Hilary questions conductor Bramwell Tovey


Q: Is chocolate a drug?
A: I pretend no, but then must have another piece – it’s addictive. Whether that technically makes it a drug I’m not qualified to say.

Q: Pets?
A: My two small girls (3 and 5) lost their cat on Christmas Eve last year because of a careless driver rushing to a golf game.

Q: What about Bach?
A: Superlatives are inadequate and unnecessary. A master and pioneer of expressive musical language, able to bring full force and meaning to every note, whether in a simple musical line or a complex polyphony. It is occasionally possible to spot poor music in Mozart (the three bars before the final Alleluia of his glorious Exultate Jubilate spring to mind) but I cannot recollect comparable shortcomings in Bach. This is not to put Bach above Mozart but it might perhaps define a difference between them.

Q: Classical music in schools – what difference does it make, and why is it important?
A: Bach was embroiled in a dispute about this in 1749 so the subject is not new. An education without a significant musical component is not a proper education. Music is a language and understanding something of it as a performer or listener is an important part of a well educated mind. The musical philosophies of Beethoven and Mahler are easily appreciated as life enhancing. In the case of Shostakovich, who for some reason still baffles some listeners, he heroically articulated the despair of the human condition under the nose of Stalin at a time when his compatriots were being imprisoned in the gulag. An understanding of the language of classical music is part of understanding our civilization, to say nothing of appreciating the potency of the language and how it can and has been used to negative effect.

Q: Applause between movements (sections of a piece) in a concert?
A: Doesn’t bother me – it’s usually a sign of new concert-goers and is consequently healthy. Up until 1939 audiences regularly applauded between movements – although I hasten to add that I have been told that – I didn’t experience it!

Q: Reality TV shows?
A: Unreal. (Yawn….)

Q: Cut flowers?
A: All flowers are in decay from the moment they bloom. Bringing them indoors enables then to be appreciated at night. Personally, I prefer to give plants and blooms in jars of soil.

Q: Tap water – drinkable?
A: Where I live it is – Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada.

Q: Holidays?
A: I never take enough holiday. This year only four weeks. Holiday for me means exotic travel, theatre, museums and galleries – when I’m on tour I have little time available for such things. Done properly, sight-seeing requires great focus and energy which I’m usually reserving for the music. One thing that enables me to feel on holiday at any time is books. Usually I have several on the go at once. Exploring is an important part of a holiday. A year or two back we enjoyed a few days at Kemer on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, flew to Istanbul and explored as much as we could before hiring a car and driving (on very treacherous roads with rather careless drivers) to Gallipoli where we walked around the very moving First World War battlefields. It was only ten days break but it was nigh on perfect.

Q: Anonymity vs. fame?
A: Anonymity anytime. In every city I’ve had an orchestra (Vancouver, Winnipeg, Luxembourg) I’ve always had the discomfort of being recognised in the supermarket, unshaven and unkempt early on a Sunday morning. That’s the nearest I have come to any kind of fame and it’s too close.

Q: Most important thing to remember at a musical event?
A: As an audience member I must remember my silence is part of the music-making. As a performer I must remember I am the conduit down which the composer’s creation must flow without interference from me.

Q: A very compelling aspect of your profession?
A: The fact that every day of my life I am dealing in some of the greatest creations of the human mind. Each day gives me a fresh opportunity to share that creativity with someone experiencing music for the first time.