Classical music composer Ian Assersohn on his perfect Surrey weekend
- Credit: NA
Classical music composer and conductor Ian Assersohn has lived in Great Bookham with his wife Jan and their family for over 25 years. Like many musicians, Ian’s weekends are busy work days, so it’s fortunate that he loves what he does…
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine March 2016
Because I am a freelance musician, weekends are the busiest time of the week. It begins, on Friday evening, with a rehearsal with my chamber ensemble, Orchard Singers. These are relaxed and convivial affairs, with a lot of laughter, and perhaps a glass or two of wine to help things along. We are currently preparing for a charity concert in St Mary’s, the lovely little parish church just down the road in Fetcham.
My wife, Jan, and I both have busy private teaching practices and so Saturday morning is lesson time. Thanks to the Garden Lodges studio we had built a few years ago, we can both teach at the same time, which is a great boon.
I am the musical director of two local choirs - Leatherhead Choral Society and Epsom Male Voice Choir - and so there is always plenty to do on a Saturday afternoon; building programmes, preparing rehearsals and dealing with a myriad of tasks that I haven’t got round to during the week. Often there’s a concert on a Saturday evening, which means an afternoon rehearsal too. We perform in various local venues and, fortunately, there is no shortage of good ones; from G Live and the Dorking Halls at the larger end of the spectrum to smaller halls like the Menuhin Hall in Stoke D’Abernon.
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I feel particularly at home at the Dorking Halls because that’s the home of the Leith Hill Musical Festival, which takes place every April. The members of Leatherhead Choral Society and I bear the scars of many a hard-fought musical duel with our rival choirs over the years, and I love the playful rivalry and unique atmosphere of this quintessentially English event. The halls will also be the scene of a major event for me in November as I will be conducting the premiere of my new work, a cantata to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.
If there’s no rehearsal on Saturday then I’ll walk up to Bookham village to potter around the shops in the afternoon. Aside from its famously bewildering “squareabout”, Bookham is exactly what an English village should be like (but often isn’t). It has friendly and useful local shops, a lovely mediaeval church, St Nicolas, and of course a good number of pubs.
If I’m lucky then Sundays will include a walk round Polesden Lacey or the stunning RHS gardens at Wisley. But the place I most often walk is Bookham Common, which, as well as being almost on my doorstep, feels closer to nature than Polesden or Wisley (even though it is in fact carefully, and beautifully, managed by the National Trust). These ancient woods, a tiny survivor of a once very much larger forest, were almost lost to a property developer in the 1920s but seem to be safe, at least for now.
At some point in the weekend, I will make time for some composing and arranging work. I’m working on a setting of Robert Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin at the moment, as well as some male voice choir material and a piano duet, so I have to grab every minute that I can.
To be honest, Mondays are a lot less work. I rather look forward to Mondays.
• For more information on the Leith Hill Musical Festival, which runs through March and April, see the official website at lhmf.org.uk
• Ian’s Assersohn cantata of remembrance, Dies Irae, will be performed at The Dorking Halls on Saturday November 26. For more information, see online at appletreemusic.net/diesirae