English Artist Spotlight

John Barbirolli

Sir John Barbirolli comes from a long line of talented musicians – both his father and grandfather were violinists in the La Scala Orchestra – so it’s not surprising that he headed down the same career path. Barbirolli started playing violin very young, but switched to cello at age 7. Practically a child prodigy, he began studying at the Trinity College of Music when he was 10, but transferred two years later to the Royal Academy of Music, where he earned his degree.

After giving his first solo recital, Barbirolli joined the army. However, even in a time of war, he was drawn towards music and conducted the army’s volunteer orchestra. This gig was his first exposure to conducting. It was love at first sight.

When Barbirolli returned to civilian life, played in the London Symphony Orchestra, the Covent Garden Orchestra, and as he put it, “everywhere except in the street.” He briefly directed the British National Opera Company before becoming conductor of the Scottish Orchestra and subsequently the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He spent 7 seasons with the NYPO before homesickness caused him to return to England.

In 1943, he became the permanent conductor of the Halle Orchestra and rebuilt the ensemble, which grew from only small number of players into a complete orchestra after three weeks of intense auditions. Barbirolli worked with this group for the next 27 years. Toward the end of his relationship with the orchestra, he lessened his workload in order to conduct internationally. It was during this stint of heavy traveling that Barbirolli suffered a heart attack and died. He had just finished a rigorous rehearsal with Philharmonia Orchestra earlier that day.

Barbirolli is remembered for being well-prepared for his conducting gigs. He spent two years studying the score for Mahler’s Second Symphony before programming it for a concert. His musical interpretations always had a lush orchestra tone and a sense of spontaneity to them. Barbirolli is regarded as one of the best European conductors of the twentieth century.

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Nigel Kennedy

A man of extreme talent and lively eccentricities, Nigel Kennedy has become one of the world’s leading violin virtuosos and one of the best violinists that Britain has seen emerge from its islands. Kennedy’s “flashy persona, unconventional interpretations, and his seemingly innate sense to capture attention,” as Robert Cummings of allmusic.com put it, has pushed him into the musical spotlight.

Kennedy began his studies at the Menuhin School before heading off for the Julliard School of Music in his early teens. His record debut of Elgar’s Violin Concerto won him Gramophone’s 1985 “Record of the Year” and BPI award for “Classical Album of the Year.” He made the record books with his performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons when it became the best-selling classical work ever. And of course, we can’t forget the impression he makes with his rock-star concert appearances – he is well-known for wearing jewelry and spiky hair on stage.

Also doubling as a jazz musician, Kennedy has won many awards including “Outstanding Contribution to British Music” and “Male Artist of the Year” at the UK Brit Awards, France’s “Gold Award” on the major network TV programme Vivement Dimanche, and in Switzerland “The Gold Rose of Montreux”.

Most recently, this artist has become the founder of the Orchestra of Life, an ensemble made up of young European musicians. He has recently produced two albums, one aptly named A Very Good Album and another entitled The Kennedy Experience, which is a collection of improv based on the music of Jimmy Hendrix.

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Richard Egarr

“I’ve been waiting for a conductor like Egarr to come along. … He’s one of the most exciting and delightful musicians of our time”

-NPR “All Things Considered”

Richard Egarr is a versatile performer who excels in many different areas of the music world. He began his career as a chorister at York Minster, where he was given a full musical training. After studying both piano and organ at Chetham’s School of Music, he became an organ scholar – a position that comes complete with a full scholarship – at Manchester Cathedral, then at Clare College Oxford.

Being a triple threat, however, was not enough for Egarr. While at Oxford, he learned how to play the harpsichord, eventually earning a degree in that field.  Upon completing school, he entered the International C.P.E Bach Fortepiano-Clavichord-Harpsichord Competition (whew, that’s a mouthful!) and won first place. He soon became the harpsichordist for London Baroque and jumpstarted his career as a musician. Since then, he has played as soloist with famous groups such as the Dutch Radio Chamber Orchestra, Orchestra of the 18th Century, and the Netherlands Wind Ensemble

Already performing a wide range of music on a variety of instruments, Egarr further branched out into the conducting sphere. He has directed many oratorios and operas including Dido and Aeneas, Haydn’s The Creation, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni.

