An Interview with Jeremy Backhouse

Backhouse, Jeremy Feb 10 (c) Sim Cannetty-Clarke Hannah Nepil interviews conductor Jeremy Backhouse ahead of Verdi’s Requiem with the Vivace Chorus at the Royal Albert Hall.

For the choral conductor Jeremy Backhouse, one vivid memory is watching the first ever Sainsbury’s Choir of the Year competition on television in 1984. ‘I said to my parents “I’m going to win that one day”,’ he recalls. ‘Then in 1988, we did win it.’ Then there was the time that he conducted Parry’s I was Glad in Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations. And that performance in Liverpool Cathedral, on the evening of Pope John Paul II’s death in 2005: ‘We were doing Górecki’s Totus Tuus, which was actually written for Pope John Paul II. It’s a piece that dies down to nothing, and it was around that moment that the Pope breathed his last.’

Next month, the list of memories gets a little longer: Backhouse conducts the Vivace Chorus, London Philharmonic Choir, Wimbledon Choral Society, Twickenham Choral Society and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Verdi’s Requiem at the Royal Albert Hall. But after many years of conducting amateur choirs, Backhouse will happily admit: ‘I never set out to be a conductor. I’ve never had a conducting lesson in my life.’

In his youth, Backhouse was head chorister of the Canterbury Cathedral Choir. After studying Music at university, he moved to London and joined various chamber choirs. ‘I sat in the back row of the basses thinking ‘that’s not the way to do it, this is how you should do it’ and moaned with the other guys in the pub afterwards.’ Around the same time, he joined an ensemble of eight people called the Vasari Singers and became its conductor, gradually moulding it into the well-respected choir it is today. A full-time career in conducting only came later, however, by which time Backhouse had worked as literary editor at EMI and had held a position at the Royal National Institute for the Blind, transcribing music into Braille: ‘In those days of pre-computerised Braille, I would dictate music in a given style and a blind person would bash it into a Perkins Brailler, which was like a Braille typewriter.’

He calls himself a man of hidden ambition: ‘Ostensibly I’m not hugely ambitious. But I always have plans. I always have ideas. I like to think that I bring people with me rather than steam-roller them.’ That also goes for his rehearsal technique. ‘People have said to me in the past, “why don’t you shout at us more?” But it’s not my way and I can’t put it on.’ So what is his way? ‘To encourage and enthuse. In my view that gets far superior results,’ he says. ‘I can’t be Mr Jolly all the time, but once you get into the music you can get beyond the notes and inspire your performers through your own passion or feeling.’

And luckily, with a piece like Verdi’s Requiem, that shouldn’t be too difficult, as Backhouse says: ‘If the Dies irae doesn’t fire you up, then not much will.’

Jeremy Backhouse conducts Verdi’s Requiem on the evening of Sunday 18th May at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Symphonic Rock – 10th Anniversary

SympRock_2011_A5 Poster_Albert Hall

Proving to be one of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s most popular concerts, Symphonic Rock is celebrating its 10th year on Thursday 1st May with more thrilling rock anthems (with a colourful, orchestral twist) at the Royal Albert Hall.

The RPO has a strong tradition when it comes to performing rock music, renowned for orchestral recordings of many pop and rock CDs from Madonna to REM and Deep Purple. Our ‘symphonic rock’ collection celebrates such rock icons as The Verve, Bon Jovi, Meatloaf, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton, whose music will be featured in our 10th anniversary concert.

Each year, the Orchestra pays a special tribute to some of the greatest and most iconic rock bands and artists of the last seven decades. These tributes have featured Queen, U2 and The Beatles, amongst many other music legends. Following the release of their album Symphonic Coldplay last July, this year the Orchestra will pay homage to Coldplay – one of today’s highest grossing British bands – with some of their most recognised and chart-topping songs, including Viva la Vida, Trouble and Fix You.

