Meet Company Pianist Andrew Dunlop

In the busy preparations for Northern Ballet's autumn season, we caught up with Company Pianist Andrew Dunlop. Here, he looks back as well as forward on his favourite moments of his musical career so far.

‘I began piano lessons after prompting from my primary school teacher, following a particularly rousing performance of The Bear Went Over the Mountain from my reading book in Primary 3. After that, my career path was fairly set!'

Today, Andrew works with the Company in a dual role as both a Company Pianist and member of Northern Ballet Sinfonia, which tours cross the country with the Company.

‘As Company Pianist, my day usually begins by playing for Company Training. The remainder of the day is spent playing for rehearsals where I aim to recreate the sounds and textures of the orchestral score. At times this can be quite tricky. For example, during The Three Musketeers rehearsals I have taken to rapping the top of the piano to imitate the drums! As a member of the Sinfonia, I am normally found in the pit playing the piano or celesta. This can vary from being the soloist for Shostakovich’s Piano Concert No. 2 as part of the MacMillan Triple Bill, to being entrusted with 72 strikes on the anvil during 1984!

My favourite piece of ballet music has to be Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Prokofiev is an expert orchestrator; from the visceral bombastic energy of Dance of the Knights to the unashamedly Romantic washes of colour during Romeo and Juliet’s Act One pas de deux, Romeo and Juliet has it all. However, perhaps the most special moment for me is the final number of the ballet, the Death of Juliet. Only in the hands of an inimitable master can a final C Major Chord conjure such a profound feeling of pathos and multifaceted loss. I may have shed a tear or two at this point during rehearsals…'

Martha Leebolt and Giuliano Contadini in Jean-Christophe Maillot's Romeo and Juliet. Photo Andy Ross.

Looking forward to Northern Ballet’s Christmas season perfoming The Nutcracker, Andrew comments, ‘I get to perform the ubiquitous celesta solo for the Sugar Plum Fairy. I defy anyone not to feel a little Christmassy whilst playing this!’

The Nutcracker is one of the first scores to utilise the unusual sounds of the celesta. It’s said that Tchaikovsky first heard the instrument in Paris in 1891 and was so impressed that he immediately asked his publisher to acquire for The Nutcracker. However, he stressed that this was to be kept secret to prevent other Russian composers getting to the instrument first.

Northern Ballet dancers in The Nutcracker. Photo Emma Kauldhar.

The Nutcracker is awash with singable tunes and memorable moments. While perhaps the most iconic moment is the delicate twinkling of the Sugar Plum Fairy or rambunctious energy of the Russian Trepak, my favourite moment occurs just before the battle between Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince. At this point Clara, unable to sleep, re-enters the living room and witnesses the Christmas tree mysteriously grow before the Nutcracker Doll magically comes to life. Tchaikovsky’s music here is so colourful and evocative that you cannot help but be swept away by the magic of it all!’

Northern Ballet performs The Nutcracker this Christmas in Hull, Norwich, Woking and Leeds - don't miss it!

With thanks to Amplifon for supporting the hearing needs of Northern Ballet Sinfonia.