As I did last year, I thought I would review this year and give you my thoughts and recollections. It has been a very memorable year for me, one with many twists and turns, a frustrating yet satisfying year!
First, the stats…….
49 Concerts with
26 different soloists or collaborators
12 different orchestra ( including 3 “new” orchestras )
which amounts to conducting approximately 170 pieces of music during 2012! A lot of notes and a lot of time spent in my study learning them, as well as learning 9 pieces on the back of a coach in Germany, but more of that later!
So, the highlights? Here they are, in no particular order.
Favourite new orchestra
I went to 3 orchestras this year for the first time and enjoyed them all very much.
The first new orchestra was the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. We travelled to Beijing to play at the closing ceremony of the 2nd Beijing International Film Festival in April. It was my first trip to China and one which was certainly very memorable. The orchestra played brilliantly in a programme of music mixing very familiar Western film music repertoire with music from Chinese cinema. I will always remember the view from my dressing room, which was inside this rather famous stadium…..
and I looked out at this impressive view from my dressing room window!
And my abiding memory of that view will be seeing 3 members of the RPCO running the 100 metres in full concert dress just before the concert!
My next new orchestra was the RTE Concert Orchestra, in a concert entirely made up of the music of John Williams. They are so slick, great inner ensemble, bags of energy, just what you want for a concert like that. A sold-out concert, with music that always goes down well and that orchestras seem to love playing – you can’t go wrong! I hope to be back there again soon, maybe with John Williams 2?
Here we are opening our concert……..
And finally, I worked with London Philharmonic Orchestra for the first time this year, in a concert of Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens and Dvorak Symphony No.8. They were friendly, quick, ultra-professional (as you would expect!) but also so musical, especially in the Dvorak, which will live with me for a long time.
I know it’s a “cop out” but I can’t choose between the LPO and the RTE Concert, so they both get my vote.
I have been lucky in 2012 to work with great soloists, some “old friends”, some new who have become friends.
Highlights have been numerous – I loved working with Igor Levit and the BBC Symphony earlier this year. We recorded Mozart K.414 together and he was such a joy to work with.
I also treasured working with two of my CBSO colleagues this year for the first time. Chris Yates played the Walton Viola Concerto with Birmingham Schools Symphony and myself four times this year and each one was different, exciting and fresh. A real highlight was doing Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.2 with Zoe Beyers and my friends at the Sinfonia of Birmingham – great energy, lyricism and beauty.
And while we are on the number 3, I stood in 3 times this year for Andris Nelsons when the soloist was Rudolf Buchbinder. In both Brahms 2 and Beethoven 4 he was incredible – so easy to work with, unflappable, cool and quick to make me feel at ease. Quite simply the best Beethoven 4 I have ever heard!
But my soloist of the year has to go to Jonas Kaufmann, in a concert that I will be mentioning at the end of this post. To work with someone of his class, his stature but also his understanding and patience was a dream. Anecdotal evidence has it that, when asked whether I was any good, he said that “he wasn’t bad” which, apparently, is tantamount to being a compliment! I’ll take that any day!!
Favourite new piece
As you can imagine, I have conducted many pieces for the first time this year. Some of them are a surprise to me, as you would think that after conducting 301 concerts, that I would have conducted some of these long before doing so this year,
Nielsen Symphony No.1
Tchaikovsky Symphony No.1
Brahms Symphony No.3
Shostakovich Symphony No.5
Debussy La Mer
All of those were memorable, especially the Tchaikovsky and Debussy, both being late cancellations and involving a lot of “crash-learning”!
Twice this year I was involved in performances of Jonathan Harvey’s Weltethos. This is a piece which needs two conductors and I loved working closely with the main conductor for this project, Ed Gardner. Though to be fair, it required 5 conductors in all to prepare the orchestra and 4 choirs!
(Me, Simon Halsey, Julian Wilkins, Ed Gardner, Marc Hall)
Ed and I have become firm friends since, not only having music making in common but a deep love of the game of cricket. He impressed me so much during these concerts – his knowledge of a very tricky score, his clarity of thought and real drive throughout both performances. Jonathan Harvey will be sorely missed by all.
I once again assisted Andris Nelsons with a CBSO Wagner opera project, this time Tristan & Isolde – I hope one day to conduct it in full!
Two British pieces shone out this year – both Parry Symphony No.5 and York-Bowen’s Horn Concerto are worth a listen. Sadly neglected pieces and pieces I intend to programme again.
But my favourite new piece for 2012 was Mahler Symphony No.10 – I performed the Deryck Cooke version in February and loved every second of it. Here are my thoughts on it from a previous blog post but, safe to say, I am ready and willing to conduct that again any time I’m asked to!
Favourite Concert of 2012
I have 49 to choose from but a few stand out.
Mahler 10, with the Birmingham Philharmonic stood out. As I mentioned, it was my “new piece of the year” but to conduct my old friends at the Phil again was great (they gave me my first concert all those years ago) and I look forward to seeing them again in January.
The CBSO Youth Orchestra showed everyone how bloody good they were in the summer with a staggeringly good account of Schubert 9 (if I may be so big-headed!) – with high levels of control and skill aligned to their youthful energy, it was one to remember.
The CBSO “proper” tore the roof off Symphony Hall in April in Nielsen’s Symphony No.4 – a concert I was particularly proud of.
But nothing will beat the excitement of the events that took place on the CBSO tour in March – a full account can be read here – and of the three concerts, despite Jonas Kaufmann and all that happened in the concert in Baden-Baden, my favourite concert of 2012 will always be the night I stood in for Andris at 90 minutes notice in Dortmund.
I can remember so much of that concert vividly – musical moments, looks on individual players faces, backstage moments, the ovation at the end – but above all else, I will take with me the feeling I got from the CBSO that night. I could physically feel their support, their energy, them willing it, us, me, them to succeed and their sense of pride at the end. Thank you from the bottom of my heart – I will never forget it!
I hope 2013 can be as good as 2012. Recently I have rather “down on myself” about my conducting career, partly as a consequence of what has happened since Dortmund or rather, what has not happened! One often reads of these moments when a conductor stands in at a prestigious concert at very short notice and their career is catapulted forwards. When that seemingly didn’t happen, I got rather depressed by the whole business and, to be frank, considered stopping.
It is only in recent times when I look forward to concerts I am conducting next year and also, in the process of writing this post, look back on what I actually achieved, that I have become reinvigorated and look forward to showing the world what I can do and what I can say “musically” again.
I’m hoping that one of my next blog posts will be a look back at the end of 20 years of playing the violin……
Until then, your comments will be gratefully received and I hope you all a Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous 2013.