Ahead of the latest event in our concert series on 1 September Northern Ballet Sinfonia orchestra leader, Geoff Allan, tells us about his summer and more about Benjamin Frith, the extraordinary pianist performing with Geoff on the night.
On the last occasion that I was writing on this page, I was hard at work preparing for the previous concert at Quarry Hill along with my colleagues Sue Hall and Sasha Volpov. That was in June, and it seems quite a long time ago now. The Northern Ballet season had just finished, and here we are only a couple of weeks away from our first rehearsals for Hamlet. Now I am focussing on preparing for the next event in the series, my violin and piano recital with Benjamin Frith on 1 September.
The summer is never very busy with performances (for me anyway), but all the concerts I've taken part in have been enjoyable. For some reason the British public have an obsession with open-air concerts during the summer, which is odd bearing in mind our unreliable climate. (A related fact, which I recall reading in a car magazine, is that more convertibles are sold in Britain than any other European country – perhaps we are determined not to be dictated to by our weather, and these characteristics are acts of defiance!). Anyway, I'm very happy about it and most weekends I find myself meeting up with a selection of colleagues (including some Northern Ballet players) to form either the English National Orchestra or the National Symphony Orchestra, two London-based ensembles which use some northern musicians for their concerts north of Birmingham. Thus over the last few weeks we have performed with Katherine Jenkins, Russell Watson and Wynne Evans (the tenor from the GoCompare ads – he is a fantastic singer and very funny too). On Sunday I led the NSO for a Last Night of the Proms concert in the Leeds Grand Theatre (indoors at last!) conducted and compêred by Gavin Sutherland. Long term followers of Northern Ballet may remember that Gavin used to be Assistant Conductor with us before leaving to make a very successful career for himself as a conductor, pianist and arranger. If he weren’t such a talented musician, he could surely have been a brilliant comedian! It was strange for the Northern Ballet players involved to find ourselves on the stage of the Theatre we know so well, instead of in the pit. Of course the stage is raked, and the violins spent the rehearsal and concert leaning slightly to the right – we wondered how our dancers learn to cope with this phenomenon, constantly pulling them towards the front of the stage, and the pit!
And now I have a gap in my schedule until the recital, so unlike the June Trio concert, there is no rehearsal saga to relate involving feats of superhuman endurance, or tales of triumph over seemingly impossible logistical problems. I have had one rehearsal with Ben already at his home near Sheffield, and I must say I am thrilled to be performing with such a wonderful pianist. We only met earlier this year when plans were being made by the Leeds International Piano Competition to start a series of outreach concerts around Leeds involving a small group from the Northern Ballet Sinfonia. Ben has had a long association with the Competition as he has been a lifetime pupil of the legendary Fanny Waterman.
For those not familiar with his name, Benjamin Frith started his career young by winning the British National Concerto Competition aged 14. He subsequently went on to be a first prizewinner in the Mozart Memorial Competition, Busoni International Piano Competition and the Arthur Rubinstein Competition. Since then he has built a brilliant solo career. However, chamber music is also one of his loves, and he recently formed the Frith Piano Quartet. In fact the only problem we have had with arranging rehearsals is that Ben has been away for a huge part of the summer performing at various chamber music festivals. However, we are having our second rehearsal tomorrow at my home in Knutsford, and I’ll tell you more about how things are going (and a bit about the music we’re playing) in my next blog. In the meantime, the piano tuner is coming round shortly in preparation!
Geoff Allan – Leader, Northern Ballet Sinfonia