An Interview with Adam McGinlay

Adam McGinlay, general manager of the Cadogan Hall, London

Hannah Nepil interviews Adam McGinlay, General Manager of Cadogan Hall – the Orchestra’s London residence.

Cadogan Hall celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. ‘But rather than just having one party for one night of the year and all waking up with headaches the next day,’ says its General Manager Adam McGinlay, ‘we’ll be having several parties.’ So, for starters, there’s a recital from the tenor Rolando Villazón; a complete Beethoven sonata cycle from pianist John Lill; and a series of concerts from the violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

It’s also a time for nostalgia. McGinlay recalls the excitement when, in 2004, the Hall first became home to the annual BBC Chamber Proms – raising its profile in the process. ‘It went from opening its doors with only a very few staff to being live on air within weeks. From the front of house it appeared to go very smoothly, like a gliding swan, but I can assure you there was some frantic paddling underneath,’ says McGinlay.

By now, Cadogan’s schedule also includes a choral series, a Royal Philharmonic Residency and a Zurich International Concert series, which profiles international orchestras rarely heard at other London venues, such as the Brussels Philharmonic. As McGinlay says, ‘Our aim is that if something is already being presented by another venue, we would only do it if we felt we could offer something different.’ He recently programmed a St John Passion by C.P.E. Bach that probably hadn’t been heard in over two hundred years. ‘It wasn’t an easy sell,’ says McGinlay. ‘We have to be very careful because the narrower the repertoire, the more difficult it is to get audiences. But you can’t just keep doing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto every day.’

And his plans for the future? ‘We’d like to widen the types of performance that we do – particularly Baroque and Renaissance music,’ he says. But the main aim ‘is to stand alone and present something in the best possible way. We believe a concert here should be more like the experience of a five-star retreat, so when you arrive you’re treated well, the seats are comfortable, the food is of quality, there’s nice champagne. Our aspiration is that if you were to hear a concert at one venue and come and hear the same concert at Cadogan Hall, then you would have the better experience here.’


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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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