Ask a Musician - the answers

  • Written By: John Hodgson, Mark Willis
  • Published: Mon, 10 Dec 2018 10:57 GMT

Smith & Williamson have teamed up with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO) to give you unique access to some of the world’s best musicians. The CBSO have kindly let us behind the scenes to ask the Orchestra the questions that you have asked, each week we will release a new video as a different musician answer's your questions.

The CBSO is the flagship of musical life in Birmingham and the West Midlands, and has gained recognition as one of the world’s most talented orchestras.

Based in Symphony Hall Birmingham, the CBSO gives over 150 concerts each year in Birmingham, the UK and around the world, playing music that ranges from classics to contemporary, film music and even symphonic disco.

The CBSO is involved in every aspect of music-making in the Midlands with a far-reaching community programme that includes a family of choruses and ensembles. But at the heart of the orchestra are 75 superb professional musicians who continue the 98-year tradition of making the world’s greatest music come alive to audiences around the world.

Join us each week as the musicians answer questions you submitted to the Orchestra.

If you were to play any other instrument in the Orchestra, what would it be?


If I wouldn't play the violin, I would like to play the Horn - the French Horn - because whenever a composer has something very... has a very special moment in a piece it's always a beautiful horn solo. Like Brahms' Third Symphony, the slow movement, has an unbelievable horn solo. And also you get to play - if there is a film music concert - you get to play all the really powerful, epic things.

What is the most unusual instrument you have ever been asked to play?


The most unusual instruments I've been asked to play include a vibrating ruler on a table, I've had to play the chromonica which is a chromatic harmonica, I've had to play ocarinas... More unusual, I had to play a coffin with hammers for about ten minutes at the front of a stage with eight double bass players and a pianist and really knock hell's bells out of that - it really hurt my wrist! Wouldn't recommend it but it was quite funny. The other quite cool one, which was really effective, was bouncing table tennis balls into a cup, on a table, and you cover the cup with paper as you do it. That's a very cool effect.

Why do you think classical music historically has not resonated with a younger audience? 


I think classical music DOES resonate very much with young people... I think they listen in a different way. When we play a concert specially for kids a lot of them are really wowed by what they hear - to come into Symphony Hall is just the most amazing experience. The problem then is often the parents can't or don't bring them again; I think we need to address that somehow, bringing music into some more funky, wacky environments. I think actually, if we have to choose - as obviously these things have a funding implication - I would like to see us maybe drop one of the Symphony Hall concerts and use that funding to play something like the Shostakovich 15 that we're doing at the moment in a completely different environment. They would be completely wowed! We see that when we go into schools when we play anything - Haydn, Bach, any of these wonderful pieces of music to schoolchildren, they are jaw-dropped. Absolutely fantastic reactions we get from them! Actually, the music speaks for itself - as long as we communicate it really well it's just a fantastic 'wow!' for them. So I would say classical music really DOES resonate with kids - we just need to get out there more and give them the opportunity - that's what they need, the opportunity - to hear live classical music.

What are the best and worst things about being in the CBSO?


I think the best thing about playing in the Orchestra is just the sound when the Orchestra really gets going. Being in amongst that and being part of it is such a special experience, it's really not something you can experience anywhere else. And then probably the hardest thing - other than getting here, which is very competitive - is that we work quite unsocial hours, so a lot of evenings and weekends. And we do a lot of touring, which is really exciting for us, but it does mean that we miss the kids a bit when we're away!

What has been your greatest inspiration to play music?


My greatest inspiration to play music primarily is probably my family - I grew up constantly surrounded by different types of music of all different genres - and even if I wasn't thinking I wasn’t going to enjoy it, as time went on I loved everything, from jazz, to classical, orchestral, pop, the lot. It's been really inspiring to hear different types of music. Also, in the orchestra, to be surrounded by world-class musicians every day - I'm so lucky to be inspired by all of them and feel excited to go to work every morning.

What are the best and most difficult parts about going on tour?


For me the best thing about touring is probably really getting stuck in to a programme of music, and seeing how the repertoire develops over the course of the tour - and, of course, also seeing new places, exploring new cultures and playing to lots of different types of audiences. And the worst thing: first world problems, but probably too many sandwiches and missing people back home.

Previous questions

Is there a universal language learnt by conductors or does each one have their own style? 
What has classical music never tried to be more daring and sought influence from other genres and sounds? 

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