Depending who you are you’ll think of me as a conductor, or a timpanist, or a teacher, or an arranger and composer, or one of several other occupations, and I’m happy that I’ve been able to accomplish all of these activities and that maybe a few people have appreciated what I’ve done. I’ve only ever thought of myself as a musician.
It all started for me in a very average way for the time – most families then had a piano in their front room and most family members had a go at it and if you were a bit better than others you might have had lessons, and that might be the end of it. I went a little further, having violin lessons at school and then organ lessons with the inspirational Eric Hemery, but it was my Careers teacher that suggested going to a music college. Well, why not?
And even at the Royal Academy of Music, I fell into things by accident rather than by design, but it was there I encountered Britten’s music and where I began conducting seriously and where I sang Poulenc and Bach in the choir, and where I met people that would have a great influence on my life.
But long story short – this isn’t an autobiography after all – along came the recently vacated job of timpanist with the English Chamber Orchestra (my teacher James Blades had recently retired from the post), leading to work with Benjamin Britten and many performances of his music under his baton and a memorable lunch in his company at the Red House followed by parts written for me. At the same time there was a Principal position with the Philharmonia to fill and chamber music with Georg Solti that brought a Grammy award, as well as an extraordinary range of work with David Willcocks, David Munrow, Karlheinz Stockhausen and others, and conducting opportunities and study with Boulez, Salonen and Dohnányi.
Then the most prized of my conducting opportunities – Southbank Sinfonia. I tell colleagues and anyone else who is interested that the most valuable part of the orchestra’s choice of player isn’t the audition (as it is with every other orchestra in the world), it’s the interview – not only do you have the best instrumentalists, you also have the nicest people. And in a way that can often be misunderstood, I refer to the music making of Southbank Sinfonia as amateur. Not in the disparaging way that many professional musicians think of the word, but in its original sense of doing something just because you love it. For me, it’s the only way.
Above my teaching room at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama is a sign that was retrieved by a nice and well-meaning student of mine. It says “It’s all about the music”. I’m far too young to even think about having an epitaph, but in the event that I ever need one, that will be it.
What is your favourite piece of music, and why do you love it?
Another tricky question! Today it’s Poulenc’s Stabat Mater, but next week it will be Mahler’s Symphony No.2.
What do you do with your time when you’re not playing music?
I love all things Japanese and in my limited time off I enjoy reading about and discovering more about the country’s culture.