Thai conductor Bundit Ungrangsee, 40, made headlines last year for appearing on the cover of CDs he hadn’t actually conducted. Today, he wants to turn a new leaf with a new book on the essential skills in his line of work and an advisory role for the Korat Youth Orchestra.

My family moved from Had Yai to Bangkok when I was three. They sell shark fins wholesale.

I was crazy for heavy-metal bands like ACDC, Led Zeppelin, Rush and Ozzy Osbourne but I stopped liking them because of the whole sex and drugs thing.

I studied classical guitar at Siam Kolkarn Music School because I loved The Beatles so much. I wanted to play music like that.

I thought teachers would let me start with pop songs but they gave me classical music to study instead, like Bach. That’s how I fell for classical music.

I wanted to be rich and famous at an international level, and I realized that being just a musician, like a classical guitarist, wouldn’t take me anywhere.

I love to be the leader. So I looked into being a conductor. Also, I knew this was one of the professions where Asians can be accepted at an international level. You’re judged on your talent. Classical music will always be classical music.

I decided to be famous before hitting 25. My inspiration came from seeing Zubin Mehta, the famous Indian conductor, who was on the TIME Magazine cover when he was only 31.

My peak also came when I was 31: I won the Maazel-Vilar International Conducting Competition which landed me on the New York Times and LA Times. It wasn’t TIME but I am really proud of it.
I figured I wouldn’t go back to Thailand. A lot of my work was in Europe. But when I became a family man and needed a place to settle down, I figured, there’s no place like home. It’s even easier to fly to Europe and Korea from here, so I get to spend a lot of time with my family.

I used to conduct as many as 60 performances a year but it’s exhausting. Now I conduct only about 30 times a year.

After working at an international level, I’ve realized that our country’s brand isn’t strong enough. People don’t believe that our small country can produce talented people.

If Thais don’t believe that we can beat others, we’re done for. We’re dead right at the beginning.

I want to contribute my knowledge to this country by pushing more Thais to be successful. I’ve started writing books to tell them how to be successful. It’s not that I think classical music can benefit Thais. Europeans listen to classical music because it’s their culture. They preserve it because it is their heritage. We have nothing connecting us to it. Maybe we should support our local music culture?

Classical music requires a certain familiarity to absorb it sentimentally. I can’t convince Thais to listen to it for pleasure. But maybe I can convince them that classical music has side benefits, like raising their kids’ IQ or improving their mood. Then Thais might want to study it more.

Michael Jackson is my favorite pop singer. His music is really cutting-edge. It’s full of detail and excitement.

Lady Gaga’s music is just plain pop songs. She’s just good at promoting herself.

The most difficult thing about being a conductor, which is all about leadership, is to understand the culture of the place where you’re working so you can win people’s hearts.

It’s really hard to climb the steps to being one of the world’s leading conductors, especially for Asian guys in the US where white is the privileged race. It’s quite hard to find Asians as leaders of big corporations or orchestras. But if you open a restaurant, people go crazy for it.

I always see the glass half full, even when faced with tough situations.

I want to change people’s lives. I know that I can’t change older generations but I can do that for the new generation. Our country will change in ten years. That’s why I advise the Korat Youth Orchestra, where children can study for free. They’re going to have a big show in Bangkok soon.

My favorite musical instrument is the guitar. It’s sound is beautiful.

My kids are studying music. My elder daughters are studying piano while their little sister loves singing. She’s always singing.

Don’t choose a profession that makes a lot of money. Choose to do things that you love. Then find the way to make money from it. That way, you will be successful.

Success isn’t just luck.

Bundit has recently conducted a song called Krongpandin, sang by 999 singers, to commemorate the birthday of His Majesty the King later this year.


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