The new principal guest conductor of the CBSO reveals his plans to Christopher Morley.
Edward Garner’s first classical musical memories were enjoying CBSO concerts at Cheltenham Town Hall as a young boy.
And now, the acclaimed music director of English National Opera, who started out as a choirboy at Gloucester Cathedral is to become the principal guest conductor with the orchestra at the start of the 2011 season and he is brimming with enthusiasm about his new post.
“Well, I’ve worked with the orchestra pretty much year in, year out since 2004, when I took over a Mozart programme from Sakari Oramo, who was sick,” he explained.
“And every time I’ve come back the relationship with the orchestra has improved, just in the sense of us ‘getting’ each other. The last few times have just been so wonderful.
“We did an Aldeburgh concert, and most recently this fantastic 20th century British programme, and I don’t know, it just feels great working with the orchestra. They’re on great form at the moment, and I guess it came out of that, the journey we’ve gone on together, and how our relationship has developed.”
How did the CBSO single Edward out for this appointment?
“You’ll have to ask the CBSO chief executive Stephen Maddock that, I’ve got no idea. They have a lot of great conductors!
“I guess they’re looking for someone, certainly in terms of repertoire-planning to complement Andris’s work, and not replicate it,” he says.
I wondered whether Ed will take the orchestra down any kind of path which otherwise it wouldn’t have followed?
“In Stephen you’ve got one of the great programmers of our time, so in a way lots of things are driven by him, and he’s open to so many avenues.
“But there are certain things with which I’m infatuated at the moment, and we’re already talking about what we might do with them. One of them is 20th century Polish music. Lutoslawski we’ve got coming up on Tuesday (that programme, together with Rachmaninov took us a while to get together), but Stephen’s just great to programme with, lots of emails back and forth.
“I’d love to explore that further, In a way it’s in the orchestra’s psyche already, because Simon Rattle did so much Szymanowski with them, and that’s how I got to know this repertoire anyway, such as that wonderful King Roger here and at the Proms. So that’s certainly one avenue.
“We’re looking at this wonderful idea of a thread leading up to the orchestra’s centenary in 1920. We’re looking to see what pieces click with me for that. There are definitely things I won’t do while Andris has such a permanent grip – it would be crazy for me to go near, for example, the big Strauss pieces while he’s doing them so immaculately and brilliantly.”
But would Ed like to be conducting such things?
“Well, yes, but that may come later on, and somewhere else, to be honest. There’s enough great music out there that I’m sure I’m going to get to the end of my life without conducting half of what I’d like to.”
Though Ed’s relationship with Andris Nelsons is already a warm one, they have yet to meet.
“Conductors are like ships that tend to pass in the night. We’ve spoken on the phone, we’re going to meet after his London Symphony Orchestra concert in a couple of weeks, we’ve chatted around lots of things, one of them being repertoire, of course, but just generally, just getting a sense of each other, and it will be really great to get to know him personally over the forthcoming years,” he explains.
What is exciting is that now the CBSO has two great operatic conductors at the helm.
“That will impact on repertoire, I’m sure,” Ed replies.
“Andris has already done concert-performances of opera, and maybe I’ll do some too.”
I remind Ed that a similar situation obtained in the wonderful days when Mark Elder was principal guest conductor opposite Simon Rattle.
“I’m sure there will be the odd thing that’s operatic, but there’s so much symphonic stuff that I think we could explore together, really excitingly,” he says.
“For instance, Lutoslawski has his anniversary year in 2013, and I would love to do his Third Symphony in Birmingham. Actually, the parts I used when I recorded the symphony a few weeks ago were from the CBSO. I think Simon must have done it at some point.
“I’d love to explore early Romantic, like Schumann. It can be a really big range, but Schumann is a repertoire I really adore. It’s a certain sound-world, isn’t it, that you discover, and once you have it, you just do it all.”
When Ed last conducted the CBSO in Symphony Hall, early this year, his partner Alison Balsom was trumpet soloist, blowing her horn like a good’un in the James MacMillan concerto while spectacularly pregnant.
“They’re great. Ali is, of course, doing most of the work, as well as playing internationally.
‘‘The MacMillan was her last concert, sort of seven-and-a-half months in. Charlie’s six months today, so she’s been back for about three months, actually. She’s already been to Brazil with him, unbelievably.
“I think at this age it’s easier than it’s going to be in a year’s time, when actually, sitting on a plane for 12 hours isn’t their idea of fun...
“We’re loving it. He’s gorgeous. The logistics of it shock us every day, what we have to do to organise our lives, but it’s definitely great.”
* Edward Gardner conducts the CBSO in Rachmaninov and Lutoslawski on September 28 (7.30pm). Details on 0121 780 3333.