His large number of recordings has impressed critics. Egarr was the first person to record the complete keyboard works of Johann Jakob Froberger. Alongside violinist Andrew Manze, he has recorded Handel’s violin sonatas and traveled on a world tour. He also briefly served as music director for the Academy of Ancient Music during the 2006 season.

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Howard Shelley

Howard Shelley is a double musical threat – both pianist and conductor – who started playing piano at an early age. He gave a television recital of J.S. Bach and Chopin at only 10 years old. He attended school at both Highgate School and the Royal College of Music, the latter of which awarded him their premier prize at the end of his first year. Since receiving that honor, he has had nothing but success in the music world.

As a pianist, Shelley has excelled as a soloist, and he regularly plays with talented orchestras worldwide. He was the first to perform the complete solo piano works of Sergei Rachmaninov; the pieces were played in honor of the 40th anniversary of the late composer’s death. The five-part recital was broadcast in full by the BBC.

As a conductor, Shelley has performed with the Ulster Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, and all four of the London orchestras, among many others. Over a period of twenty years, he has served as both associate and principal guest conductor of the London Mozart Players.

A Ravel documentary in which he played a prominent role as conductor, pianist, and presenter was awarded a gold medal for “Best Arts Biography of the Year” at the New York Festivals Awards.

Shelley is married to fellow pianist Hilary Macnamara. The couple has performed and recorded in a two-piano partnership. They have two sons, including the conductor Alexander Shelley.

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Tim Hugh

Since winning two medals, including the Bach Prize, at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990, Tim Hugh has skyrocketed into fame as one of the most talented cellists of the twenty-first century.

As a soloist, he has recorded and performed works that run the classical music gamut – Elgar, Dvorak, Haydn – with many world-renowned orchestras. As a chamber musician, he has recorded a majority of the piano trio repertoire with the Solomon Trio and often performs with the Nash Ensemble of London at Wigmore Hall. He also gave the United Kingdom premiere of Tishchenko Cello Concerto. Several of Hugh’s recordings have been given the Gramophone Magazine Editor’s Choice Award, and his performance of Benjamin Britten’s Cello Symphony was shortlisted for a Gramophone Award.

Hugh plays a regular gig as principle cellist in the London Symphony Orchestra.

He earned his undergrad degree from Yale and an MA in Medicine and Anthropology at St. John’s College, Cambridge, all the while studying cello under various influential teachers.

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Richard Hickox

The late Richard Hickox was well-known for his enthusiasm and energy when standing on the conductor’s podium. “I remember first and foremost the warmth, generosity, and loyalty of this lovely man,” reflected British pianist and conductor Howard Shelley shortly after Hickox’s sudden death in November 2008. “He was an extraordinarily gifted musician who absorbed the most complex scores with ease.”

Encouraged by his piano teacher mother and clergyman father, Hickox became involved with music at a very early age. Since his seven-year-old fingers first touched the organ at his family church, he has dabbled in many different genres – from period-instrument performance to opera – while mainly focusing on British and choral works of the twentieth century. He has guest conducted with many prominent orchestras worldwide, including the Berliner Symphoniker, Russian National Orchestra, and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Hickox is the winner of three Gramophone Awards, a Grammy (for his recording of opera Peter Grimes), two Royal Philharmonic Society Music Awards, the first Sir Charles Groves Award, the Evening Standard Opera Award, and the Association of British Orchestras award. He was also honored with a Brit Award, Gramophone Record of the Year, and Best Orchestral Disc of 2001 for his recording with the London Symphony Orchestra of Vaughan Williams’ Symphony no.2 in the original version.

Hickox studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where he earned an organ scholarship to Queens’ College, Cambridge. He has founded numerous performance groups, including Collegium Musicum 90 (a period-instrument ensemble), the City of London Sinfonia, and the Richard Hickox Singers. During his prodigious career, Hickox recorded over 300 CDs, one of the highest tallies of any conductor in the world.

