Who or what inspired you to take up the trumpet and pursue a career in music?

It was mainly the incredible Dizzy Gillespie who taught me how fantastic the trumpet can be! 

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Definitely Dizzy, but also many other musicians – Queen,  also Trevor Pinnock, and many violin virtuosos who helped me understand song-like communication through an instrument 

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The lack of Classical repertoire for the solo trumpet… and finding adequate time to mindfully practice and the courage to perform in front of audiences and at the front of symphony orchestras. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I was so proud of creating GABRIEL at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. It was everything I adore about music: the greatest material one can imagine in the music of Purcell and Handel, the delightful opportunity to work for an extended period with the English Concert,  also to work for the first tine with very fine actors and explore a different kind of attitude and camaraderie on stage than anything I’d experienced before. Happily we’re restarting it as a concert performance at Saffron Hall and the Barbican later this month. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s not really for me to say! But I think over the years and over many many performances I finally know what I’m doing – or ideally would like to be doing with the two mainstays of the repertoire: Haydn’s and Hummel’s trumpet concertos. They are less of a display of short term technique and more of a vehicle of expression of who you are as a person through the instrument. 

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

It’s pretty organic – it’s a mixture of conversations that rapidly take off (or don’t, and go on a slow burn!) and long standing relationships with beloved orchestras and conductors. Inspiration taken from all over the place too which is where the next album starts. 

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’m quite keen on all the main UK venues as I have such a long history with them, and they bring back fond memories each time I visit, but I do love magical settings such as the Hollywood Bowl and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The last night of the Proms will always be a big personal highlight 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being totally inside the music and living each moment in the present, with nothing hampering what you want to say – technique, distractions, doubts, random sticky valves etc. ! 

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Keep listening to live music and going to concerts to remind you why this is such a brilliant, powerful, relevant, important, beautiful thing in a human’s life and why you should keep on searching for those memorable, spine tingling occurrences. 

Alison Balsom performs in Gabriel at London’s Barbican Hall on 21 October as part of her Artist-in-Residence series. Further information

Her new album Royal Fireworks is released worldwide on 8 November on Warner Classics


Alison Balsom has performed with some of the greatest conductors and orchestras of our time including Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Sir Roger Norrington, l’Orchestre de Paris, San Francisco and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York and London Philharmonic orchestras, and has appeared as soloist at the Last Night of the BBC Proms. She regularly collaborates with some of the world’s leading chamber ensembles including the Academy of Ancient Music, Il Pomo d’Oro, The English Concert and most recently The Balsom Ensemble (a handpicked group of leading Baroque soloists). Alison is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including Gramophone Artist of the Year, the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Award, three Echo Klassik Awards and three Classic BRIT awards (two of which as Female Artist of the Year).

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Help Musicians ShootWho or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I didn’t have a lightbulb moment with deciding to follow a career in music. It was more the accumulation of many joyous and happy moments right from when I started to play the clarinet, and from there it seemed a natural thing to keep working and enjoying what I did. As I was growing up and playing more and more, nothing else appeared that seemed more attractive as a career, so I simply stuck with it!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My first clarinet teacher, Vanessa, who got me started on this crazy journey. After that, I had lessons with Joy Farrall who remains a wonderful colleague and friend to this day. Other than that, more generally: everything! I take great pleasure in listening to what other people have to say. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt – one of the greatest mistakes we can make is passing judgement before we form our own opinion. (This is especially true, I think, as we exist in an era where peoples’ attention spans and tolerances often seem shorter and lower than ever before.)

