BBC Philharmonic centenary: Orchestra musicians share their stories

Classical musicians who shared their stories to help mark the milestone occasion include married couples and the longest-serving player in the ensemble.

A Greater Manchester-based orchestra is celebrating its centenary with a special concert in Manchester – and members of the ensemble have shared stories of a life in classical music.

The BBC Philharmonic, based at MediaCity UK in Salford, will take to the stage at Bridgewater Hall this weekend as they mark 100 years of musical creation with a concert featuring new music and a perennial Beethoven favourite.

Ahead of the milestone occasion, ManchesterWorld spoke to some of the musicians about what it’s like to work in an orchestra and hear their stories of their life in classical music.

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra performing live. Photo: Mark McNulty/BBC

The oldest member of the orchestra

Double bassist Peter Willmott is the longest serving member of the BBC Philharmonic and has performed with the orchestra for half a century since joining in 1972. His role has taken him around the world playing classical music.

His family association with the orchestra, however, goes back further, as his father was a violinist in the ensemble before him, which he joined in the 1950s. Father and son overlapped their passages and played together in the orchestra for one year.

Peter Willmott

As well as playing in the orchestra, Peter also arranges and orchestrates the music and has prepared the arrangements for classical instruments when the BBC Philharmonic has performed crossover gigs involving pop artists like S Club 7 and Mis-Teeq.

Peter and the rest of the orchestra’s double bass section have also formed a rock band called Cover All Basses and play charity gigs for good causes in the North West.

The married couple who share their “dream job”

Both Kevin and Lucy Flynn find themselves among the violin sections of the orchestra and their professional and personal lives have been intertwined. The married couple met around 20 years ago in the pub after a concert by their college orchestra and their careers took them both to Manchester.

Kevin, who plays in the first violins, joined the BBC Philharmonic 17½ years ago and was soon joined by his wife Lucy, who is in the second violins and herself spent 15 years in the ensemble at its active.

Lucy was born and raised in Greater Manchester, originally from Stockport, and remembers going to see the orchestra perform early on when her father, Paul Dintinger, was the principal clarinetist.

Lucy said: “It’s my dream job and I think it’s also Kevin’s. We both love playing in the orchestra, especially gigs like Bridgewater Hall and the Proms. These are high times for us.

Lucy Flynn

The couple say there are many benefits to working together in the orchestra, including cycling most days from their home in Sale. However, they admit childcare and unusual working hours can be quite a challenge, with Lucy now working on a reduced contract since having their two children and the two having to take turns touring the foreign.

Kevin said: “Before the kids, we would love to be on tour for as long as possible, but now they’re a bit of a pain. Being away from home at night is not ideal.

One tour that sticks in the memory for very different reasons, however, was when the orchestra was in Japan in 2011 and there was a powerful earthquake in the country. As Kevin recalled, “We were on a bridge on the way to the concert hall for rehearsal and the concert and the bridge started to sway.

Kevin Flynn

“We had all the aftershocks with pictures falling off the walls and cracks in the walls. We didn’t do any more gigs on this tour, but went back to playing the music we were supposed to do, which was pretty nice.

Lucy says other highlights of her time with the orchestra include concert versions of operas, including Puccini’s Il Tabarro and Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini, as well as a concert this year in which she was part of the audience. rather than participate.

She said: “I took the kids to their first ball this summer. Kevin was playing and I wasn’t working. It was a real highlight for us, for them to hear and see the orchestra in a venue. so amazing.

“We are now among the oldest members of the orchestra after being among the youngest”

A couple whose relationship began in the ranks of the orchestra are cellist Steven Callow and first English horn Gill Callow, who joined the BBC Philharmonic about six months apart and reunited for a tour of France at the early 1990s.

Gill said; “Visits are often a meeting place. You can chat sitting next to each other on the bus. Steven started hanging around me and the rest is history I guess!

The couple married in 1996 and have reflected on their time in the orchestra which has seen them grow from some of the youngest members of the ensemble to some of its most experienced players.

They also talked about some of the benefits of being married to someone else who is in an orchestra.

Steven Callow

Steven said, “It can be very difficult to explain to non-musicians what the pressures and frustrations of being in an orchestra can be like. With a partner in the orchestra, you can share that.

“It is a great privilege to be in this orchestra, it has been part of our lives for over 30 years. We are very lucky to be in such a nice orchestra that has such enthusiasm and passion for music. We don’t like to go lightly or uphill, we always go, which is demanding but exciting.

“I often think looking back there were about eight people who were here when we joined and yet it feels like the exact same orchestra as it was 30 years ago. Our approach to music is exactly the same. It’s as if each orchestra has its own character, no matter who composes it.

Gill said: “It’s amazing to have been part of this journey across generations. The people you’ve been looking for to start retiring or leaving and you find yourself staying. You love it and then you settle down and have no reason to go anywhere else. It’s a long time to be part of something special like this.

Gil Callow

Steven and Gill have also passed on their love of all things musical to their daughter Emily, who is now a singer and has just graduated from Cambridge. The couple say they particularly cherish the time when Emily was in the Kinder Children’s Choir and joined the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra as part of a concert, so far the only time the three members of the Callow family have met. professionally produced on stage together.

The couple also explained how they were able to get into classical music when studying at public school through traveling services offering lessons and amateur music, in Norfolk in Gill’s case and in Cheltenham and then Worcester for Steve.

Steven also said that one of the aspects of his involvement with the BBC Philharmonic that he enjoys is performing in cities across the North and Midlands.

How is the BBC Philharmonic celebrating its centenary?

As part of its centenary, the BBC Philharmonic is giving a concert at Bridgewater Hall on Saturday 15 October, from 7.30pm. The program includes a world premiere by Erland Cooper entitled Window over Rackwick, Overture Chanticleer by Ruth Gipps and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

The concert reflects the orchestra’s long-standing association with 19th and 20th century music, ranging from romantic cornerstones of the repertoire such as Beethoven’s orchestral pieces to rarely performed composers and contemporary works.

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