The five things travel has taught me: Dane Lam, conductor


Born in Brisbane, Dane Lam, is principal conductor and artistic director of the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra and enjoys a career spanning Europe, Asia and Australia. He performs Don Giovanni for Opera Australia from January 24 – February 27 at the Sydney Opera House. See


In 2014, I left my comfortable life in London to start my tenure as Principal Conductor of the Xi'an Symphony Orchestra in China. Growing up in Brisbane with an Australian mother and Singaporean-Chinese father, I thought I "got" Chinese culture. My preconceptions were about to be thoroughly challenged. From learning enough Mandarin for rehearsal while negotiating local customs, I took a quantum leap outside of my comfort zone. Six years later, the orchestra is rightfully recognised internationally and I can confidently guide guest artists to the best local nosh.


In winter 2012 I was conducting in Sapporo, Japan and between rehearsals was taken to the mountains, to Lake Shikotsu. I stayed overnight at the local onsen (hot spring) hotel and have an overriding memory of the tranquillity of sitting naked in the outside spring, moonlight on the surface of the lake while the purest, whitest snowflakes softly fell.


I was lucky to count German conductor Kurt Masur as one of my mentors. When I got the chance to study the Beethoven symphonies with him in Beethoven's birth house in Bonn, Germany, holding the manuscript to his Pastorale Symphony, I got a true perspective of the great line of history that connects us all, from the composer and his audience, to the performers and people in our own age.


As a student at The Juilliard School, I was a naive 22-year-old Brisbanite thrown into a melting pot of some of the finest musicians in the world. That coupled with New York's vibrant musical scene, it would have been easy to be a wallflower. New York was my first lesson in standing my ground and backing my own opinions and ability, whether it was pushing onto a packed-to-the-rafters subway or leading a phenomenal orchestra and realising that my Aussie education equipped me remarkably well to take this on.


Over the years, as I return to Australia, I get a greater and greater sense of who I really, authentically, am. I've lived in New York, London, and Xi'an and travelled the world, yet I never experience a greater thrill than making music at home and sharing this art with the country I love. Australia also imparts some of its own unique authenticity to me that, I think, holds me in good stead overseas; orchestras can sniff a phony a mile away but there's something in the Aussie spirit that eschews any false bravado: "This is who I am and, for better or worse, this is what you're getting."