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

A continuous challenge is sitting with uncertainty, and knowing that you’re only as good as your last performance. Of course, we all make mistakes (and whoever created this obsession with perfection in our industry has a lot to answer for), but it can be hard to feel like you are always being evaluated, compared, ranked. On the other hand, to do a job which keeps me on top of my game constantly is a challenge that I relish. The thought of having a job where I can become stultified and get away with constantly being mediocre is frightening.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Truth be told, I don’t really listen back to many recordings I do – once I’ve done something I move on pretty quickly to the next thing. Any performance or project that I walk away from knowing I learned something or gave everything to I am proud of.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Anything where you get a lot from the score or the collaborators. I draw a lot on what is right in front of me in the moment – the more there is to bounce off, the more involved I become.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I don’t really choose a lot of repertoire myself – this often comes down to the orchestra’s schedule. With freelance work you get booked and the repertoire is always decided in advance – you just turn up and play. With The Hermes Experiment, we always look to do new and different things, be it commissioning a certain composer, playing at a certain venue, or exploring a different theme (or all three!), and so our repertoire grows around this.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Before Christmas I took my bass clarinet along to a pub in Stoke Newington and joined in a blues jam at the invitation of a friend. I am pretty sure I was terrible but it was by far the most fun atmosphere I’ve played in for months.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Anyone who has flair and says things in an interesting way that also make sense. I think Joni Mitchell is a genius. I am discovering Kate Bush. A friend introduced me to the wonderful music of Brad Mehldau.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Some of my most treasured memories come from my time in the National Youth Orchestra – playing at the BBC Proms with Vasily Petrenko as the culmination of months of delving so deeply into repertoire and forging wonderful friendships is something I’ll never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is asking the two questions ‘What do I want my life to be right now’ and ‘What do I actually have in my life right now’ and having as narrow a gap between the two as possible. There’ll probably always be a small gap, but it’s a good thing to aspire to. As a musician, as a person, it’s all the same thing. I’m not talking about wanting to own a nice car or winning the lottery or something. I’m talking about doing things that leave you fulfilled, that are true to your values. That is success. And being able to pay the rent. That’s also nice.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Firstly: Listen to as much music as you can. Try and get a flavour of everything, and then find what you’re passionate about and investigate it as much as you can. Be obsessed. Find what makes you happy and follow it relentlessly.

Secondly: Listen to other people. If you think they’re a moron. Listen to them. Everyone has something worth saying. Even if you walk away thinking ‘I definitely wouldn’t do it that way’, you were present and you listened and made the active decision to do things your way, rather than walking away out of close-mindedness, arrogance or laziness.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I still ask myself on a regular basis if I want to do this, if this is something that I want to be doing. As soon as the answer is ‘no’ I am out of here! Music is something that you do because you want to, because you are passionate about it and it brings you happiness (as well as happiness to others, of course). Why do it if these things don’t happen? To do something as personal as music for a living, but be empty or cynical inside just doesn’t make sense to me. Go and become a banker or something. Or a consultant (I still have no idea what consultants do). In 10 years’ time I will be wherever I am.


Oliver Pashley is a young London-based clarinettist and founding member of contemporary quartet The Hermes Experiment. He holds the position of Sub-Principal Clarinet with Britten Sinfonia and plays regularly with orchestras and ensembles at home and abroad, including the Philharmonia Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia, The Riot Ensemble, Northern Ballet Sinfonia, and the Haffner Wind Octet. Highly in demand as a soloist, chamber and orchestral musician, he has played guest principal with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, London Mozart Players, and English National Ballet.

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music? 

My father was a huge inspiration for me. He was a fine pianist and played piano the Charles Kinz stride piano style. Along with my mother, they had a concert party after the way and with the other members of the “Wakeans”, as they were called, used to re-live the shows in our tiny front room in Northolt on a Sunday evening. Around 1953, when I was four, I can recall climbing out of bed and sneaking down the stairs to listen before getting caught and being sent back to bed.

I just wanted to play the piano so badly, and aged five I was sent off to piano lessons with Dorothy Symes, and indeed stayed with her throughout my grades before going to the Royal College of Music.

My father encouraged me to listen to as many different kind of music as possible and to play as many different styles as possible. I owe him so much.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

There are so many – Dorothy Symes was such an inspirational teacher; being taken to see Swan Lake aged about nine and the same year seeing Lonnie Donegan (who in later years became a great friend and fellow Water Rat).

I loved Trad Jazz and especially Kenny Ball, who I also got to meet in later life. My father introduced me to Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’, which mesmerised me. Here was a story being told in music – that was really the moment when I knew that’s what I wanted to do: tell stories in music.

What have been the greatest challenges and pleasures of your career? 

The biggest challenge has always been people saying “You can’t do that“, which makes me all the more determined to do it, regardless of the consequences. I was told doing King Arthur on Ice was doomed to failure, and it is still the most talked about show I’ve ever put on!

Likewise, I was told it was ridiculous to take a symphony orchestra and choir on tour in America – red rag to a bull! I did it and it was fantastic! Every day brings new challenges and if you manage to overcome and solve them, that’s where the pleasure comes in.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I would probably give different answers on different days, but these are the ones that come to mind today:

‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ as that was the first solo album and was hated by the record company who kept asking when I was going to put the vocals on!

Also ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘King Arthur’ from the early seventies as well.

