Manchester Camerata is loving life at 40

Manchester Camerata by Jonathan Keenan

Manchester Camerata by Jonathan Keenan - Credit: Archant

Manchester Camerata, the city’s own chamber orchestra, has been celebrating its 40th birthday all the past year

Giovanni Guzzo by Eric Richmond

Giovanni Guzzo by Eric Richmond - Credit: Archant

They say life begins at what does the future hold for the Camerata? Made up of freelance musicians, many soloists in their own right, the Camerata is an orchestra in residence at the Bridgewater Hall, along with the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic.

The three are not the only orchestras based in the city – there are also the Northern Chamber Orchestra, which has its own concert series in Macclesfield, Warrington and elsewhere, and Manchester Concert Orchestra, playing for Raymond Gubbay’s concerts.

But the Camerata has a special place, based at the Royal Northern College of Music and closely linked to teaching work and public programmes there. It was actually created by BBC Radio Manchester, back in 1972. But it’s long been independent, and today has concert series in Ulverston, Stafford and Colne as well as Manchester.

Manchester Camerata is fortunate to have as its music director and conductor the Hungarian violinist Gábor Takács-Nagy, founder of the Takács String Quartet, principal guest conductor of the Budapest Festival Orchestra and music director of the Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. He’s married to Lesley, a Burnley lass, and has joined the RNCM as International Chair in Chamber Music.

I spoke to Takács-Nagy about his feelings for the Camerata, now that he’s taken them through their birthday season, and his hopes for the future.

‘I feel very good about them,” he said. ‘We are getting to know each other more and more, and we are challenging each other – I am asking them for more colours, more timings and more special things in their playing.’

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He talks of the mix of young players and those with more experience and soon is comparing himself with Sir Alex Ferguson (he’s a self-confessed ‘huge football fan’). ‘There are young people who want to come to us, and I think we need both older players’ experience and younger players’ energy. Sir Alex did that perfectly, and this is how I see the Camerata.’

He’s proud of his Hungarian approach to music, where there’s always room for surprises. ‘I’m daring now to try more and more in the way of improvising. I say to the players when we rehearse, “Please be aware it may not happen quite this way in the concert.”

‘We are professionals of course, and these are things that listeners might hardly notice, but it makes the music-making much more exciting. And I see more people coming to our concerts.’

Looking ahead, he picks out the orchestra’s ongoing series of Mozart piano concertos and Haydn symphonies, music by Benjamin Britten in his centenary year, and a major event at the Bridgewater Hall focusing on Richard Strauss (part of ‘Strauss’s Voice’, a collaborative series with The Bridgewater Hall, the Hallé and BBC Philharmonic).

He’s also relishing the prospect of some new and unusual Manchester venues for classical music, as the Royal Northern College of Music concert hall closes for renovation at the beginning of 2014. Trying out new venues is nothing new for the Camerata, and their music will soon be heard in places as varied as Gorilla Bar, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Albert Hall on Peter Street – the former Methodist central hall, scene of weekday Hallé concerts just after the war, and now to be brought back into use as a restaurant, bar and events centre.

Giovanni Guzzo, leader of Manchester Camerata, is an outstanding young soloist, born in Venezuela but based in the UK for the past 12 years and with an international solo career. He’s just founded a new small group called Ensemble Deva for the MBNA Chester Music Festival – a revival of an ancient tradition in the county’s capital, which took place in June to much acclaim. He played in the festival, too, as Manchester Camerata leader, in three major concerts.

‘It’s a very exciting time for the Camerata,’ he says. ‘Gabor is an inspirational musician from a rich tradition, and with the experience and range of sympathy in the orchestra we are doing something really unique in this country.’

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