What sort of music do you enjoy listening to?
I do love listening to music, but I have to be careful in the car because it is all too easy to focus on the music and not on the motorway! So I tend to stick with speech on Radio 4 which is easier to ignore.
Occasionally, in restaurants the background music can be beautiful, and can greatly enhance the whole experience of eating out. But the volume level is almost always far too loud, and the choice of music is rarely appropriate to the setting. Over the years, I have spoken to many waiters and restaurant owners on this topic, but they have usually become so immune to the fact that any music is being played at all that they don’t see what all the fuss is about. On the rare occasions when music in a restaurant is well chosen, and played at the correct level through a good sound system, I find my whole meal goes cold as I enjoy listening to it. So I have to be careful of that too!
I like any classical music as long as it’s well played and, of course, there is nothing to beat a live performance. To see and hear a group of musicians wholly focused on producing their very best efforts to do justice to the composer’s finest intentions is, for me, one of life’s greatest joys.
My favourite sounds in the classics usually come from the romantic and impressionistic composers such as Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Chopin and Delius – music that subtly ebbs and flows through extravagant chordal progressions, nostalgic yet optimistic, that touches bits of your psyche you didn’t even know were there.
I have many favourites in the more jazzy side of music too: Stéphane Grappelli (probably the most naturally gifted jazz fiddler of all time), pianists Oscar Peterson (piano, bass & drums trio) and Peter Nero (an unbelievable pianist who mixes classical and jazz genres in stunning arrangements combining his jazz trio with a symphony orchestra) and Singers Unlimited, a group of four singers who produce an especially deep richness of sound with wonderful arrangements, employing highly imaginative close harmonies that always reach out to me. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Singers_Unlimited)
Recently I came across some CDs of a lady called Shirley Horne, a colourful bluesy singer/pianist, sometimes just with her small group of jazz colleagues, and sometimes with a large orchestra added. Her version of the song Solitary Moon is, to me, perfection; so beautifully arranged, with a gentle orchestra in the background twinkling through like little moonbeams.
Do you have a favourite composer whose works you particularly enjoy playing?
I don’t have one favourite composer, but I do have a number of favourite pieces by different composers. For instance, Dvořák’s New World Symphony – there is something about this work, both to hear and to play, which is very rare. You know the audience is going to enjoy every note, and you know as a player that there is nothing outlandishly difficult to worry about. The orchestration is superbly balanced, and the choice of instrumentation at any given moment is perfect for the melody being played. Take the cor anglais solo in the slow movement (as used so effectively in the Hovis TV adverts) – guaranteed to make everyone in the hall feel good about the whole world. I would happily play this symphony three times in one concert, if you could organize that please!
Another one I love playing is Walk to the Paradise Garden by Delius. Once those opening chords in the woodwind start, I’m gone. Then the strings creep in beautifully with sublimely undulating chords, and the last page is so passionate. It’s wonderful, and would make such a nice encore to the three consecutive performances of the New World Symphony!
And the Three Elizabeths Suite by Eric Coates is another gem to play, especially the slow movement (dedicated to the Queen Mother) which features a delicious oboe solo. The Brighton Phil audience would love it. It’s a proper chunky three movement work, with each movement dedicated to a different Elizabeth.
I also relish performances of the two Symphonic poems: Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune and Sir Arnold Bax’s Tintagel with its crashing waves and the seagulls and the storm. Both difficult to play, but well worth the effort.
Do you have an all-time favourite piece that you have performed?
Yes – Saint-Saëns’s 3rd Violin Concerto, which I first heard as a student in Manchester, played by Alfredo Campoli whose career began in light music. Being very fond of light music myself, I always felt a certain affinity with Alfredo, and have tried to incorporate his obvious sense of enjoyment into my own playing. This concerto suited Campoli to a tee: very romantic, yet full of fun – what I would call genuine ‘old school’ fiddle writing allowing the performer to convey their own personality.
So I bought the LP, which had a lovely picture of Campoli on the cover, and I also bought the music. Unfortunately, I found it far too difficult to play, so the music was relegated to the bottom shelf of a cupboard, where it remained until I was asked to perform it with the Brighton Phil some 40 years later. I thought “Right, can I play it now? We’re going to find out.” I spent nine months working on it from scratch, memorized it and played it here at the Dome, and thoroughly enjoyed myself! So this is a very fond memory for many reasons, not least for having mastered this magnificent musical masterpiece.
An article from the Friends of the Phil newsletter published in September 2017, based on an interview conducted in February 2017.