With my band, ‘Out There’ (originally released 2003) springs to mind as a very complex album where those around me really understood what I was trying to achieve.

The remakes of both ‘Journey…. ‘ and ‘King Arthur’ are very important to me as it now means there are records of the music to be remembered. Both of there were limited to the amount you could get onto a vinyl recording, so to do the full length versions was very important to me. I did the same with ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ and added the three missing pieces to a live recording made at Hampton Court.

In recent years Piano Portraits has meant a lot tome for many reasons, not lease that it was my way of celebrating the genius and friendship of David Bowie. This has led to my brand new album for Sony Classical, Piano Odyssey, which ventures a stage further with piano variations of the music I love, with a string section and choir. A lot of time was spent getting this album absolutely as I wanted it and so has a special place in my “recording heart”.

Tell us more about your ‘Piano Odyssey’ album….. 

When I recorded ‘Piano Portraits’, it was purely solo piano versions of pieces I loved or had a connection to that had great melodies, and I rewrote variations on themes for all. I was really pleased with the outcome and the album did extremely well, making the top 10 for more than eleven weeks. I had decided against a second volume; however, because whilst there were a lot of other wonderful pieces of music that I wanted to do, none of them would work with just piano in the way I envisaged them.

However, it was ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that started it all off again. Now working with the team at Sony Classical, I had wanted to do this originally but just couldn’t get it to work on piano alone in the way I could hear it. I kept hearing a string section and choir, and had a Eureka! moment one day when I realised this was indeed the answer – an album of piano variations of great music but with the addition of a small string section and choir.

I prepared a short-list of 40 pieces and eventually whittled it down to the 12 I really knew would work – and that included Bohemian Rhapsody, which I sent to my dear friend Brian May. He not only gave it his seal of approval but added a cameo performance of beautiful acoustic guitar.

‘Piano Odyssey’ is everything I set out to achieve and indeed has even gone a stage further than I thought possible.

What motivated your selection of the music featured on this album? 

Simple answer – melody. There has to be a great melody that allows variations without taking away from the original. There are pieces from The Beatles, David Bowie, Paul Simon, Liszt, Handel, Dvorak, yes and even me! There are also two original tracks that I wrote in memory of two wonderful moon bears which were saved from horrific bear bile farms, and as an Ambassador for Animals Asia, I am proud that we have save so many of these wonderful bears and celebrate them here. Both the bears – Rocky and Cyril Wolverine – sadly passe away. Cyril was my own bear and the loss was devastating for all of us who knew him. I wrote both these pieces surrounded by their photos.

Were there any special challenges in arranging the songs? 

To be honest, no. I have been doing this for many years, although never recording them like this. I also have a good team around me with the Orion Strings and English Chamber Choir, who know where I’m coming from musically.

Do you feel that progressive rock is a way to bring some classical sophistication to the pop world and, if so, are your achievements in some way striving towards leading an innovative, “parallel-classical” career? 

When I started in the late 1960s after leaving the Royal College of Music, there were real divisions within all music types, whether jazz, classical, pop, rock, folk, country, you name it. They all had their own identities and seldom met! I deliberately set out to fuse as much as possible and at first hit a lot of brick walls, but slowly started getting the message across, and today there are no taboos which is great.

With there being a Prog-revival of sorts, does you think there is potential crossover for youth audiences between the two genres? 

There already is and vinyl has a lot to do with it. Younger people are discovering vinyl and album covers and the information contained on them. Music is tactile and vinyl is bringing that back. Music now no longer has a date stamped on it. You either like it or you don’t. There is no specific age thing any more either – that side of things is very healthy.

Would you ever consider making a fully classical album? 

I have been asked to and the answer would have to be no. Although I occasionally turn to Mozart and Beethoven sonatas or plough through the Bach “48” for fun, it’s not what I would want to do, if I’m honest.

As a musician, what is your definition of success? 

Success is sadly always thought of in commercial terms, but for me it probably only comes after you have departed this mortal coil. In other words, if in 100 years’ time somebody on radio plays a piece of my music, then I guess I can say I was successful to a degree…

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians? 

Believe in yourself. Don’t be frightened of opinions and criticism from others, as long as they are qualified to give it (which 99% of them aren’t!). Most people who try and tell you what you should be doing do so because they can’t do it themselves (many don’t know a crotchet from a hatchet!), but occasionally the odd word of wisdom does get through: you just have to be able to spot it.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time? 

