What got me into classical music? Galaxy chocolate.
I wasn’t one of those kids whose parents took them to the opera or had Radio 3 playing in the kitchen. Growing up in the rural north, one day I told my mum I liked the music on a TV ad for Galaxy. Pre-internet, she thought to ask a local music teacher what it was. The answer: George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. That Christmas I got the tape, and I guess that lit the fuse.
From such beginnings, I bring the conviction that classical music can speak to everyone, regardless of upbringing or education. In a sense, this has shaped my career. At Southbank Sinfonia, and previously at the National Youth Orchestra and Royal College of Music, I’ve looked to empower young musicians and forge fresh ways for them to communicate what classical music has done for them, hoping to inspire those inhibited by the jargon and formalities we often deploy in this game.
Some people say it’s harder than ever to engage minds anew with something as niche as classical music. I disagree. With YouTube and Spotify, troves of incredible pieces and performances are readily available like never before. Our job – the custodians of classical music – is to lower the drawbridge, to cast the breadcrumbs, to tell stories, to trust in the power of the music itself to rouse and inspire, and to encourage others that it’s worth a listen. What a challenge, but also what an adventure.
Beyond Southbank Sinfonia, I write occasionally for Huffington Post about the power of classical music, and I chair the trustees of a fab young vocal group called The Prince Consort also finding new ways to express what they do.
What do you love about classical music?
I love its power, the way it can speak to us like nothing else can. The way it can empathise, and console whatever you’re feeling. The way it can reach out from however many centuries ago it was written and be as fresh and resonant as anything written now. My feeling is it knows us better than almost anything else.
What’s on your playlist right now?
A lot of the repertoire we’re planning for the year ahead. Principally, female composers from across the centuries who history has somehow neglected. Every week I’m making discoveries and wondering how I’ve lived this long without knowing such terrific talents as Grazyna Bacewicz, Ester Magi, Doreen Carwithen, Jennifer Higdon and Andrea Tarrodi to name but a few.