Along with the propulsive rock energy of a full amplified rhythm section, the colourful timbres of the Orchestra and the powerful voices of Metro Voices, “lights will guide you” (to use Coldplay’s words) through this rockin’ concert as the performance is accompanied by a spectacular lightshow.

Symphonic Rock 2012, taken by Bill Hiskett.

Symphonic Rock 2012 – photo taken by Bill Hiskett.

Nick Davies, Ken Bruce and Metro Voices join the Orchestra for Symphonic Rock on Thursday 1st May at the Royal Albert Hall.

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An Interview with Kirill Karabits

 

Karabits, Kirill 1 Jan 13 (c) Sasha Gusov smaller

Hannah Nepil interviews conductor Kirill Karabits ahead of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s concert at Southbank Centre in April.

When I call Kirill Karabits, he has just arrived in his native Ukraine, and is taking in the aftermath of recent bloody confrontations. ‘At the moment I am standing and looking at the main square where the main fights were happening four days ago,’  he says. The conductor has his own views on the conflict. ‘The only major problem of Ukraine is that it is geographically located between two huge powers: Russia and Europe, so the western part shouts ‘we are with Europeans’ and the eastern part shouts ‘we want to be with the Russians.’ He himself is from the centre of the country and believes that ‘Ukraine should be accepted as it is. Everybody here speaks Ukrainian and Russian. I don’t want to choose between the two: I like both. And Ukraine is both.’

Though still only 37, Karabits is well-established on the international circuit. He is Principal Conductor of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, and has worked with ensembles ranging from the Budapest Festival Orchestra, of which he was Assistant Conductor, to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But as he vehemently insists, ‘I still consider Ukraine as my home.’ Born in Kiev, he decided in his childhood to pursue music as a career. His father was the conductor and composer Ivan Karabyts. ‘He was an important figure and I was always considered to be my father’s son,’ says Karabits. ‘But I also felt that this started to have an impact on me that I didn’t like: whatever I tried to do on my own was always perceived as an achievement of my father.’

With the fall of communism, travel restrictions in Ukraine were relaxed, allowing the teenage Karabits to study in Vienna. It also allowed him to forge his reputation in his own right, in a part of the world where his father was relatively unknown. Karabits laughs as he recalls that, after recording a CD featuring his father’s works, the initial critical reaction went something like: ‘We all know the conductor Kirill Karabits, but did you know that his dad was a famous composer?’ As Karabits says, ‘it happens sometimes in life that things turn around. Black becomes white.’

Along with his father’s works, Karabits has occasionally conducted repertoire by other Ukrainian composers (‘I think it’s interesting for people here to hear this music’) and he speaks with particular admiration of his countryman, the composer Borys Lyatoshynsky. Another interest is exploring neglected works from the distant past: in April, Karabits conducts his own transcription of CPE Bach’s long forgotten St John Passion. Much of his time, however, is committed to the core classical canon. He is soon to conduct the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme including Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, Elgar’s Cello Concerto with Steven Isserlis as soloist, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, and his enthusiasm for these works is unmistakeable: ‘You could compare Scheherazade to one of those Strauss tone poems or a ballet in which you listen to the music and can visualise exactly what you hear,’ he says. ‘It’s a joy to conduct.’

Kirill Karabits conducts the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme of Prokofiev, Elgar and Rimsky-Korsakov at the Royal Festival Hall on Tuesday 22 April, 7.30pm.

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Meet the Management: Chris Evans, Director of Press & Marketing

Chris image cropped

 

How did you get involved working at the RPO?

I knew the Orchestra very well whilst working for Warner Classics. The marketing job became vacant in 2004, so I applied and have never looked back!

What does your job entail?

In a nutshell: to present our concerts to our lovely patrons in the hope that they purchase tickets. I am very pleased (and grateful) that we have a loyal crowd of attendees. In addition, it is my responsibility to liaise with our venues to ensure that the RPO message is flying high!