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Alison Balsom

An idol to female brass players everywhere, Alison Balsom is known for making “the trumpet sing with an irresistible exuberance and eloquence,” as Richard Morrison from The Times once put it.

Since picking up the trumpet at a very early age, Balsom has made a worldwide name for herself. She commonly solos with prominent orchestras including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Wiener Symphoniker, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. In 2009, she headlined the Last Night of the BBC Proms – the world’s largest classical music festival – which reached a television audience of 200 million. She has even performed on The Late Show with David Letterman, a venue to which few classical musicians gain access.

This musician’s highly distinctive sound has won her ample awards, among them the “Feeling Musique Prize” for quality of sound in the 4th annual Maurice Andre International Trumpet Competition. Named “Female Artist of the Year” in the Classic Brit Awards for two years running, she has also been honored by Classic FM, Gramophone, and ECHO Klassik.

Balsom’s repertoire runs the gamut, from music for trumpet and organ to Italian baroque concertos. On her most recent album, she tackled some of the most challenging pieces for trumpet: the Haydn and Hummel concertos. She plays both the modern and baroque trumpet. When she is not performing, Balsom transcribes and arranges existing pieces for her instrument and also advocates for newly commissioned works.

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Christopher Warren-Green  

“In Christopher, we have someone who … operates on a global musical stage,” Jonathon
Martin, executive director of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra (CSO), said of CSO Maestro Christopher Warren-Green. Martin made this comment just after Warren-Green was invited to conduct the London Chamber Orchestra for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton last April. Who knew the Queen City had such a celebrity in its midst?

The William and Kate wedding is not the first royal event in which England native Warren-Green has been involved. He got his big break conducting the London Philharmonia Orchestra for the invitation of Prince Charles. He also led the London Chamber Orchestra in celebrating the Prince of Wales’ 60th birthday and Queen Elizabeth’s 80th birthday (hard to believe she’s that age after watching her parachute into the Olympic Opening Ceremonies alongside James Bond; you can relive that glorious moment here).

When he is not attending high-profile events, Warren-Green is traveling the world, conducting talented ensembles such as the BBC Concert, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and Royal Scottish National orchestras. He has previously served as Principle Conductor of the Camerata Resident Orchestra of the Megaron Athens (2004-2009), Chief Conductor of the Nordiska Kammarorkestern (1998-2005), and Chief Conductor of the Jonkopings Sinfonietta (1998-2001). Warren-Green even makes time for a few TV and radio appearances; he was featured in the BBC’s high-profile television series Maestro in 2008.

In addition to conducting the London Chamber Orchestra, Warren-Green currently serves as the Music Director of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. You can catch him directing the CSO’s Classics concert series starting this September – it’s an all-Beethoven season opener! Check out the CSO’s website for more details about its exciting 2012-2013 season.                                

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Howard Griffiths

Conductor Howard Griffiths has made his mark in both the symphonic and the recording worlds. A graduate of the Royal College of Music in London, Griffiths served ten years (1996-2006) as the Artistic Director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra and has guest conducted for prominent orchestras around the world. He is currently the conductor of the Brandenburgisches Staatsorchester, the largest symphonic orchestra in the State of Brandenburg.

Griffiths has a repertoire of over sixty CDs, which includes first recordings of eighteenth and nineteenth century music. His collection of works by Gerald Finzi was voted “Classical CD of the Year” by British magazine Classic CD. He has also received accolades for his recordings of all eight symphonies of Ferdinand Ries, a pupil of Beethoven.

An advocate for all things musical, Giffiths often programs contemporary music into his concerts. He is also open to new, unconventional projects, such as conducting Gustav Mahler’s Eighth Symphony – otherwise known as the “Symphony of a Thousand” – with exactly what its title calls for: more than one thousand performers. Giffiths also works with the Orpheum Foundation for the Advancement of Young Soloist, an involvement that reflects his passion for promoting young musicians.  

Griffiths is married to Turkish violist Semra Griffths, who plays in the Zurich Opera orchestra. Their son Kevin is a conductor – such a musical family!

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