Interview with Adrian Brown, Conductor of the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra

Southbank Centre welcomes the return of Adrian Brown and the Corinthian Chamber Orchestra, who will be performing in the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the 14th May. This is set to be a very exciting evening, with a varied programme including the likes of Beethoven, Berlioz and Elgar. We catch up with Adrian ahead of the forthcoming concert.

How are you preparing for your forthcoming performance at Southbank Centre, and what are you particularly looking forward to about it?
I am particularly looking forward to working with the young vibrant Corinthian Chamber Orchestra. They are so responsive and always eager to play to the highest standard. The programme couples my favourite composers – Berlioz and Elgar, with one of the finest pianists in Masa I have worked with. Who could ask for more? I have conducted the First Symphony quite a few times but I always have a fresh look at the score; I particularly listen to Elgar’s own performance and that of my teacher Sir Adrian Boult.

Is there a piece of music you would pick out as one of the ‘best’ works ever written?
I would rate Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis as one of the best works ever written. I have yet to conduct it, though it’s a satisfying work for an even older man to plumb the depths of.

Is there a work that is for you, emotionally, especially important?
Emotionally I am deeply emotionally attached to Elgar: his foibles, his moods, his difficulties, and his inferiority complex. I could not do without his Oratorio, the Apostles. At the end the Heavens open and the power and majesty of the music are for me spiritually overwhelming.

Who has been the most artistically influential person you’ve encountered?
There have been many significant influences on my life, including my wonderful English teacher at school, Peter Hewett, playing and singing for Benjamin Britten, knowing and working for Michael Tippett, and studying with Boult. The most artistically influential individual however has to be Sir Colin Davis. He has been a sheer inspiration all my life, from my father playing for him in the Ipswich Orchestra in 1953 to my first Prom in ‘66, and later working for him and absorbing his musical wisdom.

Which artist (living or dead) would you love to have dinner with?
I would love to have had dinner with Berlioz, though Haydn would be more fun, as would Peter Ustinov!

If you could programme your ideal Southbank Centre concert, which artists (living or dead) would you bring together?
My ideal programme would undoubtedly be Bruckner’s 8th Symphony conducted by Karl Bohm with the Vienna Phiharmonic!

What is the most played piece of music on your mp3 player or in your CD collection?
With such a vast collection it’s hard to select individual works. Probably it would be Backaus and Bohm’s performance of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto. None of my own performances, that’s for sure! I do very frequently listen to Wagner’s operas too.

Do you have any strange rituals you carry out before or after you perform?
I do pray before a concert for some spiritual guidance for the performance. It is very easy to get wrapped in your own ego and so I need to quietly remind myself that I am the lucky servant of the composer. A conductor is there to help the players and to ensure that the audience not only enjoy but get something out of the music. After a concert when I get home I always list the concert, band and date in the front of my score – it’s a wonderful record. In big letters will be the pride and pleasure and honour of working with this fine, brilliantly organised and devoted group of talented musicians. It’s all in C major for me – they’ll have all the notes!

What other talent or skill would you like to possess?
Oh, I would love to be able to swim!

Click here for more info and to buy tickets. 

A day in the Life… Principal Bass Trombone, Roger Argente of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Ahead of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert at Royal Festival Hall on Friday 30 March, Principal Bass Trombone Roger Argente gave an insight into life in the orchestra and a little bit of background on the pieces which will be performed on Friday. You can buy tickets for the concert by visting the website


Ein Heldenleben – A Hero’s Life

I’m writing this post backstage at the Auditorio Nacional inMadrid, while the RPO, or the band as I call them, is on stage rehearsing the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Julia Fischer.

The RPO are regular visitors to Spain, Madrid and the Auditorio Nacional in particular. On this occasion we’re doing two concerts here in Madrid and started with a concert in the newish (2007) Centro Cultural Miguel Delibes in Valladolid on Tuesday, about 100 miles north west of Madrid, playing repertoire including Dvorak’s New World Symphony and Richard Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life).Valladolid was cold and windy, it even snowed overnight on the outskirts but we made the most of it, as we always do. The small family-run taverna opposite our hotel in the Plaza San Miguel did a roaring post-concert trade in hearty soups and raciones (bigger versions of tapas that you share).

The morning after our first Heldenleben concert we made our way to the new AVE train station inValladolid. The AVE is Spain’s newest transport solution, using super-fast trains traveling at speeds of up 300 KPH and has cut down a previous 2.5 hour journey to just over one hour between Valladolid and Madrid.

Anyway, back to the music. The Dvorak New World Symphony is a great piece of music; the tunes permeate the brain and are hard to get rid of, but we do play it regularly, whereas Heldenleben only comes around every few years.

A bit of background on this piece…

It is a tone poem written in 1898, when Strauss was 34 years old. It utilises the leitmotif as ‘invented’ by Richard Wagner: the use of small musical themes that help glue the whole work together. The music itself is extremely romantic and many scholars believe it to be partly autobiographical while others go for the more tongue-in-cheek approach. We must also understand that it was written at a time when music in Europe was moving in lots of different directions, particularly those experimenting with modernism and impressionism.

The opening leitmotif is particularly well written and features the horn and cello sections; this opening rising motive really gets the hair on the back of you neck tingling – or at least it should do. Other favourite sections of this piece for me include the twittering critics, as portrayed by the woodwinds and the recurring ‘Dr Daring’ parallel 5ths of the tenor and bass tuba. Physically the Hero’s battlefield is a real blow for all the wind and brass.

