Tuning up for a fine performance

Tuning up for a fine performance

So Matthew, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m a conductor and composer from Penzance in Cornwall. I’ve spent the past few years on the conducting staff of the Royal Opera House, as well as assisting conductors at the London Philharmonic and BBC orchestras, and am now making my way in the wider world.


You’ve had the privilege of working at the Royal Opera House. What have you enjoyed most about this?

Getting to watch and hear some of the world’s best artists at work on a daily basis changed my perception of what music can and should be. I’ve had some really amazing experiences, from witnessing the incredible detail in which Sir Antonio Pappano and the orchestra of the Royal Opera House work, to seeing singers dissolve into emotion on stage and take the whole audience with them. It has ignited in me a desire to feel and create with an intensity that I hadn’t realised was possible, and that I’ll continue searching for a long while yet…”


Given the situation with the recent change in conductors at the Tonbridge Philharmonic Society [TPS], how have you maintained stability with the musicians?

In this industry guest conducting is part of a conductor’s life. Sometimes you go when the ensemble is searching for a music director, sometimes just when they need a change of scene. Either way it’s a bit like a first date, they’re looking at you and you’re looking at them, each trying to suss the other out. The most important thing is just to be yourself, to stay true to your own standards and beliefs, and to be consistent. That’s how I’ve approached this concert. I’ve worked in my own way and set my own pace, and thankfully everyone’s come along for the ride. I’m really pleased with what we’ve managed to achieve.

What are you looking forward to most about conducting the TPS on Saturday?

I think the experience of performing the Stabat Mater in the Chapel of St Augustine, Tonbridge School, will be a beautiful one. I really believe that the aesthetic of the venue has a big impact on an audience’s sensory experience, and it doesn’t get much better than combining Dvorak’s astonishing music with such a poignant text in a magnificent vaulted space.


Can you tell us about the concert and the work to be performed?

The Stabat Mater is a 13th-century hymn that portrays Mary as she beholds the crucified Jesus. The first words are Stabat Mater Dolorósa juxta Crucem lacrimósa (“The grieving mother stood weeping at the foot of the Cross”). The composer James James MacMillan calls it a sort of ‘Kindertotenlied’ – a song on the death of a child – a concept which has fuelled composers’ imaginations throughout the ages and has created the most intensely emotional music.

Dvorak’s setting goes beyond mere description. It gradually and sparingly unfurls a single musical idea that, over the span of an hour, carries the listener from numbness, through grief to eventual grace. It’s an incredibly rounded and wholesome work.


What do you think the audience will enjoy most about the concert?

Hopefully they’ll have a profoundly moving experience. You don’t have to understand Latin or be a believer to feel the emotion coursing through this work, so I’d encourage anyone to come and just soak in the music and the story. Please come and tell me how you felt afterwards.


You’re also conducting the TPS Christmas Carol concert in the Chapel of St Augustine on Saturday December 14. Can you give us an idea of what’s in store for this seasonal event?

I can promise three of my all-time favourite carols sung by candlelight, then a good sing with mince pies and mulled wine. If that’s not enough, then
I don’t know what is!


What are your plans for 2020?

Next year is looking like my busiest year yet, which is really exciting, and I can’t wait to get started. As a composer I have two works being premiered early in the year, a song cycle at the Royal Opera House in March followed by an orchestral piece at the top of a new New York skyscraper. Then at the end of the year I’ll be unveiling a work in my hometown in Cornwall commemorating the tragic loss of the Penlee lifeboat on December 19, 1981, which will be very special. In between I’ll be conducting at various opera houses in Copenhagen, Germany and the USA, and am back working at Grange Park Opera and the Royal Opera House. All in all, I think I’m away from home for six months straight, so I’m especially looking forward to conducting an opera on a beach in Cornwall over the summer – watch
this space.


For more information, or to book tickets for the concert this Saturday, November 23 at 7.30pm, visit tonphil.org.uk

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