Birmingham conductor Alpesh Chauhan is to continue as assistant conductor at the CBSO after his contract was extended into a second year.
The announcement comes as the CBSO continues its search for a new music director as Andris Nelsons leaves to take up a full time role with Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Effectively Alpesh, along with principal guest conductor Edward Gardner (his own contract recently extended) and associate conductor Michael Seal will be holding the fort, and he is decidedly upbeat about it.
“It’s such an exciting period for the orchestra,” he says, “and it will be interesting to see so many young conductors bringing their different ways of working with the players.”
His accolades have arrived so young (he’s still only 25), and it’s a bit like the Simon Rattle story, I observe.
“It’s very nice of you to say that,” is Alpesh’s modest reply.
So many glittering opportunities have been falling into Alpesh’s lap during the last month.
“It’s the sort of thing I’ve been dreaming of since a child,” he readily admits.
First came a last-minute call-up to the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for concerts in Glasgow and Aberdeen. Alpesh tells me how this came about.
“I’d already worked with the BBC Philharmonic in Manchester a couple of times, so word got around. But then Donald Runnicles, conducting in Berlin, had some back problems, with only a couple of days left.
The programme was the Janacek Sinfonietta, Shostakovich’s first Piano Concerto with Garrick Ohlsson, and his 15th Symphony.
“Obviously it had already been announced that I’m doing that symphony with the CBSO next season, so it was fresh in their mind. So they just rang me!”
The Glasgow concert was relayed live, and the one in Aberdeen is in the can for future broadcasting. And then came the huge opportunity right on Alpesh’s Birmingham doorstep.
Two weeks ago, after a draining tour over much of Europe, the CBSO returned home, and Andris Nelsons returned with an acute ear infection. There was a concert to be broadcast live immediately in the offing. Alpesh picks up the tale.
“We’d recently returned from a three-week-tour, involving 15 concerts across seven countries when, less than 24 hours before the one and only rehearsal for the performance was to take place, I got a call from Stephen Maddock (CBSO chief executive) asking me to stand in for Andris who was unwell.
“I’d supported him through his gruelling schedule of rehearsals and performances on tour and the Dvořák Seventh was one of the symphonies I knew relatively well from this. As a result, I made my CBSO conducting debut with two concerts, one at Symphony Hall and one at Oxford’s Sheldonian.
“The Orchestra were incredibly supportive and played impeccably; I couldn’t have done it without the whole-hearted support of the musicians.”
And Alpesh continues touchingly. “When it’s last-minute you don’t have time to stress, or to get nervous, you just have to get on with it.”
There was a wonderful letter in last week’s Birmingham Post, praising Alpesh’s emergency stand-in for Andris Nelsons to the skies, and suggesting the orchestra need look no further for a successor.
“I was very, very touched by it. Actually it’s a funny story. I bought the paper to have a look at the review of the concert, but later on my Mom said there’s a photo of you and a letter! It’s just lovely, with the Birmingham audience all around me, with a very, very warm reception.
“I appreciate it so much.”
Alpesh is a Brummie through and through. He went to Hall Green Primary School and subsequently to Handsworth Grammar, he rose through the CBSO Youth Orchestra to become leader of the cellists, he studied cello (one of the greatest achievements of the Young Musicians’ Trust) at the Royal Northern College of Music with CBSO principal cellist Eduardo Vassallo, and then gained a place on the prestigious conducting course.
And now here he is back home, cradling a baton he’d always dreamed about. This afternoon he conducts a concert showcasing every section of the CBSO. It’s also a showcase for his own amazing talent.
Alpesh Chauhan conducts a CBSO Summer Showcase on June 25 at 2.15pm. Details on 0121 780 3333.