Describe a typical working day for you (if there is such a thing!).

It usually starts at 6.30am when I get out of bed and walk the dog. A nice job in the summer, not so good during the winter! I then prepare for work, get the train into London from Hertfordshire and if all goes well I end up sitting at my desk by around 9.45am. At the moment, my typical day is mostly centered around our new season – collating the repertoire lists in readiness to brief the artwork. I also have four dedicated members of staff and a marketing volunteer to look after.

Tell us about some highlights of your time working here at the RPO.

There are many highlights, but I really get a kick out of seeing a busy auditorium. Of course I always hope for a full house, but reaching anything over 80% is when I feel that I have done my job well. A recent highlight was listening to Charles Dutoit conduct Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé at Southbank Centre. Maestro Dutoit is a master of this repertoire and this clearly showed during the performance. I also enjoy our many concerts at the Royal Albert Hall – so much so that it has even been known for me to get up and dance at the end of our Best of Broadway concert!!

Has the current financial climate affected the way your market concerts to audiences?

It certainly has. Marketing isn’t just about sending out a flyer and hoping for the best. It’s all about communicating to your audience via the many (many) platforms that are available to us now. The choice, especially in the digital area, is continually growing and over the last few years it has become a financial balancing act, juggling what is most effective.

How do you relax in your spare time?

You wouldn’t have thought so, but I have recently taken up going to the gym. I am also a very keen Manchester United supporter; although this season is proving a little difficult to watch, I have managed to visit Old Trafford with my son on a couple of occasions.

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An Interview with David Firman

Firman, David 1 Aug 13

Hannah Nepil interviews conductor David Firman ahead of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Live in Concert’ at the Royal Albert Hall.

Like all the best swashbucklers, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl saves the real romance for the end. Only then can Elizabeth and Will (played by Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom) sweep aside the traumas of the last two hours, and declare their undying love for one another. For us, the popcorn-popping punters, it is glorious wish fulfilment.

For David Firman, who is preparing to conduct the score, it’s a stressful moment: ‘The musicians have been living with a click track for about an hour and three quarters and suddenly the click track stops and we have to fit the music to picture precisely without it. It’s the sting in the tail.’ Firman should know: last year he conducted the score in Denmark, alongside a screening of the film. In April, he will repeat the experience at the Royal Albert Hall.

And no, for him it’s not like a free trip to the cinema: there are two hours of music and the film is about two and a half hours long. Synch points have to be meticulously accurate – for example, says Firman, ‘the bit in the bass drum that has to fit exactly with the sound of a cannon.’ And there’s no room for respite. ‘In a studio, it’s almost unheard of to play any more than a three minutes cue at once. With live performance, all the tempo changes are happening as you’re playing. So you have to be really on your guard.’

But it’s worth the sweat. ‘Watching a live orchestra changes the experience of the film for the audience: you’re not simply watching a piece of celluloid,’ says Firman, ‘you’re in the theatre as well, watching live people. It introduces a human element and humanises the characters you’re watching too.’  What’s more, it shines a spotlight on the music. In general, Firman says, ‘the first thing that occupies our attention is visual, that’s the way the human brain is worked out. Sound comes second.’ But in this case, ‘the musical element is somehow thrust further forward because you can actually see the music being made as well as the picture. And it’s a richer experience.’

It also means that the musicians get the attention they deserve. ‘At the end of the show the screen goes black and the only live people in the building are the orchestra, so, when we did it in Denmark we got a huge ovation,’ says Firman. After all, ‘the film is fun, it’s swashbuckling, it’s very broad brush strokes; Keira Knightley looks delicious and so does Johnny Depp (if you’re that way inclined), so it’s a joyous experience. And the musicians are the live people who have contributed to the event.’

David Firman conducts the Orchestra in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl – Live in Concert’, alongside a screening of the film on Saturday 5th April 2014, 7.30pm, at the Royal Albert Hall.

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