Dominic Seldis is a true performer and devotee of classical music who doesn’t limit himself to the traditional. His combined love for music and the craft of performance have made him a man in the spotlight be it on television, theater stages or concert halls around the world.
It all started in the United Kingdom, where from a young age he performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, subsequently joining the Cardiff-based BBC National Orchestra of Wales. Whilst continuing his playing career, it was here that he first transitioned into television, appearing as a judge on BBC’s Maestro. In 2008, he moved to The Netherlands to become principal double bass player with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. Despite being new to the country, his larger ambitions could not be stifled by the new and different language. He continues to work in television. As we write this, the sixth season of the Dutch rendition of Maestro has just started and is already as popular as its successful predecessors.
We captured the Brit where he calls home – the concert halls of the Royal Concertgebouw in the heart of Amsterdam. Dressed in our collaborative collection, Dominic chats with us about his evolution from renowned orchestral performer to more widely recognized ambassador of classical music. Despite what you might expect, his deep interest in music ranges from jazz and pop to gypsy, and even film scores (most famously working on Tina Turner’s ‘Golden Eye’). But in the end, he always returns to classical, which he propagates wherever he goes with infectious enthusiasm, a distinct sense of humor, and a drive to look his best while doing so — whether that’s in a tuxedo on stage or a three-piece suit in front of a TV camera.
You’ve performed here in the Concertgebouw Orchestra as the Principal Double Bass for over 12 years. Performing with an orchestra is a rather formal endeavor you have been doing for most of your life; what’s your earliest memory of having to dress yourself in a certain way?
When you are a performing musician, which I have been from a fairly young age, clothing is a huge part of the profession. I’m not sure if I can count more than five serious concerts for which I have worn ‘normal’ clothes. There is always some kind of performance element to the clothing. As a musician, it’s always a very special moment when you put on your first pair of tails. The moment you see yourself in the mirror, wearing them with a black or white bow tie and those shiny shoes: in that moment you realize you are the person you always wanted to be. You have become a musician and you are going out on stage.
The reality in my profession is that people listen with their eyes. Whether or not they are going to enjoy the concert relies partly on how much effort has been put into the clothing. I can always remember when I first started working with the London Symphony Orchestra. Even when I was very young my parents would take me to their New Year’s concert. So, I’ve known that orchestra my whole life. And I can remember when I first started playing with them that my father said to me: ‘Dominic, can you do me a favor and tell the solo cello player to clean his shoes’.
Every year we would go and that was the thing he saw from the audience: there was no effort made to make his shoes shiny. That always stuck with me, in a way. I’ve always made a lot of effort to look good. Every time I appear on television, I will be wearing a tie. My thought being: if you are inviting yourself into someone’s living room or spending other people’s time and money – which you do when you perform – the very least you can do is look respectful. That is the very least!
How do you express yourself when you make that effort?
For the last twenty years, I have always worn waistcoats. So, when I come across a company with an amazing range of three-piece suits, I’m in heaven. To get a waistcoat that fits my, what can only be described as a ‘dad bod’, is quite rare.
I’ve been a professional musician for thirty-five years and while constantly on tour I’ve seen countless restaurants, everywhere in the world. So as a result, I spent a lot of time covering that up. I could go to the gym, which of course would be better, but since I’ve discovered made-to-measure clothing, I realized the potential of that alternative. I’m always fully aware what it truly means to have great clothes on my back. And if I’m feeling good, comfortable, sharp: it helps me give the audience what they deserve from the second I walk out on stage. My playing will reflect that state of mind.
Was performing always such an integral part of your life, even in your younger years while studying in London and Salzburg?
I had a professor that said: ‘What you learn in the practice room is extremely important, but you will learn ten times more if you go on stage.’ I took that to another level. If I’m not performing, I feel pretty worthless. It has become my very existence. That is why I have diversified so much, from performing with an orchestra, solo recitals, my own theatre show, to teaching and all the things in media. Everything comes from the same performance muscle. Performing is where I feel most comfortable.
I’m of the opinion that we all have some kind of gift. As I’ve grown older, I realize what a privilege it is that I have found my gift. I’ll be buggered if I’m not going to use that gift as much as possible. And the gift is not just being able to play the bass, but also stand in front of a crowd and not throw up. That has always felt normal to me. So being on stage was the best and most exciting part of learning my craft from the beginning. It was all about finding a new gig. When I was young, I would take on everything. Not just orchestral concerts, but solo concerts. I played in a gypsy band, I would do pub jazz gigs, I would play in an avant-garde group, I was in a pop band called A to Z, I performed in the theatre. I literally did everything. I was gigging every night. My eagerness to learn more about this ‘stagecraft’ has started in London and continues to this day.
“To try things and learn that way is what life should be about. It certainly shouldn’t be about being or portraying what you are not. “
Do you sense that eagerness in the people you teach?
Well, to be honest, with the ‘millennial attitude’ of ‘the world owes me a living’ – and I’m painting all students here with the same brush – I see many students that can play much better than I can, but no one has heard it. Somehow there is this embarrassment of going out there. A fear of failing, which instantly will end up on social media and suddenly you are a weird pariah who’s a total loser. Thank God social media didn’t exist for the number of concerts I messed up in my time! Because I just wouldn’t have a career now.
I spend most of my time teaching just telling my students to go out there and gig. Perform and then you’ll be able to perfect your craft. Because what is the point of being able to play like a star in your own four walls? It misses a major part of what being a musician is about. When you do a performance you take the audience on a journey, you are creating memories. Nobody has ever left a concert and said: ‘I remember every note I’ve heard’. What they remember is a feeling. That feeling will stay with them forever. That is what musicians can create. Being in a concert hall, or wherever actually, when music is being performed is always a once in a lifetime experience. And to do so as a musician at the highest level, you must work long and hard to get to that point. And you will not get there by performing at home – I know that for sure.
