Several years ago I was suffering with the most ghastly man-flu, but made my way heroically into Birmingham in order to hear a rising young pianist playing the Brahms First Piano Concerto with the Apollo Orchestra, conducted by James Ham.
That young pianist was Tom Poster, who returns to Birmingham on Sunday afternoon, November 5 to play a Mozart piano concerto at Symphony Hall . He’s gratified to hear about my struggle from my sickbed on that long-gone Sunday.
“Thanks so much for coming to hear the Brahms despite feeling under the weather! I enjoyed that concert hugely, with a young and energised orchestra in the Adrian Boult Hall of the old Birmingham Conservatoire building, which I know has recently been demolished.
“Performing either of the Brahms concertos is always a challenge and a privilege - playing the First Concerto in particular is like being part of a giant symphony, a mighty and elemental experience. I also remember enjoying an incredibly delicious curry the night before.”
A few years later I heard Tom performing in a morning concert at the Cheltenham Festival , premiering Ian Venables’ setting of Remember This, Poet Laureate Andrew Motion’s overview of the life of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Tom remembers the occasion well.
“I have very happy memories of that concert, in which I joined together with the Elias Quartet, soprano Caroline MacPhie and tenor Allan Clayton in three song cycles: alongside Ian Venables’ lyrical premiere, there were two early 20th-century masterpieces – Vaughan Williams’ On Wenlock Edge and Fauré’s La bonne chanson, both of which I adore. The Pittville Pump Rooms is a perfect chamber music venue, and there’s always an extra thrill when the BBC is broadcasting an event.”
In recent years Tom has returned to his early love of composing. I make comparisons with Huw Watkins and Stephen Hough, both active pianist/composers. Do Tom’s two callings ever collide?
“Historically, a huge number of composers were also performing pianists (and often master improvisers too), and it’s only really in the modern age that musicians seem to feel a need to specialise more narrowly and some of these skills have become rarer.
“It was music I fell in love with at a young age, rather than the piano specifically, so I’ve always tried to keep my horizons as broad as I can. That said, playing the piano is very much the focus of my life. My childhood composing aspirations fell a bit by the wayside in my 20s as my performing career took off, but recently I’ve returned to the composing a little more.
“I tend to write in a slightly lighter vein than most contemporary composers - my most recent work is a music-theatre piece called The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak, scored for two singers, two instrumentalists and two puppeteers. It received a three-week run at Wilton’s Music Hall in London earlier this year, and one of the most gratifying things for me was to hear the venue staff whistling and humming the tunes to themselves as they tidied up after the performances.”
Which reminds me of the cleaning-ladies dancing in the Queen’s Hall corridors during Sir Adrian Boult’s rehearsals of Holst’s Jupiter before the premiere of The Planets in 1918.
This glamorous Symphony Hall event seems far removed from more intimate offerings elsewhere. How does Tom juggle such demands upon his performing persona?
“I actually feel very lucky that the 21st-century musician is expected to be increasingly versatile and adaptable, as I’ve always thrived on diverse musical experiences. So I love the different challenges of performing a big concerto in a major hall one night, and an intimate chamber concert in a tiny church the next.
“I’m particularly excited about this Symphony Hall concert for two reasons – firstly because Mozart Concertos are just about my favourite music in the world (No. 21 is one of the most radiant of all), and secondly because it’s my first time playing a concerto in this truly wonderful venue. I’ve sat in the audience for a number of concerts there in the past, but the only other time I appeared on stage was back when I was a teenage cellist in my youth orchestra, the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra.”
Tom Poster’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no.21 in C major (thank goodness most advertisers have at last dropped its connection with the mawkish film Elvira Madigan) forms part of this all-Mozart programme conducted by Adrian Lucas, which begins with the Magic Flute overture and concludes with the heartbreaking Requiem, the City of Birmingham Choir doing the honours.
The City of Birmingham Choir rocks up again at Symphony Hall on Saturday, November 11 for two concerts given by the CBSO (2.30pm and 7.30pm), a programme of Spectacular Classics conducted by Anthony Inglis .
Another city choir, the Birmingham Choral Union, steps in on the Sunday afternoon next day for a Grand Organ Gala (Darius Battiwalla aloft at the magnificent instrument), featuring all kinds of popular goodies.
- All details on 0121 780 3333.