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CCSO conductor Robert Hodge interview: "I'll need every trumpeter in the city"




Conductor Robert Hodge is pulling out all the stops this year for the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s new season, with pieces that require a giant wind machine and ‘every trumpeter in the city’, writes Alex Spencer.

Robert has been the musical director of the orchestra since 2012, and in May next year will celebrate his 50th concert with them at West Road Concert Hall – so he has chosen a particular favourite for the programme.

CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (18407847)
CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (18407847)

Strauss’ monumental tone poem, An Alpine Symphony, is something he’s been looking forward to performing for
years after hearing it when he was studying at the Royal College of Music.

He said: “It is a monumental piece of music by Strauss and I can’t wait to do it. Essentially, it is a piece of music about climbing mountains and the epicness of that.

“There is also this amazing wind machine which is a percussion instrument that really doesn’t get wheeled out very often – so I’m excited about using it. It’s like a massive oil drum on its side with a crank handle like those used to start old cars. You whizz this thing around and it creates the sound of wind, which features heavily in the storm part of the music.

“We will have a massive orchestra for this concert – as this piece calls for 20 horns – I’m looking forward to it.”

CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (18407850)
CCSO conductor Robert Hodge. (18407850)

Other performances to anticipate will be Beethoven’s 9th, in celebration of the composer’s 250th birthday, which amateur orchestras rarely play, according to Robert, “because of the need to have four choirs and four soloists.”

There is also Janacek’s Sinfonietta which Robert says is “tremendously uplifting due to its brass fanfare of “nine trumpets, two bass trumpets and two tenor tubas – it will, I’m pretty sure, use every trumpeter in Cambridge to put that on. You don’t often get to perform the piece for that reason.”

Trying to mix old favourites that the audience will know with unfamiliar and rarely performed gems requires Robert to spend hours a day trawling online for music that will surprise and delight his audience.

He says: “Sometimes a whole day can go past and I will realise I have spent eight hours watching music on YouTube searching for something unusual.”

City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra
City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

He adds that although he loves popular classics, “I’m still programming things I have not done before with the orchestra to keep it exciting. It’s quite easy to fall into the trap of always playing the same types of music.”

However, he only chooses music he loves rather than trying to fit concerts around a particular theme.

“Sometimes, a theme can be a little bit restricting if you try to find one for the whole season,” says Robert.

“I think that for the players and the audience a variety is more exciting. So, there is a Russian concert (Glazunov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich) and an American concert (Copland, Gershwin, Whitaker, Grofe) but no theme for the whole season.”

Audiences will also have a chance to listen to a composer in the making as in the fourth concert of the season, the winner of the CCSO’s young conductor competition will lead the orchestra in the Semiramide Overture by Rossini.

“The competition is for under 21s which is pretty rare in the conducting world. Most young conductor competitions are for people under the age of 40,” says Robert.

To find out more about the whole season or buy tickets, visit ccso-online.org.uk.



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