On July 2nd this year (at about 9.35 pm), I played the violin for probably the last time professionally. I spent most of 2014 building up to this day and since then have been enjoying my first few months as a “full-time conductor”. I am thoroughly enjoying the change and have many great projects and concerts planned for the future.
But what about the whole of 2014? As in previous years, I will summarise 2014 with statistics and also talk about my favourite concerts of the year…….
The statistics for 2014 are as follows:
56 Concerts with
29 different soloists or presenters, working with
12 different orchestras
A small increase in the amount of concerts from 2013 and they included some very high profile events and I was lucky to work with many of the same orchestras again, something I am particularly proud of and something I strive to achieve – working together with friends and forging good relationships.
Having said that, 2015 already contains invites from 2 new orchestras alongside many re-invitations and “irons in fires”. The diary is filling up nicely and to be honest, as long as I am conducting, I am a happy man!
My highlights of 2014 were as follows,
Favourite new orchestra
I conducted two new orchestras this year.
I had the pleasure in the autumn to work for the first time with the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra. They are a non-professional orchestra but you would never know it – the played so professionally and skilfully as well as being run and organised with great precision!
The programme was one which might have been a bridge too far for many amateur (even some professional!) orchestras but not the Corinthians – they played Shostakovich 9 with a real swagger, accompanied in Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder beautifully and tackled Berio’s Rendering with panache and conviction. We are hoping to see each other again in 2015.
My favourite has to be the BBC Philharmonic. I worked them for the first time in August, recording Nielsen, Grieg and Saint-Saens for broadcast on BBC Radio 3. They are such a polished orchestra! Extremely well prepared, musical and also ready and willing to experiment. The recording sessions flew by and in a nice easy and relaxing atmosphere. Most of the works we recorded have already been broadcast and I have loved listening back to them!
Very much looking forward to working with them again in March 2015 on some more recordings. They will be with soloists from the BBC New Generation Artists scheme which is where some of my nominations for the next category come from…….
As I said, the BBC scheme has yielded at least 3 of my favourite soloists form 2014. I was lucky enough to work with Kitty Whately in a CBSO concert this year and am really looking forward to recording with her and the BBC Phil in March – a wonderful voice, so rich and mellow and such beautiful phrasing. And talking of the BBC Phil, we worked together with the cellist Leonard Elschenbroich and had a ball recording Saint-Saens Concerto No.1. Another superb player, with a huge sound and also a huge musical personality – I am very much looking forward to introducing him to Birmingham Schools Symphony Orchestra in May next year.
I also worked with two soloists in one concert (with my friends at the BBC Symphony) – guitarist Sean Shibe and violinist Elena Urioste. It is always nice to get along so well with soloists as it makes for the music making part of the job so much more enjoyable. The three of us seemed to get along famously and I believe the results were there for all to hear and see. Hope to see them both again soon.
It’s been another year accompanying many pianists, whether it be “old friends” like Mihkel Poll and Peter Donohoe or new friends. I loved working with Michael McHale and Barry Douglas earlier this year with the Ulster Orchestra, and I am very much keeping my fingers crossed that my friends in Belfast have a better time in 2015 and survive this awful threat to their existence.
Two other notable collaborations this year this year I have enjoyed and hope to repeat soon were with pianist Gabriela Montero and cellist Richard Harwood – here’s hoping we see each other again soon.
A special mention for Zoe Beyers – she toured with the BSSO back in May and gave 4 brilliant performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with us. I then saw her again in late November when she stunned the audience with a wonderful performance of the Britten Concerto, all the more stunning for being over 8 months pregnant!! A star player and now a happy Mum with a little baby girl.
My favourite soloist award must however go to the last one I worked with in 2014, violinist James Ehnes. He, like I, accepted a hastily arranged tour with the CBSO to Abu Dhabi and it was my pleasure to get to know him a little and also work with him on the Bruch Concerto – he has been a favourite player of mine for some time and after this experience I want to hear him play so many concerti from only inches away! It also helps that he is a funny, kind, approachable and humble guy!!
Favourite New Work
Much of 2014 was spent conducting works I am very familiar with but a few new works did crop up and some real gems!
My concerts with the B’ham Conservatoire Symphony yielded two pieces I had never conducted before but works I fully intend to programme again soon. I have always wanted to conduct Malcolm Arnold’s Symphony No.5 and loved working on it in March – I hope we changed the opinions of a few Arnold detractors! And the Pagan Symphony by Bantock deserves many more performances in my opinion – a work well worth programming (fellow conductors!)
I conducted two more British works with my dear friends the Sinfonia of Birmingham this year – I have already mentioned the Britten Violin Concerto (one of my favourite of all violin concerti) and we coupled it with Vaughan Williams Symphony No.5. To be honest, I found it very hard to pace and find the correct shape and structure to begin with, but loved the challenge and think we got it right in the end!
By some way, the most challenging new work of 2014 was Worldes Blis by Peter Maxwell Davies. In fact, I can safely say it is the hardest piece I have conducted any of the 405 concerts of my career so far!! Multi time signatures, accuracy of tempi, pacing of huge crescendo and climaxes, deciding a rehearsal schedule as organised as a small military campaign – all difficult but a challenge I adored. And if you are going to pick an orchestra to play it with you, you cannot do any better than the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
We go back to my friends in the Ulster Orchestra for my favourite new work of this year – Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme by Richard Strauss. It is one of those pieces where, at times, you feel a little bit of an interloper, as it is like a piece of chamber music but then it is such beautiful music that you cannot help but get involved. If you get the correct balance between the two it is a wonderful experience and both I and the Ulster Orchestra had a great time! I sincerely hope to see them again soon – the Strauss I will conduct again in 2015 with the CBSO Youth Orchestra in the summer.
Favourite Concert of 2014
It has been hard to choose but I have shortlisted five concerts / tours to choose from.
It was great to be asked to conduct the CBSO in a concert celebrating the music of Panufnik, exactly 100 years after his birth. An honour to do so in the presence of his daughter, Roxanna and to get to meet her afterwards. The Sinfonia Elegiaca is a beautiful work, underplayed and deserving of a higher profile.
In May I toured Germany with the B’ham Schools Symphony and watched a group of young musicians turn into an orchestra, almost overnight! It is one thing to be a collection of people playing instruments together, but another to actually play together and move as one. They learnt so much over that week including how to change and respond to different acoustics and conditions and how to be more spontaneous in their music making. A pleasure to see and be involved with!
My Main Season CBSO concert of 2013/14 was one to remember. An exciting account of Rachmaninov 2 with Gabriela Montero, conducting Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite with the CBSO (a dream come true) and Shostakovich 5 all in the same concert was such fun.
In June, I got to meet Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and conduct three of is works live on BBC Radio 3 with the BBC Symphony. He was so supportive and nice, calming my nerves and being so friendly. To work with and meet such greats of the classical music world is one of the perks of my job and to see his reaction afterwards will stay with me for a long time.
But my favourite experience of 2014 was to tour with the CBSO to Abu Dhabi in December. It was truly an honour to conduct them in two very successful concerts, in two very different venues and something I am extremely proud to have done. They played their socks off, showing everyone what a world-class orchestra they are. To stand there and be their conductor and take the audiences applause was a life changing experience!
I am very much looking forward to 2015 and all it brings – some really exciting concerts are already booked and more are in the pipeline.
Until then, have a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.