Orchestral adventurer: Timothy Redmond
Meet the Maestro: Timothy Redmond8:00, 13th July 2017
A freelance on the books of many professional organisations who also enjoys the programming freedom of working with a non-pro orchestra
As a freelance conductor who has worked in many different countries and a teacher keen to pass on his knowledge, Timothy Redmond is well placed to offer advice on rehearsing with unfamiliar orchestras.
‘The first thing you do is find out when the break has got to be. I did a gig once in Sarajevo and the concertmaster had this wonderful velvet suit, very old school. I asked him when we should take the break? “Maestro, any time.” We played through the Tchaikovsky symphony and got to the end: “Bravo maestro. Pause!” And he walked out. The same thing happened again later and I realised he couldn’t take more than an hour without a cigarette. That was actually when the break was: when the concertmaster needed a cigarette. These are the things you learn as a conductor.’
The anecdote is a light-hearted one but it does illustrate the particular challenges of an itinerant conductor’s job: not only learning about local differences in orchestral etiquette but issues like planning rehearsal schedules and answering musical or administrative questions on the spot. That is leaving aside any questions of conducting technique or podium style.
‘Sometimes the danger is you’re acting being somebody else, because the fact is you have to be yourself. The biggest challenge of conducting is learning to be yourself in front of a group of people, many of whom don’t want you to be there! No, that’s too negative: who are intrigued as to why you are there and what you might have to offer.’
By contrast, Redmond can now count on the relationships he has established with a number of organisations in the UK. ‘I’m lucky to have really strong associations with the LSO, the RPO and Manchester Camerata (who I’ve conducted every season for many years). For sure, you build a relationship with orchestras, but that’s a huge help when you then go and visit new orchestras overseas. To have that sound in your ears enables you to work in a very different way and really demand things. It’s fascinating, it never ceases to fascinate me, and that’s one of the reasons I like teaching: trying to explain or highlight some of these things.’
He has been professor of conducting at the Guildhall since 2013. But he is just as enthusiastic about a more recent addition to his teaching portfolio: a course for young conductors at the Ingenium Academy, a summer school for students aged 14-18 from around the world that returns this month. Redmond had been leading the orchestral course there for a couple of years, prompting him to suggest taking it a step further.
‘We launched it last year. We keep the classes small, fewer than ten, so there’s plenty of podium time: they have time with piano, classroom sessions, analysis and all the rest of it, and time with orchestra and with chorus. It’s an unbelievable opportunity, all packed into a week in rather beautiful Winchester. It went so well that we agreed it was something we had to continue: in fact we turned it into a two-week course.’
Redmond’s own training came principally in Manchester, firstly as an oboist on the joint course run by Manchester University and the RNCM, eventually taking up the two-year junior conducting fellowship at the latter before slipping seamlessly, as he puts it, into the professional world: ‘That’s mainly because the way that course is run, it is as if you are in the profession already. But you are being guided.
‘I have this diverse freelance life, contemporary music is at the heart of what I do,’ he says, and one could point to his particular connection with Thomas Adès, whose Powder Her Face he has conducted for English National Opera, the Royal Opera House and the Mariinsky Theatre. ‘But that doesn’t mean I don’t do commercial stuff. And I spend at least a third of the year in the opera house in various forms. It’s that diversity and cross-pollination that I love and I think teaching is a big part of that.’
In Redmond’s case, that activity encompasses a ten-year, ongoing stint as principal conductor with the non-professional Cambridge Philharmonic Orchestra. He says it is a position that allows him both to develop ideas he can take elsewhere and tackle ambitious repertoire that he may not. ‘We just did an extraordinary programme of Adès, Adams and Ives. Well, I’m sorry, there would be very few opportunities to programme such a concert in a more commercial world.’
And his great orchestral adventure now also includes My Great Orchestral Adventure, a family show he developed with his brother Tom which sold out the Royal Albert Hall (it comes back in October). ‘The idea of having created something that appeals to such a large number of people, now that’s exciting,’ he says. ‘It has audience involvement: they have a say, they vote on what we do next, they get to sing, they get to dance. But at the heart of it they get to hear an amazing orchestral programme almost without realising it!’
1971 Born Ashbourne
1994-96 Junior fellow in conducting, RNCM
2004 Assists Thomas Adès The Tempest world premiere (Royal Opera House)
2007 First recording with Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and EMI
2008 Conducts Russian premiere, Powder Her Face (Mariinsky Theatre)
2010 Debut with London Symphony Orchestra
2013 Appointed professor of conducting, Guildhall School