Alive please – and still able to play, composing and having music adventures.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To be worry-free – so there’s no perfect happiness for any human being, I’m afraid!

What is your most treasured possession? 

My father’s upright Bechstein piano on which I learned to play and inherited when he died in 1980.

What is your present state of mind?

Jumbled! It always is – too much going on!

 

Composer, musician, singer-songwriter, record producer and conductor, Mike Batt has teamed with record label Guild Music to release a special recording of Holst The Planets that he conducted in 1993. Here he shares his thoughts on why The Planets is such a significant work and the challenges of working on it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, together with some insights into his musical and creative life…..

What it is about The Planets that makes it such an attractive piece to conduct?

It’s a seriously wonderful piece of orchestral composition. Maybe that’s obvious but The Planets has such melodic strength, and depth of orchestration and it ranges across the entire spectrum of emotions and dynamics. It’s not just “Programme music” like a piece “about” each particular planet. In Saturn – The Bringer Of Old Age, you feel the emotional weight of old age, in the dark, lumbering opening. Later in that movement you get a bit of feisty madness, maybe even confusion coming in, always in an original and musically striking way. It’s a real adventure for the listener just as it must have been for the composer.

Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?

For some reason, as soon as I heard orchestral music. I wanted to be a conductor. I didn’t grow up in a musical family. There was almost no music in the house. The junk mail leaflet from Concert Hall records dropped through the letterbox when I was about 11 and that was it. Once I heard Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, I wanted to conduct it. The fact that my granny sent me an LP called “Music for Frustrated Conductors” with little diagrams of a cartoon bloke diagrammatically conducting the basic rhythms, might have contributed! I read an interview a while ago where Simon Rattle said he had partly been influenced into conducting by that very same album!

Mike-Batt-conducting-Credit-Claire-Williams
Mike Batt conducting (photo: Claire Williams)

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

My love for music is almost too eclectic for my own good, to the extent that people might be confused by it. But I wouldn’t change the chameleonesque nature of my “theatres of operation” and my passions and influences, which range from from Mozart to Bartok and The Beatles, The Rolling Stones to Frank Zappa and Count Basie.

How exactly do you see your role as a conductor? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

An orchestra definitely gets a vibe from a conductor and vice versa. The conductor needs the orchestra to feel confident that he or she won’t let them down by screwing up, or make them play a piece in ways that they don’t feel appropriate (eg., tempi that they hate) – although that’s part and parcel of being an orchestral musician. If an orchestra “likes” a conductor and empathises with him, they will play better for him. If they can see it matters to him, they will try to deliver. A bit of an eye contact just before a woodwind or horn entry, for example, works wonders to make the player feel that you know where he or she is coming in and would like to share the moment. If you punch the air at the brass section just as they are breathing to come in fortissimo they actually do play fortissimo!

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

The best way is by body language. You should be able to walk in and just play, maybe with a little pre-explaining any particular ideas you have, but it should mostly come from your baton, body and face. You are sort of dancing with the band , and you are “leading” the dance. A great orchestra will observe a rubato moment that has never been discussed, just by what they see and feel from the conductor. They should and do follow that baton, far more than non-musicians could ever imagine. Conducting a great orchestra is like driving an F1 car. They respond completely to the slightest gesture.

This was your first time working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. What was the most challenging part of conducting them?

I’ve worked with them many times since – but this recording was 25 years ago. It’s always a thrill to meet a new orchestra and when you know you have top notch players, you know the job will get done, and to the standard you want. Call me an optimist! But “meeting” a new band is rather like a first date. There are a few nerves. It takes only a few seconds for the conductor to size up the orchestra, and crucially for me, vice versa! So the challenges are only psychological. If you have top players the challenges are shared, – you are all after the same thing, a brilliant performance. When I was younger I had an experience where an overseas orchestra decided they didn’t much like me after only a few seconds. You could just tell. You learn by such experiences. You still get the job done but it’s less comfortable.

And what is the most fulfilling aspect of conducting the RPO?

Somehow that day in 1993 when we recorded the Planets it was just a joy to do it. I could see they were enjoying it, and so was I. The room (Watford Town Hall) had wonderful acoustics and I can’t think of a panicky or unpleasant moment. I would cite that whole day of recording as one of the most fulfilling events of my musical life.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Schubert: 9th Symphony (The “Great” C major)

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Royal Albert Hall. It’s intimate and cozy, strangely. Yet it has that special majesty and charisma. You also know the audience are taking in that wonderful atmosphere before you even play a note!

