London Symphony Orchestra
The London Symphony Orchestra is known and recognised throughout the world as one of the world's leading orchestras. Not just providing live performances at many famous venues they also perform and record music for the movie and TV industry. They are now serving English wine by Chapel Down during their concerts. We caught up with Darryl de Prez the LSO’s Director of Development to delve into the new partnership and to discover more about this world famous orchestra.
Darryl, could you start by providing some back ground on yourself. How did you come to be involved with the orchestra?
I studied History of Art and Architecture at the Courtauld Institute thirty years ago and then shifted into fundraising and development. I’ve worked at several arts organisations over the years, including the Royal Academy of Arts, the Serpentine Gallery, English National Opera and the Whitechapel Gallery, mirroring my two real passions – contemporary art and classical music. I jumped at the chance to work with the London Symphony Orchestra, as I have enjoyed their concerts and recordings for many years and consider them one of the finest orchestras in the world.
The LSO was the first British orchestra owned by its players, how and when did it come into existence and is that still the case that it is owned by its players?
The LSO was founded in 1904 when a group of players with Henry Wood’s Queen’s Hall Orchestra broke away to form their own self-governed orchestra, bridling at the restrictions placed upon them by Henry Wood. One of the founding members and the LSO’s first Chief Executive, horn player Thomas Busby, described it as ‘something akin to a Musical Republic’. The LSO has been self-governed ever since, and several other orchestras have followed this model. It means that the orchestra, by making its own decisions and forging its own path, retains a sense of energy, enthusiasm and adventure which comes across in the music.
It describes itself as 'defiantly different and proudly pioneering' in what ways does it do that and how did it do that in the past?
The LSO has been pioneering from the very beginning – the first British orchestra to be player-led, the first to tour in Europe, North America and South Africa, the first to make recordings, the first even to work with corporate sponsors. The LSO also has a long tradition of presenting world premieres of new work by composers such as Leonard Bernstein, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Edward Elgar, Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams. To this day, the orchestra continues to commission new work by living composers, from established names like Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Mark-Anthony Turnage to emerging talents like Emily Howard and Helen Grime. This commitment to new music and less well-known repertoire is one of the things that makes the LSO ‘defiantly different’.
“Always Moving” is the current line introducing your programme on your website. What is meant by that?
For me, there are four possible interpretations of ‘always moving’. Firstly, the LSO is literally always moving! The orchestra performs around 70 concerts a year in London and almost as many concerts a year in cities around the world, from Latin and North America to China, Japan, Vietnam and South Korea via several countries across Europe.
Secondly, the LSO is always moving forward artistically, pushing boundaries in commissioning new music, championing less well-known historic repertoire and developing the next generations of musicians, conductors and composers.
Thirdly, the LSO is always moving forward with new technology. We were the first British orchestra to record music on the gramophone. Twenty years ago we established our own recording label, LSO Live, and we now have successful downloading and streaming services around the world.
Finally, I like to think that performances of the LSO are always moving our audiences on an emotional level, and moving them to discover more about the world of classical music.
The LSO has a busy tour schedule, where has it been in recent years?
In the past twelve months alone the LSO has toured to Argentina, Chile, China, Colombia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Peru, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay, the USA and Vietnam. It was the first time that the LSO had toured to Latin America and the reception of audiences in every country was phenomenal. In Santiago, Chile, people filled a city square to watch the concert being relayed live from the nearby concert hall, creating an incredibly joyous and festive atmosphere.
There was almost a disaster for the orchestra back in 1912 when they narrowly averted travelling on the ill fated Titanic – what happened?
The LSO was the first British orchestra to tour the USA and Canada, visiting 22 cities in 1912. Thomas Busby, first Chief Executive of the LSO, had heard about a new luxury liner – the Titanic - about to embark upon her maiden voyage at the same time as the LSO’s equally groundbreaking visit to North America, and thought that this presented an incredible opportunity to arrive in New York as the first visiting British orchestra on the maiden voyage of the world’s most famous ship. Travel arrangements were made, but then the launch of the Titanic was delayed by several weeks and the LSO had to make alternative plans. This last-minute change meant that the LSO survived to make musical history.
The LSO ‘s commitment to music and music education is legendary – I believe you reach over 65,000 per year, in what ways is it involved with encouraging musical development?
As a self-governed orchestra, the musicians of the LSO created and still drive our education programme, LSO Discovery, which celebrates its thirtieth anniversary in 2020. LSO Discovery encourages musical development in several ways. We work with children, schools, families and community groups to encourage people to explore creativity, self-expression, self-confidence and inclusion through music-making, whatever their ability. We also host family concerts and free performances to introduce audiences to classical music for the first time, alongside workshops and study days for people to develop their knowledge further.
The LSO also leads a range of mentoring and training programmes for young musicians, conductors and composers to develop their skills, experience and careers within an orchestral context, helping to foster and encourage the talent of tomorrow. The East London Academy, for example, is a new initiative identifying very promising school-age musicians from around the 10 boroughs of East London who otherwise may not have the financial means to pursue their musical education beyond childhood. These young players are coached and mentored by LSO players and even given opportunities to perform live before LSO audiences. Our aim is to secure the healthy future of classical music as well as encouraging gifted young musicians from all backgrounds to pursue a career in music.
The orchestra has had some splendid occasions including playing Chariots of Fire at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, and at which some of your talented young people were involved. How exciting was this?
