Player Profile: Duncan Riddell

In this video interview at Cadogan Hall, Duncan Riddell speaks to Bob Jones about the demands of his role and his experience in the Orchestra; his inspirations, aspirations and his path to becoming “one of the two leaders of the RPO.”

Duncan has been a leader of the RPO for several years, previously having led the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra from 2001 to the summer of 2010. Other commitments have included a principal position in the North German Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in Hanover, from 1989, and the position of co-leader of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1994.

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Hannah Nepil interviews Hilary Davan Wetton

Hilary Davan Wetton

Hilary Davan Wetton


In a grand gesture of appreciation, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is to pay tribute to one of its long-serving conductors: Hilary Davan Wetton.

On 19th March 2014, Hilary Davan Wetton will take the stage at the Royal Albert Hall to conduct the RPO, along with several ensembles with which he has worked during his long career: the City of London Choir, Guildford Choral Society, Leicester Philharmonic Choir and choirs from St Paul’s Girl’s School. The work? The Dream of Gerontius, by the English composer Sir Edward Elgar. The occasion? Davan Wetton’s 70th birthday.

To the audience, it may feel like an episode of This is Your Life, but Davan Wetton’s thoughts are on the work he is to conduct. ‘The Dream of Gerontius’, says Davan Wetton, ‘is a curious choice of repertoire in that it is about an old man dying, which is slightly unfortunate as I reach my 70th birthday. I’m hoping that this concert won’t involve a rather alarming acting out of that process.’ In all other respects, the work is highly appropriate for the conductor. As a music student at Brasenose College, Oxford, he was well versed in the English choral tradition. And, as a postgraduate student at the Royal College of Music, he studied with Sir Adrian Boult, the legendary English conductor, acclaimed for his own interpretations of English music. ‘Boult was a man of enormous generosity,’ he reminisces, ‘He was also man of enormous temper. When he got angry he allegedly hit people in the BBC Symphony Orchestra.’ According to Davan Wetton, he never learnt as much from anyone as he did from Boult. ‘He would look at a score, and whatever it was, he would have something to say that you wouldn’t have thought of yourself’, says Davan Wetton.

He shares Boult’s passion for the music of his own country. A regular at the annual English Music Festival, Davan Wetton likes to seek out gems by little-known English composers, and his past credits include a series of first broadcasts, with the Ulster Orchestra, of 19th-century English symphonies by William Crotch, Sterndale Bennett, Samuel Wesley and Beethoven’s only pupil Ciprani Potter.

According to Davan Wetton, ‘the British have a tendency to talk down their own music and talk up music by any composer who ends in “-ov”. I’m not suggesting that Ciprani Potter is a Beethoven who has been overlooked. But his symphonies have all sorts of marvellous tunes and energy. And yet I think my recording of the Potter symphonies is the only one ever made’.

Another of Davan Wetton’s long-held passions is choral conducting. ‘The thing about amateur choirs is that you know that they’re there because they want to be there,’ he says. That same sense of enthusiasm is what draws him to youth orchestras: he is a regular with the National Children’s Orchestra. ‘Inevitably if you’re a professional player you can’t be thrilled every minute of forty hours a week. But youth orchestras are very likely to be playing masterpieces for the first time. It’s very exciting to watch young people being thrilled by the power of the music,’ he says. Like Gustav Holst before him, Davan Wetton was Director of Music at the highly academic St Paul’s Girls’ School in London. He believes that ‘it’s important not to tell children that something is good if they know it isn’t because they then don’t trust you at all. If you make them feel you expect them to deliver, they almost always will’.

Which seems a good point to mention that one of Davan Wetton’s former organ students happens to be the comedian Jo Brand, whom he taught for the TV programme Play it Again. ‘She had given up the piano to annoy her mother when she was fourteen, and despite that she made terrific progress on the organ,’ says Davan Wetton. And did she crack good jokes in lessons? ‘I’m afraid to say almost every possible double entendre to do with pipes, stops, knobs, and so on, flew past during the lessons,’ he says, ‘but most of them got cut out before the programme went out.’

Hilary Davan Wetton’s 70th birthday will be marked in a special celebration concert on 19th March 2013, 7.30pm at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Meet the Management: Michelle Johnson, Finance Director

MJ-Photo cropped
How long have you been working with the RPO?
For over seven years, and loving it on most days.

Tell us about some highlights of your job.
I am humbled and privileged to be working with a highly skilled and dedicated head office team, supporting our orchestra of incredibly talented musicians. It’s great to be able to see the results of the hard work carried out – both in the office and backstage – culminate in magnificent performances, which are enjoyed by so many.

There are many special moments, especially when someone who has never experienced the amazing sound and spectacular vision of a symphony orchestra before can experience it for the first time, either through RPO Rewards (our new app) or through our inspirational community and education programme (led by RPO resound – our community and education department), which tangibly enhances lives through the power of music.