As a musician and composer, what is your definition of success?

It can be so many things, depending on how you look at it. The parameters of commercial success have changed so much that it’s hard to say what is a “hit” and what isn’t. But artistically, if a composition succeeds in moving the audience and conveying the feeling you had when you wrote it, that is success. If you felt tearful writing it, you can bet the audience will feel tearful listening. If you were writing a funny, witty piece and you chuckled or were amused, the audience will chuckle and be amused too. That’s success.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Partly answered above. But guitarists John Paracelli and Chris Spedding are “up there” as musicians. So many classical musicians to choose from. Nicola Benedetti is such a wonderful violinist, so I’ll choose her. The (sadly) late Douggie Cummings (former principal cellist of the LSO) was an astonishingly good “life force” to have in the room while working, a beautiful player. Composers? Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Brahms, Beethoven Schubert, Tchaikovsky. All possibly boring marquee names to choose, but that’s why they got there!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Don’t get into gangs and cliques. Seriously, snobbishness in music is necessary in getting everyone to feel special about their music, but leave the snobbishness (again, sadly) to the audiences. You as a practitioner should feel free to enjoy every genre and do what you like. Oh, and practice until you’re blue in the face. Be passionate. If you aren’t passionate don’t get into it full time. Do it as a hobby. Even then you’ll enjoy it more if you are passionate. Pretty obvious I guess.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Knowing that my family could be happy and secure and fulfilled

What is your present state of mind?

Restless, with so much more to do as time marches on and I get older. I wish I could live for a lot more musically capable, healthy years than will probably be the case. Does that mean there will always be a project that I’ve conceived that I will never see come to fruition? Probably. I’m not afraid to die, I’m just afraid of not being alive.

 

To mark the centenary of the first performance of Holst’s The Planets on 29th September 1918, Guild Music presents the first complete release of a recording that Mike Batt made in 1993 that has lain in the vaults for 25 years. Produced by Robert Matthew-Walker and engineered by Abbey Road’s Simon Rhodes. Further information


Michael Batt LVO is an English singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, director, conductor and former Deputy Chairman of the British Phonographic Industry. He is best known for creating The Wombles pop act, writing the chart-topping “Bright Eyes”, and discovering Katie Melua. He has also conducted many of the world’s great Orchestras, including the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony and Stuttgart Philharmonic in both classical and pop recordings and performances.

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the saxophone, and pursue a career in music?

My first memory of a wind instrument was during a choir rehearsal at school when a flautist came to play alongside us – I was absolutely mesmerised by the way the instrument sounded. After weeks of begging my parents, they eventually gave in and got me a flute and lessons. I remember that they bought me the cheapest flute in the shop (thinking that it was going to be a five-minute wonder) and that when I tried to play it the head joint would spin around, we soon realised the problem and took it back to the shop for an upgrade!

After a year or so I was keen to start playing a second instrument, my teacher at the time was an ex-military musician and owned many different instruments. Each week he would bring one for me to try, eventually after several weeks he brought a saxophone and it was love at first sight. He left me with just the mouthpiece to practice on and I continued to make squeaks on it for a whole week (I must of sent my family crazy). Shortly after I acquired my first saxophone.

Not long after this when I was 13 years old I left to study at Chetham’s, already by this time I was sure I wanted to pursue a career as a musician. At the time I had no idea about what this meant, only that I loved playing music and that this was what I wanted to do all day long.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

First of all my family: both my parents are very sporty, my mum was twice world champion in slalom canoeing and an ex-olympian. They know what it’s like to be dedicated to something. This has been amazing because I don’t think that it’s always easy for non-musical parents to understand music as a career choice, they’ve always been so supportive. They’ve helped me to understand more about my physical needs as a musician and given much advice on mental aspects such as dealing with stress, anxiety and nerves, something that isn’t alway talked about enough.

I’ve been lucky to have had many wonderful teachers right from the beginning. I really do owe a lot to Chetham’s who lay down the foundations for everything and provided me with the exposure that led to my studies at the Paris Conservatoire. Every year Chet’s would take us to the RNCM’s annual saxophone day, during these events I heard Claude Delangle and Vincent David for the first time, who would both eventually become my teachers in France. My time at the Paris Conservatoire massively influenced my playing, pushing it to new limits and helped me to realise the saxophones potential as a serious classical instrument.

