2011 – A Review

As we enter 2012 I thought I would look back on 2011 and give you some thoughts on what was for me, a rather exciting year. Firstly some statistics for those of you, like me, who enjoy such things!
My 2011 consisted of
41 concerts (two of which were recorded for a ‘live’ CD)
26 different soloists
10 different orchestras (4 of which were ‘new’ orchestras)
3 recording sessions
Boiled down to those numbers, it doesn’t seem a lot. What I can tell you is that during those 41 concerts I conducted over 160 different pieces of music ranging from a 4 bar long piece of Weber to Britten’s War Requiem. This of course all has to be studied and I shudder to think how long this adds up to in hours spent in my study!
So, what were the highlights? Like all “end of year” reviews, I’ll categorise them…….
Favourite ‘new’ orchestra
I worked with 4 new orchestras last year (and two new choirs) and had a great time with all of them. My introduction to the Royal LiverpoolPhil was in a Family concert presented by my old friend, Alasdair Malloy, and we had a great time frightening the audience at Halloween.
I also travelled twice to meet new friends and had a brilliant week in Oslo with the Norway Radio Orchestra in a concert of Bollywood/Pakistani/Norwegian/Pop music for Norwegian TV. I will write more about this concert in a future post but they were so friendly and welcoming but also so patient dealing with the logistics of rehearsing with 2 pop groups, 4 different drummers (2 Dhol, a rock drummer and a table player), 4 singers, a choir, Indian violin and sitar! Here is a link to that concert.
I’ve told you all about my visit to Argentina and I am happy to say I will be returning back to the Teatro Colon in 2012 to work with them again. Better go on a diet before I get there then…..
But my favourite new orchestra was the BBC Symphony Orchestra. We did a concert of highlights from the upcoming 2011 Proms season in the middle of Westfield Shopping Centre, to an audience of thousands. They played fabulously (especially considering that the ambient noise of the shopping public was deafening!) and were so friendly and helpful. I’m looking forward to seeing them again for a recording session in February.
And mentioning recordings, during the rehearsals for Westfield, we had time to ‘rustle this up’ for Auntie Beeb……..
Favourite Soloist
This is a tricky one. I was lucky in 2011 to work with new friends, old friends and also soloists that I have always dreamed of working with.
Of the new friends, let me praise two singers that I believe have great futures, Matthew Sandy and Susanna Hurrell. I shall be keeping my eye on them and trying to find opportunities to work with them again soon!
It was great to see old friends like Guy Johnston and Chloe Hanslip again. It is nice to share a stage with someone you get on with and, at least as far as I’m concerned, you have some sort of telepathy with! The same goes for HelenWithers – her performance of Marietta’s Lied with BSSO in December will live with me forever.
I had always wanted to work with Mark Holland and Keel Watson and they didn’t disappoint. Great performers who are should be heard more often.
My soloist of the year though has to be Peter Donohoe. We worked together twice (Liszt 2 and Rach 3) and for me he ticks all the boxes. He is always searching for the heart of the music, often challenging ’traditions’ and demanding excellence. He is also very supportive and is quick to praise, but only if praise is deserved. I have learned so much from working with him and can count him now as a good friend.
Favourite new piece
There have been many this year.  I conducted Frank Bridge’s The Sea twice last year and think it’s a shame it isn’t performed as often as the ‘French’ version. Conducting Janacek’s Taras Bulba with the CBSO was a dream that will live long in the memory. The amazing orchestration of the 14 year old Korngold in his Schauspiel Overture is something I shall be showing to audiences a lot more frequently.

I would also like to make a special case for the Violin Concerto by Carl Nielsen. Not a new piece to me as a violinist but I conducted it for the first time in 2011 in a fantastic performance with the CBSO Leader, Laurence Jackson.
But the winner has to be Elgar Symphony No.2. I stood in at late notice for Vassilly Sinaisky with the CBSO in October for three performances of Elgar 2 and it was a life-changing experience. To have the chance to do a piece like that 3 times is not something normally afforded to me and I loved it. It’s a piece I feel is in my blood and after that week it is now etched into my bones!!
And finally (Yes, I know it has been a long post – just one more!)……
Favourite concert
What could it be? So many to choose from……
It so nearly was Elgar 2 with the CBSO. It could easily have been the recording of Nielsen 2 I did with the Ulster Orchestra. A concert with the City of Birmingham Choir and the BSSO featuring Carmina Burana came close. Did the winning concert include working with Katie Derham, Sir Anthony Hopkins or Ant & Dec?
My favourite concert was with the Birmingham Conservatoire Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Birmingham Town Hall on July 1st 2011. We gave a performance of Britten’s War Requiem which shone out for me last year. Why?
Well, it was another cancellation, this time stepping in for Elgar Howarth. I learned the score in a week and then set about organising the ten days of rehearsal. It was the first time I had conducted something that big and been involved from the very start. Piano rehearsals, chamber orchestra rehearsals, chorus, open lecture rehearsals and finally performance – I just loved it!
The performance itself was an emotional event and unforgettable for me. The whole Conservatoire was involved in one way or another and it was this sense of togetherness that shone through.
So that was that – 2011 all over and 2012 is ahead. Lots more concerts, lots more study, lots more fun.
My next post will be along soon when you have decided what it will be about! Your choices of titles are….
When is music bad for you?
Pianists – how to turn the nightmare into a dream!
Until then, best wishes and have a prosperous New Year.
Mike Seal

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2 comments on “2011 – A Review
  1. What a year indeed! I’d like to see the ‘when is music bad for you?’ blog, please, as it sounds rather fascinating. The Elgar 2 was such a great concert – my highlight for 2011, quite unexpectedly.

    All best for 2012.


  2. Michael Seal says:

    Thanks Peter!
    That’s one vote for each then as John Broggio voted for the Pianist subject!
    Glad you liked the Elgar 2 – it so nearly made it as my favourite concert of the year as I was just blown away by the whole thing.
    All the best for you too and keep on carving…..


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