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Birmingham conductor's 'excited' about Italian job

Still only in his mid-20s, Birmingham-born Alpesh Chauhan will soon take charge of an orchestra in Parma after impressing with the CBSO.

Alpesh Chauhan

“Local boy makes good” is a statement which certainly applies to Alpesh Chauhan, the Birmingham-born conductor still only in his mid-20s who has moved from being assistant conductor at the CBSO to having his own orchestra in Italy.

This is the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, based in Parma (birthplace of probably the world’s most famous conductor), to which Alpesh has been contracted as principal conductor for at least three years, beginning in 2017.

Alpesh, once a cellist in the CBSO Youth Orchestra – Toscanini, too was a cellist – tells me how his appointment came about.

“In March 2015, I had a phone call informing me of a last-minute offer of work in Parma following a cancellation from Maestro Kazushi Ono (a regular guest at the CBSO).

“Of course, this was a risk for them as I had never worked in Italy before! The programme was Schumann’s Piano Concerto and Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Symphony. The Beethoven, as it happens, is my favourite symphony and I knew it quite well. That left the two or three days I had left, to really delve into the Schumann. It’s a very tricky concerto, especially the final movement, but in the end we had two great concerts.

“Following that success, I was invited for two programmes last season. Through this we really have started to grow a nice relationship. Over summer, we had a regional tour of seven concerts This was another great opportunity for me to really get to know the players and the orchestra’s playing even more, and, of course, for them to get to know me better too!

“The orchestra seemed very keen through all these programmes, as was I, and it seemed a nice, natural and easy decision once the offer came through. It’s also enabled us to plan three incredibly varied programmes next season to just develop and explore different styles together. I’m very excited!”

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Alpesh obviously has good references, and he is deeply grateful to his mentors.

“There are so many people who have helped me along the way, and still continue to do so,” he says.

“At the CBSO I was lucky enough to assist Andris Nelsons and so much of what I know and have learnt has come from him: the caring about players and managing time to allow rest on concert days before ultra-energetic performances, the necessity of an excitingly vivid imagination to bring scores to life for performers and the audience, along with so much more.

“I’ve also really enjoyed and appreciated taking advice and learning from watching CBSO guests including Alexander Vedernikov, Sir Simon Rattle and Edward Gardner. And a special mention to my first conducting teacher Michael Seal who has always been a fantastic support, starting me out on this journey and then guiding me and inspiring me further.

“Aside from the conductors, I’ve had incredible support from the orchestra in Birmingham who have always been so ready to give advice, encouragement and constructive criticism. To name a few, my old cello teacher Eduardo Vassallo and his violist wife Cathy Bower, clarinettist Jo Patton and violist Angie Swanson.

“Of course, chief executive officer Stephen Maddock too for his creation of my original post (Conducting Fellow) and then the graduation into Assistant Conductor. Another supporter has been Simon Webb who moved from CBSO management team to become the general manager of BBC Philharmonic. He gave me my first professional orchestra concert in this country. We’ve had some great concerts there since, not forgetting the fantastic Ten Pieces Secondary project which culminated in two BBC Proms, my Proms debut, in the season which has just finished.”

Alpesh returns to the CBSO podium on October 6, with a mouthwatering programme of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel Overture, Strauss’ Four Last Songs (Talise Trevigne the soprano soloist), and Bruckner’s Third Symphony. What will his feelings be, coming home?

“ Of course, it’s amazing to have this post from September 2017 for me to really grow myself further with the fantastic orchestra in Parma. However, I think coming back to the CBSO will always feel the same to me. It’s the orchestra I grew up with, in my home town – what I know a great symphony orchestra to be! I still get nervous coming in at the CBSO but it still feels like home for me.

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“I now have a lovely 15th-floor apartment in the centre of Birmingham. A few months ago I was deciding where I’d like to stay in the immediate short-term and Birmingham still does feel very much like home, so I moved from Hall Green to this new place.

“I love being in the city, with so much going on and looking out over the city every day! I have a view out over the city centre, Jewellery Quarter and out over Edgbaston too. On a clear night, I can also see aeroplanes coming in in their queues while sipping on a lovely Italian or French red wine! As I am travelling more and more now, it is nice to have a base in Birmingham. I’m sure this will change in the coming years, but let’s see.”

As well as being a wine-lover, Alpesh is also a gastronome, so Parma is obviously ‘Parmadise’ for him. But how about his beloved curries?

“Of course, Parma is the home of Prosciutto (and it’s sibling Culatello) and Parmesan! Beautiful! The region of Emilia-Romagna also contains Bologna too and the pasta and the variety of pastas in that region is just phenomenal. There will be curries in Italy: I will be making them!

“When I am away for prolonged periods of time anywhere, I always have curry withdrawal, so end up having to source some ingredients and making one myself - however simple! Granted, the sourcing of ingredients is incredibly difficult in Italy, but not impossible!

‘‘I’m not sure I’d ever walk into one of the very few Indian restaurants in Italy though - when the Italian food is so fresh and of such a superior level I would be wise to lap it up and save the curry-cooking to my own kitchen!”

* Alpesh Chauhan conducts the CBSO at Symphony Hall on October 6 (7.30pm). Details on 0121 780 3333.

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