After my studies in Paris I returned to London, where I’ve just finished at the Royal College of Music on the Artist Diploma course with Kyle Horch who is an absolute inspiration. I feel that the combination of Kyle’s teaching and the college’s amazing support structure has really allowed me to find new depths in my interpretations and performances.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

When I first arrived in France at 18 years old, not speaking French and just trying to understand what was happening around me! This was a period where I went through many changes as a musician, but also the first time I was looking after myself. Thinking back it was quite a scary thing to do but it definitely helped shape who I am today.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It would have to be my first performance at the Wigmore Hall in 2016, not only am I proud of my performance but I feel that it was a real bench mark in my career that heralded the start of increasingly regular solo engagements.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Perhaps the best way to answer is by considering the audiences reaction to my performances, works by composers such as Debussy, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Takashi Yoshimatsu have received powerful responses.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Sometimes I’m requested to perform specific repertoire but when allowed to choose I’m very keen to find a balance between transcriptions and original works. Although the saxophone doesn’t have the same quantity of repertoire as some other instruments, we do have many fantastic pieces, that deserve to be better known than they are.

When deciding what repertoire to perform I try to imagine myself as a member of the audience. I think about what would make me want to come to the concert and always choose pieces that I genuinely really like and feel a strong connection with.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have particularly enjoyed performing at the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square and Queen Elizabeth Hall. Above all I value the audience and their response to my playing, this is what really makes a venue for me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are of course many but I am a big fan of Emmanuel Pahud and Martin Fröst, I find their performances, creativity and versatility so inspiring.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Winning the gold medal at the 2018 Royal Over-Seas League Annual Music Competition at Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A feeling of self-fulfilment whilst maintaining high levels of musicianship, communication with your audience and transmitting feelings and emotions. I believe that you are only as good as your last concert, therefore for me it’s about maintaining high standards repeatedly.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

First of all never expect opportunities to just turn up out of the blue, be proactive about creating and finding new work. Be pleasant to be around, assume fully all projects you commit to and always strive to be better. Stay determined, there are always high and low points, believe in yourself and you capabilities. Don’t underestimate the need for rest, set aside time for yourself.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Continuing to perform as much as possible in exciting places and alongside fantastic musicians.


Praised for his “exceptional musicianship and emotive playing”, saxophonist Jonathan Radford is the 2018 Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition Gold Medalist and first prize winner. He is currently a Philip and Dorothy Green Young Artist with Making Music (PDGYA), a Park Lane Group Young Artist and a Countess of Munster Musical Trust Recital Scheme Artist.
Jonathan has given recitals at major venues in Europe including Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Grieg Hall in Bergen, the Centre Pompidou and Philharmonie in Paris.  He has appeared as soloist with several orchestras including the Slovenian Chamber Orchestra and Liverpool Mozart Orchestra. A keen advocate of contemporary music he has premiered works by Luis Naón (co-commissioned by Radio France), Betsy Jolas (commissioned by the CNSM) and collaborated with IRCAM in Paris.
Highlights this season include recitals for music societies and festivals throughout the UK and performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (Southbank Centre), Wigmore Hall, the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall, St Martin-in-the Fields and St James’s Church Piccadilly. Over the past year Jonathan explored and commissioned new works for saxophone and mixed ensemble as part of his Junior Fellowship at the Royal College of Music.
Born in 1990, Jonathan studied at Chetham’s Schools of Music and at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris (CNSM) with Claude Delangle, graduating in 2017 with Masters degrees in both saxophone and chamber music with distinction. He recently graduated from the prestigious Artist Diploma course at the Royal College of Music, London with Kyle Horch where he was the Mills Williams Junior Fellow 2017-18.
Passionate about chamber music, Jonathan is a co-founder of the Yendo Quartet. The Quartet is regularly broadcast by Radio France featuring on Generation Jeunes Interprète, Alla Breve and En Piste, they have recently released their first CD, Utópico. This summer they take part in festivals in Croatia, France and Spain.
Jonathan is grateful for support from the Mills Williams Foundation, the Royal Over-Seas League,  the Hattori Foundation (Senior Soloist Award), the Musicians’ Company (Maisie Lewis Young Artist) and Help Musicians UK (Ian Fleming Award).
He is also a Vandoren Paris Artist.

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?