Your failures helped you become who you are today?
Of course! This is a tough business and I have had many, many failures. Luckily a lot of people didn’t notice. So, I picked myself up and did another gig. And I still have failures, but by now I have also learned that people forgive one another.
“I feel like the collaboration shows what Atelier Munro and myself share: be inspired, be brave, be yourself. “
It’s fascinating you have played so many genres of music from a young age. That might explain how your career has since encompassed different genres, including film scores, alongside your orchestral performances.
I have many friends that have been taken to certain museums, that have read certain books, and have listened to a certain type of music. They are extremely knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and passionate about ‘their’ specific genre. And for that I’m extremely grateful to have a conversation with them about it. But then I’ll turn the conversation to Miles Davis, or Stevie Wonder, or Sid Vicious and they are completely lost. My gut reaction was always: ‘You are missing out, you need to listen to this stuff!’ But I know now, I’m just incredibly lucky that I was introduced to all these things and had an inquisitive mind to go down whatever rabbit hole was in front of me.
And I continue to do so to this day. I’m extremely excited when a student comes to me and tells me about their favorite band of the moment. I will take that into my own little space and figure out whether I like it or not and try to understand why they like it, to see what influences them today. It’s all about inspiration and that’s what I’m looking for in my life. Had I not been open to playing other music, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to work (and it was a paid opportunity as well!) on a song like Tina Turner’s James Bond title track ‘Golden Eye’. As a musician, or maybe even as a human, you need to allow yourself to find inspiration in things that aren’t your own.
Still, classical music will always be the music you enjoy most as a performer.
I have realized that it’s what I’m best at. It’s what comes most naturally to me. I would even say that light classical music is where I’m happiest as a musician. Performing a Brahms serenade or a Mozart overture, very easily digestible classical music, that really rings my bell. As a very close second, I love playing a big, heavy Mahler symphony, which will take you on an emotional journey. It will connect the audience with ideas that you might not have had if it weren’t for being in that concert hall.
In my opinion the great composers were put on this planet with a gift to speak to the world. Their music transcends language. People have and will listen to their music for ever more throughout time. That is unbelievable when you come to think about it. With all of the things that have disappeared over the years: music remains. We are still trying to polish Vivaldi: it is hundreds of years old – for crying out loud! Whole lives are spent trying to polish this music. For me composers are the ‘demigods’, and if we, as performers, get it right, we get closer to their completely unique talent and a ‘higher power’ if you will. And when the audience is part of the dynamic, they experience something similar. They will go home inspired. That’s what music does, like religion and sports: inspire people to have higher thoughts. And I see it every day: the effect it has on people. Which is 99.9% positive. That’s what I’m working for.
The more you listen to it, the deeper it gets. It’s like fashion, wine, art, or theater — for those who really love it, it matters what type of things they consume. And for me it matters what kind of music I play. I’m very proud to say that I’m a classical musician. All the other things I do in music is a lovely bonus, but I will always be a classical musician.
The more you listen, the deeper it gets. That’s beautiful. It’s important to explore the things in life that show you as an individual and stay true to that.
Yes, classical music is the thing I’ve immersed myself in for all those years. So, it’s fair to say it became a big part of me. On a fundamental level that is what being a musician is about. You have to polish your craft in a practice room, by yourself, to get it right. Then you can step into the big wide world and express yourself.
To look great in a suit, you have to have at least tried on suits before. You can’t just put one on and assume you are going to feel comfortable in them right away. Of course, you’re not. So, buy yourself a suit you like and get used to it. And don’t worry if someone says it doesn’t look right. It’s not them wearing a suit, it’s you! To try things and learn that way is what life should be about. It certainly shouldn’t be about being or portraying what you are not.
“The reality in my profession is that people listen with their eyes. Whether or not they are going to enjoy the concert relies partly on how much effort has been put into the clothing.”
I see how you’ve become a true ambassador of the genre.
It has become my goal to express everywhere that classical music is for everyone. That’s why I like doing television shows like Maestro; giving me the chance to explain to people what they are listening to and that it’s okay to like this type of music, make them more comfortable about it. The Netherlands is full of classical music lovers. Not everybody might see themselves that way yet or feel like they understand it. Hell, I still don’t understand a lot of things. But people are open to the power of classical music, and I love having a small role in that process. Hopefully the new lovers will be able to experience it in a concert hall one day – like the Concertgebouw where we are now – because that is the ultimate experience.
You can really see who you are in the collaborative collection. What draws you to Atelier Munro?
I feel my purpose when it comes to classical music is similar to what Atelier Munro aims to do in clothing. You walk into their store and you are immediately helped by people that have a lot of knowledge, but still make you feel comfortable in your own decisions. It’s a collaborative experience. In this process I’m relying on honesty, professionalism, and the ability to do what you say you are going to do for me – being perfectly tailored clothing. Whether it’s a traditional smoking for a performance or a three-piece suit in a modern color palette, the clothing represents me. My personality and the aspirations I have. I feel like the collaboration shows what Atelier Munro and myself share: be inspired, be brave, be yourself.
A special thanks to the Royal Concertgebouw. Opened in 1888, the concert hall located in the heart of Amsterdam is among the most beautiful in the world and we are very honored to have captured Dominic both in the Recital Hall and the world famous Main Hall.
Get inspired by Dominic’s curated collection,
created to be worn both on and off stage.