As part of their prize from the Brighton Phil, last year’s Springboard Festival winners Berniya Hamie and Natasha O’Flynn chose to attend the Brighton Phil’s rehearsal at Brighton Dome on Sunday 11 February 2018 and met guest conductor Howard Shelley.
Natasha was accompanied to the rehearsal by her piano teacher, and grandmother, Nicola Grunberg, and a fascinating family connection to Howard Shelley was revealed. Nicola studied piano with Lamar Crowson at the Royal College of Music alongside Hilary Macnamara, Howard Shelley’s future wife.
When Lamar moved to South Africa, Howard replaced him as the pianist in the chamber music group the Melos Ensemble. One of the Ensemble’s co-founders (and one of the first teachers at the Yehudi Menuhin School) was the distinguished British violist Cecil Aronowitz, Nicola’s late husband.
The chamber music in Britten’s War Requiem was written for the Melos Ensemble and Britten conducted its first performance at Coventry in 1962. At the 1976 Aldeburgh Festival Cecil and Nicola gave the first public performance outside Russia of Shostakovich’s last work, the Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op.147, in the presence of Britten and Shostakovich’s widow.
Nicola and Natasha attended the afternoon concert with Natasha’s mum/Nicola’s daughter Tamzin, and all three were invited backstage afterwards to continue their reunion with Howard.
Nicola reports that Howard seemed very pleased to meet up with the three generations of Cecil’s family and to learn that Natasha also plays the viola. He talked nostalgically of Cecil’s playing, having been listening only a few days before to a recording of the Hummel Quintet and Septet by the Melos Ensemble.
(Nicola Grunberg is the accompanist of the Brighton Orpheus Choir)