It was a great honour for the LSO to be invited to participate in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics, working with director Danny Boyle to celebrate British creativity at its finest. In the prologue our LSO On Track orchestra of 80 young musicians from across East London played ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations with 20 members of the LSO – a once-in-a-generation opportunity for these young players to perform to a worldwide audience of billions! Some of those participants are still part of the LSO On Track orchestra, recently playing in our annual BMW Classics open air concert in Trafalgar Square.
Later in the ceremony, the LSO took to the stage once more to play the theme from Chariots of Fire by Vangelis, with literally show stopping interventions by Rowan Atkinson!
To prepare for such a complex and high-profile event is no easy task but, thankfully, the LSO is experienced in tackling such creative and unusual performances and venues, being able to take into its stride delivering musical excellence while meeting the technological and logistical demands of an event with many, many moving parts. I think it is safe to say that no one there that night will ever forget the experience!
Sir Simon Rattle, one of the most famous and charismatic of conductors and indeed your Musical Director, performed on this occasion…..how importance is a presence such as this to the orchestra….what makes a celebrated conductor?
Conductors are at the heart of any orchestra; leading from the front, silently communicating complex sets of instructions to several groups of players at once, interpreting the score and shaping the tone and sound of the music being played. A celebrated conductor usually has a distinct point of view, a unique interpretation of music which, in many cases, has been played for centuries. A world-class conductor leading a world-class orchestra can make that familiar music sound entirely new again.
Communication is key, and one of Sir Simon’s strengths is his amazing ability to communicate not only with the orchestra but also with audiences. He speaks about music with great enthusiasm, clarity and imagination to audiences of all abilities and knowledge, making him an excellent and accessible ambassador for classical music. His tireless interest in new music, lesser-known repertoire and the broader context of history and other art forms always informs the programme of the LSO and makes it stand out amongst other orchestras.
It is worth noting that the players of the LSO, a self-governed orchestra, choose the Musical Director and guest conductors that will perform with them. This means that the relationships between Sir Simon, our other regular conductors Gianandrea Noseda, François-Xavier Roth and Michael Tilson-Thomas, and the players of the orchestra are especially close and mutually respectful.
The LSO performances include film work such as the music for Harry Potter, Star Wars and Superman…. What has been the favourite film to work on that you're particularly proud of?
Since 1935 the Orchestra has recorded over 200 film soundtracks, including several famous John Williams scores such as Star Wars, Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We have also worked extensively with the Oscar-winning film composer Alexandre Desplat on films such as The Danish Girl, The Shape of Water and The Queen, as well as several Harry Potter films.
It is our work with John Williams and Star Wars for which we remain best known around the world, I would say – a relationship which goes back over forty years to the first Star Wars film in 1977. In 2018 we re-recorded many of those classic scores for a new album and John Williams made a rare appearance in London conducting the LSO at the Royal Albert Hall. Most recently we recorded the soundtrack of the newly-released video game Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
It’s great that you offer Chapel Down English wine at your performances. What made the orchestra decide to start serving English wine?
We’ve been working in partnership with Chapel Down since 2015, when they generously started to supply their range of wines for our supporters at concerts and events. Chapel Down was an obvious choice for partnership with the LSO – they already had strong relationships with a number of other English cultural organisations and events, and their wines have the quality and uniqueness which also characterises the Orchestra. It is a very good fit and the relationship has gone from strength to strength over the past four years.
What has been the reaction from the audience in regards to serving English wine?
Our guests have been enthusiastic to experience English wine and have subsequently been very impressed with the quality and taste. I also think people appreciate the experience of drinking wine made from grapes grown a very short distance away from the LSO’s home, the Barbican Centre in the City of London.
Music is, of course, an art form. I understand that personally you also have an interest in other forms of art in that you are a Collector of Modern Art of quite some renown. What forms of contemporary art are you particularly interested in?
I have been collecting contemporary art seriously for about twelve years and across a wide range of media – painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and, increasingly, time-based media such as film, video and digital art. The only things not represented at the moment are sound art and performance, but it’s only a matter of time!
The artists I’m interested in are usually in the earlier stages of their careers and from across the globe – mainly Europe, North and South America, Russia and the Middle East. I’m drawn generally to conceptual art and works that deal with the wider world around us in ways that stimulate the imagination and the intellect – much in the way that music does. I like to collect artists in depth, owning several examples of their work from different stages of their careers.
Adding to the collection can be a lengthy process. I meet with a lot of artists, curators and gallerists, visit many exhibitions and studios, and maintain an ever-evolving shortlist of artists I want to add to the collection. After a while, art collections develop a life of their own and they will tell you whether certain works you are considering buying will get on with others in the collection or whether there will be an enormous clash.
Which pieces that you own are your pride and joy and what are you on the look out for at the moment?
Because I know almost all of the artists in the collection it would be unfair to single out any favourites! The works are displayed across my house (with one room given over to storage for anything not currently on display) and we often have collection visits from artists, curators, patrons of arts organisations and other interested guests.
I’m always on the look-out for new work, space allowing. I usually have a waiting list of artists I want to buy and work through it reasonably systematically, but sometimes I will see something that I react to with such immediacy that it jumps to the top of the list!
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
I would encourage any readers to attend an LSO concert, if they haven’t already. There is nothing quite like the power and beauty of a full symphony orchestra playing live. Come and join us at the Barbican Centre, on tour or at our annual free open-air concert, BMW Classics, which takes place in Trafalgar Square every June.