Catherine Arlidge was back in her usual seat as sub-principal CBSO second violin at the end of the interval in last week’s concert at Warwick Arts Centre, conducted by Andris Nelsons and broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
The wait seemed longer than usual, the continuity announcer obviously having a lot to say. And then a small party came onstage, with representatives from the Royal Philharmonic Society and from the Association of British Orchestras.
They started talking about the Salomon award, named in memory of the influential violinist who in the 1790s famously brought renowned composer, Josef Haydn, over to England, twice, and who was one of the founders of the Royal Philharmonic Society.
The RPS and ABO created the accolade in 2011 to celebrate unsung heroes of orchestral life in this country.
Every orchestra in the UK nominates a player for the award, and the nominee needs the support of both the players and the management team. Previous winners came from the London Philharmonic Orchestra in 2011 and the Halle in 2012.
And Catherine was about to learn that she had been chosen as the first violinist to receive this honour.
“I had no idea I was going to receive the award,” she explains. “I didn’t even know I’d been nominated!
“It came as a complete shock and it took me most of Brahms 4th Symphony to stop shaking! “My husband and our three children were there to meet me when I came off the platform, which was a lovely surprise, and the rest of my family had been tipped off and were listening on the radio.”
The award comes about through the amazing work that Catherine, a member of the CBSO for over 20 years, is doing with the orchestra’s educational outreach, as she explains.
“I programme and present many of the CBSO’s concerts for schools and families, and Notelets concerts are for our youngest, pre-school audiences.
“As a starting point I take the 80-plus incredible musicians that make up the CBSO, then I add 400 years of our musical cultural heritage, and the final challenge is to connect all that to whichever audience we have in front of us!”
And Catherine obviously thinks deeply about her role as a musical ambassador to all ages.
“In making these connections it’s absolutely key to know your audience, because an audience of three-year-olds is inherently different to an audience of six-year-olds, or an audience of families, or an audience of subscribers.
“It’s an immense privilege to stand in front of the CBSO, an orchestra that is, both nationally and internationally, a huge cultural asset. One of the biggest joys of my working life is to see people’s eyes opened to the value of classical music and creativity,” she enthuses, before going on to pay tribute to her fellow orchestral members.
“My colleagues are amazingly supportive. I continually ask them to do all sorts of unusual and sometimes silly things – they walk around as they play and perform without music, they dress up, we once had a doughnut stuck in a trombone, players are frequently banished to a naughty step for bad behaviour, they’ve had children tickling them as they play, and Ed Jones, our principal trombone, has been a fantastic police car on many occasions!
“After all those years of practice and pursuit of excellence, I’m always amazed at how they really let their hair down for our young audiences.”
Catherine, whose husband is a doctor in Cape Hill, makes sure her own young family have quite an input into the planning of her concerts.
“Katie 11, Lucy nine, and Ben, seven, are all at Harborne Primary School, and they often act as a focus group – I try lots of ideas out on them before those ideas reach the concert platform.
“Essentially what I have learned from them is that children need to be active at all times – they are either active or they are asleep! Sitting still in a concert hall for two hours is not really an option, so I’ve devised numerous ways to allow them to join in and be part of our show – quizzes, dancing, marching, singing, clapping, stories, listening challenges…there’s also quite a lot of silly nonsense, grown ups behaving badly which they love! There’s also a fair amount of spontaneity, which keeps us all on our toes.”
Catherine’s own personal creed is one which should make us all think, and inspire us.
“Connecting wider audiences to classical music is essential to its survival. Moreover, creativity must be a fundamental part of education. All of our most successful mathematicians, scientists, astronomers, engineers, teachers, politicians… are creative people,” she says.
“Children are constantly trying new things, making mistakes, learning and developing. They are innately creative, However a target-driven, and the ‘right and wrong answer’ approach to education crushes this creativity. Involving anyone actively in the arts shows them their own potential, builds confidence, creates independence and will lead to a more exciting and vibrant society.”
Sir Simon Rattle, who brought Catherine into the CBSO, when he was principal conductor, said: “Catherine Arlidge is not only one of our most inspiring, valued and unstinting musicians but also one of our strongest and most idealistic personalities.”
• Details of Catherine’s work can be found on her website www.catherinearlidge.co.uk.