The Royal Liverpool is about 173 years old at the moment. You might think that being the oldest surviving professional symphony orchestra in the British Isles would mean that we might become a bit stuck in our ways. However, the truth couldn’t be further away from that scenario. The RLPO is constantly looking for ways to reinvent itself. We have a thriving education department developing an audience for the future; a busy contemporary music ensemble playing sounds that have only just been written and the RLPO itself doesn’t just stick to the canonic symphonic repertoire.
The ‘lighter’ side of the orchestra is becoming ever more popular. Aside from our regular ‘Pops at the Phil’ series, we have a busy schedule of Phil Power children’s concerts, where the RLPO play to well over 40,000 kids in Philharmonic Hall per annum. The main conductors for this more populist strand of music making, over the last year, have been Carl Davis, John Wilson, Mike Seel, Richard Kaufman and Steve Bell. All renowned experts in their own field of repertoire.
It is nice for the orchestra to let it’s hair down, too. We have done a Queen tribute night, Last Night of the Pops, various Beatles theme nights, Frank Sinatra nights, Fred Astaire, MGM film nights, MGM musical nights, Bond nights, a semi staged My Fair Lady, Teddy Bears Picnics, Western nights, even a pub style karaoke with the Phil, we’ve played music to films, opera and ballet whilst the footage is shown above the orchestra and outside concerts in parks in the summer… you name it, we would appear to have had a go at it.
During the last two weeks, or so, we have played Mahler one, put on a ‘Pirates Ahoy concert’, two programmes by contemporary music group Ensemble 10.10, Vaughan Williams ‘A London Symphony’, a visit to the Huddersfield contemporary music festival, two days at the Royal Northern College of Music playing as the house orchestra for the James Mottram International Piano Competition; Sheherazade and Rachmaninov 2nd piano concerto, a couple of days on the ‘John Lennon Songbook’, and today is the start of three days of recording songs for soprano Diana Damrau on the Virgin Classics label.
So, it is difficult to get bored with a typical schedule like this. We are just entering the Xmas season, too. So, we are embarking on a whole load of ‘Frosty The Snowman’ concerts, a more serious strand of ‘Spirit of Xmas’ concerts, with Ian Tracey and John Suchet; some more recording sessions for Virgin Classics, just before Xmas: some ‘Wonderful Christmastime ‘ shows with Carl Davis, three days Xmas holiday, an evening of Viennese Music with John Wilson, A Sinatra tribute night, a New Year’s Eve Big Band Gala concert and then my annual Messiah at the Phil, before I go off on my solo tour in January, playing the world premiere of Ailis Ni Riain’s new major solo work for trumpet.
When the RLPO tackles a particularly ‘jazzy’ programme we sometimes employ some of the very top London ‘lead’ players to help give us that little bit of extra ‘sizzle.’ This week’s ‘John Lennon Songbook,’ for instance was just such an occasion where we augmented our forces a little with the great Mike Lovatt on lead trumpet;
Matt Skelton on drums; John Stokes on lead trombone, Jeremy Brown on jazz double bass. It’s always nice to work with these guys, not only because of their consumate professionalism, but also because they are great fun too!
With very subtle arrangements by the brilliant Andrew Cottee and star ‘turns’ Mark McGann as an extrememly credible John Lennon, Joe Stilgoe in the Paul McCartney role and the wonderful Claire Martin OBE singing the jazzier numbers. Conducted by the very talented John Wilson, the whole product was a very highly polished affair. The collaborations between Wilson and Cottee on these musical extravaganza really are high end stuff.
One other nice occurrence is when another band or orchestra is in town, too. During the last month we’ve been able to meet for food etc with the English National Ballet orchestra, the Welsh National Opera orchestra and the John Wilson Ochestra. Whilst we had our rehearsal day for the John Lennon Songbook over at our practice venue, The Friary, in Everton; the Bootleg Beatles were appearing at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.
This was a great pleasure for me, as two prominent members of the band were students at the Royal College of Music with me in the 1980s. The Bootleg Beatles play all over the world, South America, New Zealand, everywhere in fact, to packed stadia. I hadn’t seen Vanessa King, French Horn, since college days, and Annette Brown, lead and solo trumpet, only fleetingly over the years. Annette is reputedly the most prolific player of ‘Penny Lane’ in the world! So, it was a good night for us all (including the RLPO London session musicians) to meet up in The Belvedere by Philharmonic Hall after work for a few drinks, a lot of catching up and a bloody good laugh!
So, on to today’s recording sessions for Virgin Classics at the RLPO rehearsal venue, The Friary. The RLPO were conducted by David Charles Abell on an album of lighter arias and musical numbers as a vehicle for German Opera sensation, Diana Damrau.
Ms Damrau has sung meaty roles in opera houses all over the world including Covent Garden, The Met & La Scala. Forget Katherine Jenkins & Russell Watson. This lady is the real thing. She has starred as the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute in over 15 major productions. Conductors like Ricardo Muti fawn over her.
Well, what a nice lady she is too. I was rather touched by the fact that Diana is currently nursing her second child and we had slightly longer breaks than normal so she could breast feed her baby. Damrau has an exclusive recording contract with Virgin Classics, a prestigious, major subsidiary of EMI.
Actually, today was to be a very easy day, as I was only down to play in ‘Walking In The Air’, the massive hit from ‘The Snowman.’ We started the session with this number and after four times through, the team from EMI in the sound booth were delighted. ‘Okay, let’s move on…” Champion! An early bath for me then. I hurriedly packed up my stuff and skulked off, quietly, so as not to disturb the ongoing recording. I took a short cut through the sound booth, where Sandra Parr, RLPO Director of Planning, exclaimed, “… You’re not off already!” “… I’m not on piece work Sandra,” I replied.
Just as I was bolting out of the other door in the booth, international award winning producer and vice President of EMI, Andrew Cornall, took his cans off his ears and said, “… Where the hell do you think you’re going?” “Why?” I said. “… There’s a great big trumpet solo in 25 seconds, in this next number! “… You are kidding right?” said I. “… 20 seconds now!” said Andrew. “… Ooer…”
I bustled back on, sat down, unpacked my bag etc had two seconds to breathe and off we went. Phew! It was alright too. Two more takes, for other purposes and and ‘Feed The Birds’ from ‘Mary Poppins’ was in the can. I wondered why I had such a big microphone right by me just for ‘The Snowman’! Now I could leave. As I was going, Andrew Cornall shouted after me, “… Do you play the harpsichord?” But my tail lights had already disappeared into the distance…
Could have been ‘docked’ a weeks pay there!