had her first child and I was determined to do the right thing and provide shawls and blankets; I was travelling a great deal and having to spend a lot of time alone, and needed to do something meditative and focussing that would keep me quiet and anchored. Knitting ticked all those boxes.
Do you think of yourself as a project or process oriented knitter? Is it about the flow, the challenge, the result…
The challenge, if I am honest. I like to challenge myself to see if I can do something really complicated. And I love the joy that giving hand-made garments brings. My 5-year-old younger granddaughter will not sleep without Nanna’s pink blanket :-)
Do you have a favourite fibre? What about colour? Is it performance black?
I tried knitting in black once and hated it - so hard to unpick when you made a mistake. I loved knitting in cotton/cashmere mix, and wool/silk. At the moment I am knitting with 1-ply spider-weight Shetland thread - a real challenge, can’t say I am loving it yet….
Do you acquire yarn for a project or do you stash, hoard, curate?
I am a hoarder. I have now unsubscribed to numerous yarn sites, as I used to just fall in love with colours and stash too much yarn for projects. I am trying to limit myself now to just what I need for the current project. I do have a cupboard full though….
What do you like to knit? Who do you knit for?
I love knitting for the family. The granddaughters love wearing things that Nanna made, and my daughters are grateful for thick cardigans and berets.
What’s on your needles at the moment?
I have just started a Shetland christening shawl, as grandchild no. 3 is due in October. It is outrageously challenging, and in 1-ply spider-weight, with which I must admit I am struggling a little at the moment. But the christening won’t be until December….
Your proudest knit moment?
A lace dress I made for a very dear friend. The pattern was in Russian, and designed for Russian-style knitting, which is basically all turned around. It was during the pandemic, and I did all the fitting of the garment by zoom, as my friend was in Sydney and I was in Sussex in the UK. And it looks great on her!
All those long-haul flights must be joyous for a knitter. Any advice for knitting on a plane?
Always thread a life-line through the last row before you head to the airport, as an overzealous security person can really spoil your day! Check for sharps in you work bag - you don’t want to lose your favourite pair of scissors at security. (I know there are rules about length of blade from the fulcrum, but believe me, most security people just go ape when they see scissors of any kind!) Have a bag with a loop on it so you can hang the working wool from the coat hook on the back of the seat in front of you - saves embarrassing crawling on the floor because your yarn has rolled away. And leave fiddly bits like stitch markers and tiny row counters at home - you will only lose them!
You are based in the UK and we see you when you working / visiting Australia. It can be hot here and our winters are not like that of Europe. Do you prefer the colder climes for knitting?
I do love sitting in front of the fire at home in Sussex and knitting while I listen to an audio book - my idea of bliss. But sitting in the sun in Sydney while knitting is pretty nice too. Just avoid big heavy projects or your knees will get way too heated!
Would you like to share your favourite international yarn shops for our crew to visit?
There’s a great shop in Zurich called Vilfil. The woman who runs it has a sign up in German, which basically says that if you knit you won’t need a psychiatrist. I drop in there every time I am in Zurich. I love the Wild Atlantic Yarns website - I would love to visit their shop in Ireland, but have not got there yet. Cast Off Collective is always a “must stop by” for me when I visit Sydney of course!
When you walk into a yarn store what music do you hope is playing in the background?
Preferable nothing! I want to focus on the wool!
Craziest place you have knitted?
Possibly in the conductor’s dressing room in the Vienna State Opera - I expect that was a first….
Do you know of other professional musicians / performers that share a passion for knitting? I’m guessing there might be some knitters when you are deep in rehearsal mode? Do you have a knitting community?
Sir Colin Davis was apparently a very keen knitter, but I did not know him personally. Emily Magee is a wonderful American soprano with whom I have worked for nearly 30 years. She taught herself to knit during the pandemic lockdown and is now seriously good. We swap the odd photo on Facebook.
You grew up locally and still have friends in the neighbourhood. Is there something about the northern beaches that transports you back to those childhood days?
There is always something wonderful about revisiting the places of one’s childhood, particularly when one had the luck to grow up on the Northern Beaches! Walking along the beach at Clontarf or Fairy Bower really takes me back.
Your story has recently been the subject of a documentary executive produced by Cate Blanchett. Knowing the Score also features a little-known yarn shop on the Northern Beaches. You mention it as a place of refuge, a safe place. I now like to refer to myself as a yarn therapist 😉
Absolutely - and I’ll be dropping in again in early July!
Thanks so much Simone. We look forward to seeing you soon - without the cameras this time hahaha!
Watch Simone's inspirational story on ABCiView Knowing the Score and have a chuckle at someone (not Simone) more suited to a role behind the scenes 🎥🎬✂️🎞️