Describe a typical working day for you.
There is absolutely no such thing as a typical day at the RPO! Work covers a myriad of interesting areas, ranging from the preparation of financial results for each and every concert, recording sessions, community workshops and tours, as well as liaisons with staff, musicians, suppliers, insurers, auditors, lawyers and HMRC on a wide range of issues.

The job relies heavily on communicating with internal and external stakeholders and advisers; not just looking after the Orchestra’s finances and doing the maths, but often carrying out much detective work, which involves investigating and piecing together a complete financial picture that can consist of hundreds of differing items. The sweet moment of the balance sheet balancing is very satisfying indeed. I know this sounds very sad, but it’s true! In the right environment, accounts can be exciting!

Where do you see orchestras and other arts organisations heading, given the current financial climate?
These are very challenging times and it is our duty to ensure that the arts, in particular live performance, continue to thrive and reach out to audiences across a wide range of economic, social and cultural backgrounds, whilst promoting the best of what we do.

How do you relax in your spare time?
Theatre, concerts, spas, singing in my gospel choir and dancing real Cuban salsa – but definitely NOT the showy salsa that they do on TV, and preferably in Havana!!

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An Interview with Debbie Wiseman

Debbie Wiseman
In the run up to The Magic of Christmas 2013, Hannah Nepil interviews composer and conductor Debbie Wiseman.

One perk of being a film and TV composer, says Debbie Wiseman, is getting to ‘keep it fresh’. This year alone she has delved into the music of the fifties for the TV series Father Brown, composed seafaring melodies for a new BBC film called The Whale, and juggled Welsh musical influences with echoes of New York jazz for a film about Dylan Thomas. A glance at her CV reveals music credits ranging from the 1997 film Wilde, about the well-known playwright, to the TV series Land Girls, in which she harked back to the nostalgic songs of the First World War period.

So how did she make it? Wiseman, 50, decided on her career path after studying piano and composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. ‘My natural composing style is quite melodic, and I thought the best place for that was in film or TV, where there always seems to be some sort of melody or theme,’ she says. Then it was a case of ‘being persistent, getting directors and production companies to listen to the music, and gaining their trust’.

Now that she has it, directors will give her their general vision for the music, whether ‘haunting’, or ‘magical’, but the rest is up to her. ‘I watch the film over and over again, without any music on at all. And then I start to improvise at the piano,’ she says. Luckily, ‘you’ve got a lot to steer you: the location, the drama, the characters, the story and the period that it’s set in’.

She conducts her own scores in recording sessions and concerts, often working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. This December, for example, she will conduct the RPO at Cadogan Hall in a concert in aid of Breast Cancer Campaign, featuring Christmas classics such as Sleigh Ride and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, alongside three of her own world premières: a piece entitled The Christmas Party, based on a story by the author and actor George Layton, an orchestral suite from Father Brown, and a piece inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling.

Wiseman, however, never used to consider herself a conductor. Although she had some conducting lessons at conservatoire, they were few and far between. ‘Conducting for me grew out of necessity,’ she says. ‘I’m best placed to conduct my music because nobody else knows it as well as I do.’ Although it was daunting at first, she says that by now, ‘conducting is the treat at the end of a really long writing process’.

What makes the RPO so suitable for recording her music, in her opinion, is the players’ uncanny knack for reading music quickly and accurately – a godsend when you’re on a tight recording schedule. Plus, they respond well to the ‘click track’ – the metronome in their headphones that keeps them in time with key points in the film. ‘That’s a skill that a lot of musicians find very difficult to start with, because it’s so unnatural,’ says Wiseman, ‘playing in concert is much less rigid than playing in a studio, where every note is examined and under the microscope.’

Such call for precision can be stressful for the musicians. But Wiseman tries to avoid frayed tempers in recording sessions. ‘If you’re not relaxed and confident as the conductor, how can you expect the musicians to be? We are there to do a job, but if you get the mix right, then you get the best result,’ she says.

Debbie Wiseman and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra present ‘The Magic of Christmas’ for Breast Cancer Campaign at Cadogan Hall on Sunday 8th December, 3.30pm.

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Ipswich Education Programme – Video

Orchestras Live

Musicians from RPO resound, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Community & Education team, have recently been supporting our residency at the Ipswich Regent Theatre with bespoke workshops, presentations and master-classes, tailored to benefit a wide range of local young people.

More than 1000 primary and secondary pupils were provided with the opportunity to hear performances by Orchestra members, directed by composer and workshop leader Hannah Conway. The presentations focused on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and at the end of the workshops smaller groups of students created their own Mussorgsky-inspired compositions.

Follow the link to the short video to find out more about the programme: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l31z-VOdijg

You can hear some of the young people that we worked with prior to our concert on Friday 18th October, 7pm at Ipswich Regent Theatre. Please note that the pre-performance is free and no tickets are required.

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