Tell us about you musical background, for example who you studied under, your influences and your family.
I had a fantastic teacher at school - Katherine Tewson and I also went to Junior Guildhall on Saturdays. My parents loved listening to all sorts of music and Radio 3 was often on at home. My grandmother was also good amateur pianist.
We lived in the same street as Simon Standage, the Baroque violinist. It was his wife that got me started on the clarinet - they had one knocking around the house and she said “why not give it a try”! I also listened to a lot of his records with the English Concert & also David Munrow.... it was just at that start of all the period instrument performance stuff. I’ve always loved that sound and now I play the early clarinet with some of the period instrument orchestras when I’m not playing in the Philharmonia. I then went to the Guildhall for four years and then onto the Juillard in New York for Post Graduate study.
So how did you come to join the Philharmonia Orchestra?
I first played with the orchestra on a film score. My flatmate at the time was working for a film production company making a romantic comedy where one of the characters played the clarinet. I started teaching the actor and helping chose the music for the film.... one thing led to another and the director decided he wanted the Spohr Clarinet concertos as the sound track to the movie. Next thing I knew, I was in a recording studio playing them with the Philharmonia Orchestra - very surreal!
When the principle clarinet vacancy came up about a year later, the orchestra were kind enough to remember me and invited me in to try out for the job..... the infamous “Disney Tour” of 99/2000 was one of my first dates - and I've still got the T-shirt to prove it!
What has been your highlight of your career so far?
Ashkenazy - Sinfonia Domestica, Royal Festival Hall!
In the past you have described yourself as ‘a keen exponent of contemporary music’ - do you feel an obligation as a performer to present new music to audiences? – why?
Yes - the clarinet is really a late arrival to the musical stage compared with the flute or oboe. A large part of our repertoire comes from the 20th century - there are new pieces being written every day for the instrument which can be very exciting. The clarinet gets to play a prominent role in lots of film, TV and computer game scores and these days that’s how lots of people get to hear new music which is great.
Is new music something that you try to encourage your students to perform?
Yes, of course. They're going to be the next generation of clarinettists inspiring & commissioning composers to write for the instrument.
As an advocate of contemporary music how do you feel about performing repertoire classics?
Audiences love to hear the classics..... I love to hear the classics!
The 3rd movement of Rachmaninov's Symphony No. 2 has a wonderfully lyrical and romantic clarinet solo section – what appeals to you most about this piece?
It’s a brilliant bit of orchestration - the solo really fits the instrument and the clarinets sound just works so well in that context. I can imagine it on another woodwind instrument, but somehow that famous ‘vocal’ quality of the clarinet just seems to work perfectly...
How do you prepare for such a famous solo? Do you listen to other performances and if so does this influence your practise?
Yes, I’ve listened to lots over the years. I’m not going to name names.... but if I had to I’d say the Jack Brymer recording does it for me. The breathing is probably the hardest thing about the solo (depending on the speed the conductor might want it). A brisk walk to get the newspaper, then immediately sit down and play it always helps with practising the breath control.
How do you prepare to make such a famous passage ‘your own’ performance?
Unfortunately there’s no magic formula that I’ve discovered - I think it just happens. Of course some solo’s you just click with without having to analyse it too much, others are a real struggle - I’m not saying which one Rach 2 is though!
In your opinion what are the characteristics of a good performer?
Bravery and good ears.
What would your advice be to any budding young clarinettists trying to make a career from performing?
Keep your options open... the music industry is going through big changes at the moment. Partly due to advances in technology but also down to the shear scale of what’s on offer today as “entertainment”.... I think music is going to become more like a service than a commodity. The broader a musician you can be the better.... in Mozart's day, that meant specialising on your own instrument , being able to play others too as well as composing, arranging, teaching & anything else that covered the rent. The same applies today.
Barnaby thanks for your time and we hope you enjoy the tour!
I'm sure I will!