When I was a student at university I was expecting to begin a career as a classroom music teacher.  It was only through watching fellow choral scholars begin their professional lives in London choirs that awoke me to the idea that you could sing for a living.  My colleagues and I often have people ask us, post concert, “so what’s your day job?” but that could so easily have been me asking that question.  It was when I observed the early career paths of ex-students like John Mark Ainsley and Paul Agnew that it dawned on me that this was an actual profession and that I might have a go at it.  I have my wife to thank for giving me the impetus and courage in my early twenties to give up my teaching job and try becoming a freelance singer.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My musical education has been fairly sponge-like and I have been happy to learn from anyone.  My earliest singing teachers gave me a grounding which I never forget: Valerie Heath Davis was a chorus member at ENO who gave me my first singing lessons outside school and taught me how to breath for singing.  She prepared me for my choral trials.  Janet Edmunds looked after me during university and introduced me to this thing called Lieder.  One of her mantra’s was ‘Sing for the joy of singing’.  I never understood it at the time but I most certainly do now.  Then came David Mason and David Pollard, the latter introducing me to the idea that I could be a soloist and that I might consider retraining at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama.  All these people have had a huge influence on the direction of my life and career.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I don’t feel my career has been that full of challenges in all honesty.  It’s not that I’ve taken the easy road, but that I have enjoyed myself in practically everything I do.  I try not to commit to work that I think I am unable to fulfil – something that is too high, too low, to heavy a voice type or whatever – and so far I think I have sung within my comfort zone. I have been surrounded by people who support what I do, especially my family, and this has made my life pretty easy, in the scheme of things.  I have no complaints.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I have very warm memories of Vaughan Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress at Sadlers Wells with the Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Richard Hickox.  The cast was magnificent and made up pretty much of my friendliest colleagues.  I hugely enjoyed that experience.  I also treasured being Billy in Britten’s Billy Budd at Opera North last year, directed by my sister-in-law Orpha Phelan and conducted by Garry Walker.  That was also a perfect storm of artistic elements.  I try not to listen to my own recordings in general; I’m very glad other people enjoy them but it’s too much like listening to your own voice on your answer-phone message.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I like the ambiguity of this question because it implies that, although you might think you play or sing something especially well, others listening might shake their head in disbelief.  One’s own perception of a performance is often at odds with how others witness it.  Sometimes I have been in vocal difficulties, have managed to make it through a show on a wing and a prayer, and people have come up afterwards and said how wonderfully they thought I had performed.  On the other hand, times when I’ve thought I was in glorious voice have sometimes been met with a friendly nod.  I have no real answer to this question otherwise.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Repertoire choice is not always something over which one has final control.  In terms of recital programmes, I can offer promoters my current choice (and my Schubert cycle project at the moment is very palatable, it would seem) but even then music societies and festivals often have a particular theme or composer’s anniversary that they would like you to match and I do my best to accommodate that.  As for opera roles, I have very little choice in what is offered to me.  I can accept or decline the work; that’s where my power ends.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are two recital venues I have sung in recently that have stood out in my mind as being exceptional and for different reasons.  One is the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan, one of the wood-panelled, upstairs officers’ quarters that are used for recitals.  The acoustic was so generous to me as a singer, without being too washy, that I hardly felt I needed to sing at all.  The other is the small studio at the Crucible, Sheffield, home of Music-in-the-Round where I am singer in residence.  I love the intimacy of this venue and its re-invention of the concert space.  It re-defines one’s relationship with the audience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The 2014 Last Night of the Proms was very memorable although, when I think back on it, my time on stage was a bit of a blur.  What I remember most is finishing my last item, rushing back to my dressing room as the post-adrenalin hysteria began to kick in, changing out of my tails and into normal clothes and slipping back into the hall, high up in the audience, so that I could witness the last few pieces on the programme.  The atmosphere was electric.  I also vividly recall Peter Sellar’s semi-staging of Bach’s St John Passion at the Philharmonie in Berlin, with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.  I didn’t have all that much to sing in fact but the experience of performing Christus right in the centre of that drama was overwhelmingly intense.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

This is a question I sometimes ask of conservatoire students – otherwise we may not always be sure what it is we are aiming for.  I’ve decided my goal is to be happy, to be able to work with wonderful musicians at a high level, enough to live comfortably but not so much that the stress becomes a burden.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

All the predictable things, really: professionalism, which means decent preparation, time keeping (as in one’s diary rather than being on the beat!), being an open, supportive colleague, self-discipline, that sort of thing.  Those things form the basic grounding that I would hope any musician, any person, would value as being important.  The idea that being an extraordinary artist allows one to overlook these ‘because you’re special’ doesn’t really wash with me.  Other than that, for singers especially I would promote honesty of communication with one’s audience as being something worthwhile fostering.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Still working at the highest level I can manage but also ready for approaching retirement, whatever that may mean.  If that means teaching/coaching a little more, perhaps writing more music, then so be it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The knowledge that the people I love are safe, comfortable and happy.  A beautiful view on a glorious day with me striding through the middle of it.  I don’t even need to be with my loved ones, I am happy to be on my own in peace and quiet, but to know that they are content while I’m out and about puts me in my best head-space.

