Who's who in CMM ?

Steve Wassell (Musical Director)

Steven trained as an orchestral musician for six years, including three years at the Royal College of Music where he won the prestigious Brass Prize. He has conducted for forty five years, including Royal College of Music Junior Department (eighteen years) and many youth orchestras and bands at home and abroad. He is also a director and guest conductor of the professional Kent Sinfonia. Steve has performed, met and conducted for the Queen on several occasions and has played and conducted many musical shows in the west end and locally. He has also appeared in several films, TV and radio broadcasts, including  playing the music on the early Wallace and Grommit films.

Lucy Macgregor (Leader)

Lucy joined CMM in 1997 having received a knock on her door by the then conductor, Julia Davis, who had heard that Lucy played the violin and was short of players! That was the start of a long relationship with the orchestra, and with Paul Hillier  (V1 leader) who she was coupled with 20 years go. Lucy has now taken on (somewhat reluctantly) the mantle of leader.

John Pell talks about his time as Composer in Residence for Canterbury Music Makers

How did your association with CMM start?

In 2007 the orchestra were looking for a new conductor. I slipped in, failed the audition, but gained my real aim which was to have an orchestra to write for! In those days it was the tradition that a composer should rehearse their new work and conduct it at the concert. On this occasion my new work was a suite based on folk songs, A Garland from Wales. However, a fortnight before the event the organisers asked for something suitable to celebrate a royal anniversary which fell on the day of the concert and, with nothing appropriate in the library, I was told to write something and turn up at the next rehearsal with a score and all the parts. The result was Royal Progress and the orchestra had only that one rehearsal to learn it!

 

Do you attend rehearsals?

There is no better way of getting to know an orchestra than to attend rehearsals. In time you discover the individual players' characteristics and who would welcome having a solo passage in a work. You also get to know the kind of music they prefer to play. For ten years I had written for the Invicta Concert Band and they had taught me about brass and woodwind instruments and the orchestra gave me the opportunity to become more familiar with the ins and outs of stringed instruments. Rehearsing often involves a difficult passage being repeated several times and the snags identified and sorted. Careful listening at these moments is a valuable learning opportunity, you learn how to avoid writing difficult passages in the first place and how all the components of the music fit together. I soon learned as well that it was better to avoid long periods where a particular player had nothing to play. Such times can be a worry, there is always the risk of miscounting the empty bars which can lead to wrong or missed entries. I also learned that the overall sound of the orchestra was better when the orchestration was fuller and most people were playing.

 

How do you decide what to write for the orchestra?

Strangely enough the title comes first! I cannot begin unless I have an evocative 'selling' title that will look attractive in the programme. For instance, instead of naming my oboe concerto Oboe Concerto in C major which will cause no hearts in the audience to flutter, I called it Summer's Lease on the grounds that the oboe is tiring to play and therefore concertos for them should be on the shortish side. The title comes, of course, from Shakespeare: 'And summer's lease hath all too short a date' and the tone of the work is pastoral and summery. In contrast, my viola concerto is named Northern Journeys and is bleak and wintry. I remembered Paul Hillier, who asked for the work, had told me about a long car journey he had made the previous winter and this, for me, set the mood and the title.

 

The audiences we play to are not always used to attending formal concerts so I try to keep my pieces quite short or combine short contrasting movements into a suite such as my Postcards from Provence. (How's that for a 'selling' title?) Sometimes I build pieces around a folk song as a way of keeping just one little bit of our folk heritage alive. I've also written four medleys of Christmas carols. Two of them will be heard tonight: A Medieval Christmas and Welcome Yule.

 

One of the advantages of working with CMM is that players ask me to write for them. Usually they ask for pieces for two or three instruments that they can play at home or at the orchestra's Christmas Party. Sometimes they are pieces for their children and grandchildren and sometimes they are concertos to be played at our concerts. So far I've notched up five concertos and something like 25 orchestral works.

 

You are no longer writing for the orchestra. Why is that?

My deafness, which previously was a matter requiring just amplification, has become distortion meaning that as the notes climb higher they progressively flatten and as they sink lower they degenerate into a rumble. Listening to a concert or a CD is now intolerable and composing out of the question. I'm in good company though, Fauré, Smetana...and Dame Ethyl Smyth who, when disaster struck, took to writing novels!

 

We are all grateful for the lovely pieces you have given the orchestra over the past twelve years. We hope very much your association with us isn't going to end completely.

Thank you. These years as Composer-in-Residence with CMM have been so enjoyable and I have made many friends. There can't be many amateur composers who have a supportive and enthusiastic orchestra willing to spend time in private practice and Monday rehearsals playing their work. I am so lucky!