Barry Wordsworth: Principal Conductor of the Brighton Philharmonic

Barry Wordsworth is Music Director of the Royal Ballet Covent Garden, Conductor Laureate of the BBC Concert Orchestra and a past Music Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, but to he is best known as Conductor of the Brighton Philharmonic.

You have a distinguished career as a conductor and have worked with many world-renowned orchestras. What do you find special about conducting the Brighton Philharmonic?

The particular joy of the BPO for me is a result of having worked with them now for 20 years. We know each other very well, and that consistency means that even on very limited rehearsal time we can work at an interesting level from the moment the rehearsal begins. The players are very quick and think for themselves, and seem to have a built-in sense of what is required for each work technically speaking, so rehearsals progress rapidly and with maximum efficiency, and we can talk about musical matters, not just technical questions.

How does the orchestra differ from the others you conduct?

The orchestra only plays 11 concerts a year and the players are freelance. We manage to field a very consistent team, but every concert is automatically fresh and exciting. This gives their performances a spontaneity which is very telling and a characteristic in music-making which I value very highly. Every good orchestra has this potential, but in Brighton it is a cornerstone of our character.

Is there anything special about the repertoire of the orchestra that you particularly enjoy?

With 11 concerts a season it is very hard to balance the programming and cater for all the tastes of our supporters, many of whom have very wide musical tastes. When we programme something which is less familiar we schedule extra rehearsal time and working the mix without going into the red is just one of the challenges which I enjoy.

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What are the highlights of the forthcoming season for you, if you had to pick?

I was looking forward to the Verdi Requiem, and now we have done it I have the feeling that in almost every respect the performance came off as I had hoped. We have tried to make every programme special in some way, so it is hard to pick out any one. But John Lill’s performance of the third Rachmaninov Piano Concerto on 25 March is bound to be a very special afternoon. But I could say just the same about Vasko Vassilev, who will be playing some very virtuoso works on 29 January. I would be sorry if anyone had to miss hearing Robert Cohen play the Elgar on 4 March, or Craig Ogden the Rodrigo on 12 February. So you see it is a very rich treasure trove of concerts.

Do you think the audiences in Brighton are different from the ones you play for in London, Birmingham and elsewhere?

Brighton’s audience is especially engaged with this orchestra because they know that without their support we would not exist. Their enthusiasm for our performances is second to none, and very inspiring for all of us on the platform.

Are there any past performances that linger in the mind?

The inaugural concert when the Dome finally reopened after its magnificent refurbishment was not only an artistic triumph, but a huge relief as the workmen were still finishing off their work whilst we were rehearsing.

But how splendid the new concert hall is. It was well worth waiting for.

Who are your musical influences, did you have a particular mentor?

I was very much under the guidance of Sir Adrian Boult and Vernon Handley whilst at the Royal College, and owe them both a very great deal. Sir Adrian was a strong influence, but at my last meeting with him his advice was to go away and find out my own solutions. He had realised that I was a little too much under his spell. It took me a long time to realise what he meant, But I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to study in Holland and observe the Concertgebouw Orchestra in rehearsal, whilst also studying the harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt and this invaluable time was just what I needed to give me a broader perspective.

Did you ever consider playing an instrument rather than conducting?

Yes, I love playing the harpsichord, organ and the piano and I would have been very happy to have had a career as a keyboard player. Playing harpsichord continuo and accompanying singers would have been very rewarding, but I got the chance to work as a conductor and one thing led to another. I now count myself very fortunate indeed to have one of the best jobs in our profession.

How do you enjoy any spare time when you are not preparing, rehearsing and conducting?

I prefer to work flat out for periods and then relax completely away from music. Fortunately I have had a little bolt hole in France for some years, and I escape there when I can and enjoy a much quieter life in the country, cooking, swimming every day, seeing old friends and charging up the batteries...after a few weeks of that I get the itch to get back to music and it’s much easier to learn new scores when you have cleared your head of all the sounds you have lived with over the past season.

Are there any special places you like to visit in Sussex when you are not busy working?

Sussex is a beautiful county, when I was young I spent a lot of time with my aunt in Polegate, just at the foot of the Sussex Downs, and my grandmother lived in Peacehaven when she retired, so I feel very at home here.

Barry will be conducting a suite of his favourite passages from Swan Lake in the orchestra’s concert on 11 December – one of the world’s greatest ballet conductors conducting one of the world’s greatest ballet scores. Future concerts with Brighton Philharmonic at the Dome include a New Year’s Eve Viennese Concert led from the violin by John Bradbury and on Sunday 15 January a celebration of Benjamin Britten including the Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. For more details see

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