What is your most treasured possession?

I thought a lot about this question; in the end, I guess I’m not so keen on the idea of a possession being that important to me.  People are important but of course I do not own any of them.  So my answer has to be my voice.

What do you enjoy doing most?

This is a really hard question too; doing something for fun, like hiking a beautiful trail in wonderful scenery or doing professionally?  The most enjoyable thing?  I don’t know.  But It’s very likely to be singing, especially in rehearsals.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m content.  That’s what Billy says in Billy Budd and it struck quite a chord with me then.  “That’s all right, Sir, I’m content”.  Yup, that’s me right now.

RW: Here’s an extra question for fun.

If I weren’t a singer, what would I like to have been?

In my next life, I want to come back as a dancer.  I wish I could move like those amazing dancers, classical ballet, jazz, tap, latin, I don’t mind what.  And I wish I could lead my partner with confidence rather than have them tut, give up on me and just take over.  Happens every time!

RW: And another – is there anything you wish you could do better?

I can’t hula-hoop.  Every time I try, it has my wife in stitches of laughter.  It just drops off my waist and round my ankles.  Very embarrassing.  Also, when I try to swim front crawl but legs alone, with a float or whatever, I go backwards.  My wife finds this hysterically funny also.

Roderick Williams’ new CD, with Susie Allan, piano, ‘Celebrating English Song’ is available now on the SOMM label. Further information here

 

Roderick Williams encompasses a wide repertoire, from baroque to contemporary music, in the opera house, on the concert platform and in recital. He won the Singer of the Year Award in the 2016 Royal Philharmonic Society Awards and was awarded the OBE for services to music in June 2017.

He enjoys relationships with all the major UK opera houses and is particularly associated with the baritone roles of Mozart. He has also sung world premieres of operas by, among others, David Sawer, Sally Beamish, Michael van der Aa and Robert Saxton.

Roderick Williams has sung concert repertoire with all the BBC orchestras, and many other ensembles including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, the Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta, Manchester Camerata, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Hallé, Britten Sinfonia, Bournemouth Symphony, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Russian National Orchestra, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Academy of Ancient Music, The Sixteen, Le Concert Spirituel, Rias Kammerchor and Bach Collegium Japan. His many festival appearances include the BBC Proms, Edinburgh, Cheltenham, Aldeburgh, Bath and Melbourne.

In 2015 he sang Christus in Peter Sellars’ staging of the St John Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Sir Simon Rattle – a performance now available on DVD.  He will sing this role again with both the Berlin Philharmonic and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in 2019.

Recent and future engagements include Oronte in Charpentier’s Medée, Toby Kramer in Van der Aa’s Sunken Garden and Don Alfonso/Così for English National Opera, the title role in Eugene Onegin for Garsington Opera, Van der Aa’s After Life at Melbourne State Theatre, Van der Aa’s Sunken Garden at Opera de Lyon, the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and with Dallas Opera, the title role in Billy Budd for Opera North and at the Aldeburgh Festival, Papageno Die Zauberflöte and Ulisse  Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a concert performance of Ned Keene/Peter Grimes with Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome, the Last Night of the 2014 BBC Proms, as well as concert performances with many of the world’s leading orchestras and ensembles. He is also an accomplished recital artist who can be heard at venues and festivals including Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, LSO St Luke’s, the Perth Concert Hall, Oxford Lieder Festival, London Song Festival, the Musikverein, Vienna, the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam and on Radio 3, where he has participated in Iain Burnside’s Voices programme.

His numerous recordings include Vaughan Williams, Berkeley and Britten operas for Chandos and an extensive repertoire of English song with pianist Iain Burnside for Naxos.

Roderick Williams is also a composer and has had works premiered at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls, the Purcell Room and live on national radio. He was Artistic Director of Leeds Lieder + in April 2016.

 

(Artist photo: Groves Artists)