Edward Gardner is beginning his final season as principal guest conductor of the CBSO. He talks to Christopher Morley about his time with the orchestra and his future plans

He was a favourite to succeed principal conductor Andris Nelsons but after 10 years Edward Gardner is finally saying goodbye to the CBSO.

He has spent a busy 10 years as the Birmingham orchestra , and was made principal guest conductor three years ago. He is also music director of English National Opera.

He will shortly be leaving both roles – heading for Norway to become principal conductor of the historic Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra.

ENO has had something of a chequered history in the appointment of its chief conductors, but Gardner’s tenure has been a huge success, his most recent triumph being a new production of Verdi’s Otello.

 “I’ve had a truly wonderful time at ENO and I will be hugely sad to leave the company,” he says.

“At the same time I also feel excited about the great orchestra in Bergen, and joining them in their 250th season,” he continues. “It’s personally a really exciting time, filled with new experiences and challenges.”

Apparently there is a Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra in Teaneck, New Jersey, but Ed will be moving to the one based in the beautiful, ancient city of Bergen situated amid the glorious Norwegian fjords. His immediate predecessors as principal conductor there are Simone Young and latterly Andrew Litton (himself such a popular visitor to the CBSO ), and an earlier incumbent was no less than the great Edvard Grieg, a local Bergen boy who had made the world his oyster.

“I’ll have a flat there, hopefully overlooking the water,” says Ed. “It’s such a beautiful view, when you can see it through the rain. I’ll be there 14 or so weeks a year, so I’ll still be based in London.”

And Ed has even more reason now to maintain his home in London, as his appointment to the new role of the Sir Charles Mackerras Chair of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music has just been announced.

Edward Gardner
Edward Gardner
 

This is a very apt link, as not only did the much-loved and respected Mackerras have a rewarding relationship with the CBSO, but he and Ed after him share a huge interest in central European music.

Ed already has under his belt a proud corpus of CD releases on the Chandos label of composers such as Bartok, Lutoslawski and Janacek (the latter a recent recording with his new Bergen orchestra), but perhaps the greatest souvenir of his time with the CBSO is his ongoing series of Mendelssohn symphonies, recorded live in Birmingham Town Hall (virtually built for the composer’s visits) and Symphony Hall. Just out is a disc including the atmospheric Scottish Symphony (no.3), lively, alert and idiomatic.

Discussing Ed’s tremendous successes with the CBSO, we relive his memories.

“It’s almost 10 years since I started working with the CBSO, and our relationship has definitely grown. I guess we learn to trust each other more and more and certainly recent performances, like Bartok’s Bluebeard at the end of last season, or the Mendelssohn recordings are a testament to the great shape the orchestra is in!”

Then comes a tricky one, when I raise the issue that many people would have liked him to be appointed the next music director of the CBSO in succession to Andris Nelsons.

“We haven’t talked at all about this, and I have a new orchestra already! But I hope to continue working regularly with this wonderful orchestra.”

 And we end by reminiscing about Ed Gardner’s formative years when he was a chorister in Gloucester Cathedral. Does he still maintain contact with his roots there?

“Actually I do. I conducted at the Three Choirs Festival last year, and will do so again in two years’ time. It’s such a pleasure to be back in that stunning cathedral where so many of my precious musical memories were formed.”

* Edward Gardner conducts the CBSO in Brahms and Bartok at Symphony Hall on October 16 at 7.30pm and October 18 at 3pm. Details on 0121 780 3333.