The subtle drip feed of themes from other Strauss tone poems, particularly Till Eulenspiegel, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Don Quixote and Death and Transfiguration are also very effective.

But at the end of the concert the glory belongs with the leader and the solo horn, played beautifully and sensitively by Duncan Riddell and Laurence Davies.

I first came across this piece while at school in South Wales when I started reading Norman del Mar’s critical commentary on Strauss. At that time I was very fortunate to have played good and varied symphonic repertoire both at school level (Dwr-y-felin Comprehensive School), county youth orchestra (West Glamorgan Youth Orchestra) and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. The repertoire I performed then was challenging but not quite as challenging as Heledenleben. My first chance to play through the piece came about quite by accident when in my first term at the Royal Northern College of Music I stood in for an older student who was ill. I then played it several times with professional orchestras in theNorth Westand in Bournemouth, but it wasn’t until just over 20 years ago that I played it inLondon. I first played it with the RPO as part of my trial period under our then musical director Vladimir Ashkenazy.

After tonight’s concert the RPO is flying back to London, I’m personally off to Frankfurt for a few days, then we’re off to Budapest on Monday to repeat the Dvorak New World programme followed by an eagerly anticipated repeat performance of Heldenleben on Friday March 30th at the Royal Festival Hall.

Roger Argente

Roger joined the RPO as Principal Bass Trombone in April 1992.

He also combines his RPO commitments with a part-time position at Trinity College of Music, where he is Head of Brass Studies and runs his own brass and percussion ensemble Superbrass.

Read review of the Instrumental Quintet of London

Instrumental Quintet of London

On Friday 27 January, The Instrumental Quintet of London put on a superb concert hosted by The Friends of All Saints Grayswood.

The stage was set, the line up being world renowned flautist Susan Milan with Nicholas Ward violin, Matthew Jones viola, Sebastian Comberti cello and Ieuan Jones on harp. This most prestigious line up of musicians wowed the audience with works by Damase, Mozart, Debussy, Beethoven and Jongen. Their tremendous technique, pure virtuosity and shear enjoyment of the music
prevailed throughout the concert and the wonderful acoustics enhanced the performance. Tuning was most accurate with the whole balance and control of dynamics within the ensemble being excellent.

I especially enjoyed the Damase Quintette Op. 2 with dreamy melodies and Prokofiev like playfulness, the interplay between all of the instruments was just exquisite. The delicate and subtle articulations in the Mozart Quartet in C, and the flexibility of all the players in the Jongen, using various effects, including harmonics was most impressive. In the Beethoven Trio in C
minor Op. 9, the balance in each contrasting movement was just perfect, with a robust, almost rhythmically jazzy figure passing from player to player in parts of the Scherzo. The beautiful lyrical phrases on the flute, always played with precision with just the right speed of vibrato, used with subtlety in the Mozart, but with an almost operatic like gradation of speed and variety of tone colour in the Debussy Sonate en trio, a most reflective work and also in the Jongen Concert a Cinque Op. 71. Here the
flute soared above the other instruments but with a unity and magic which gave the illusion of a huge ensemble. An encore at the end was an extra treat, ‘Marine’ from Prelude, Marine et Chanson by J.Guy Ropartz, was suitably calming.

I strongly recommend their next performance at Southbank Centre, London. Let’s hope they will play again at Grayswood and perhaps this is the start of a possible concert series.

Haslemere Herald, 30 January 2012

See the Instrumental Quintet of London play at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room on Tuesday 28 February. Get tickets here. 

Watch a video on Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

OAE players talk about Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, which they perform with conductor Gianandrea Noseda and the Philharmonia Chorus on 4 November at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall. The concert is given in memory of Sir Charles Mackerras.

Pianist Angela Hewitt talks about her forthcoming recitals

There are two chances to catch Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt at Southbank Centre. Tomorrow’s International Piano Series recital includes a Bach Partita, Beethoven’s Eroica Variations and Brahms’ Handel Variations.  Angela writes:

“My programme pairs two suites of the Baroque period with two of the greatest masterpieces ever written in variation form. It is well known that Beethoven played a lot of Bach as a boy, but perhaps less so that Brahms was greatly attracted to the music of many Baroque composers (including Couperin whose keyboard works he edited in the 1880s). I always wanted to pair a Handel Suite with the mighty Brahms/Handel Variations to show that the connection between the two does not end with the theme. Even Brahms can benefit from a ‘dusting off’ and a fresh look at the score.”

Click here to book.

Then on Monday 4 April she performs concertos by Bach and Mozart with Britten Sinfonia. In this podcast, she talks to Fiona Talkington about how her playing of Bach and Mozart is infused with song and dance, and discusses directing from the piano.

Click here to book.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard plays Ravel

Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Pierre-Laurent Aimard is a pianist who refuses to be pigeon-holed. He can be playing Beethoven one night and a world premiere the next and yet he brings the same clarity of vision to both performances.

In his International Piano Series recital tonight he will be demonstrating this remarkable versatility in a programme including music by Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel and George Benjamin. Aimard and Benjamin have been friends for many years, since the time of Benjamin’s studies with Messiaen and later with Boulez’s Ensemble InterContemporain.  Tonight’s performance of Benjamin’s Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm comes by way of a 50th birthday tribute to the composer.

Aimard reunites with Boulez once again in his latest disc for Deutsche Grammophon. Alongside the Ravel piano concertos the recording includes Ravel’s Miroirs which he will play in his recital and which has just been given a four star review by Audiophile magazine. 

If you enjoy the performance then you will be able to buy the CD after the recital and get it signed by the artist!

Tracy Lees