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Symphony orchestra conductor has chosen hits from his ‘bucket list’

By Alex Spencer

CCSO conductor Robert Hodge
CCSO conductor Robert Hodge

The City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra is launching its new season with a programme, chosen by conductor Robert Hodge, that will delight audiences and showcase the talents of their musicians

CCSO conductor Robert Hodge
CCSO conductor Robert Hodge

Conductor Robert Hodge admits he is excited about this year’s programme for the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra for ‘selfish’ reasons.

He was the driving force behind choices for most of the music in this year’s schedule and he says: “I have, selfishly, got a list of music that I really want to do. They are pieces that as a conductor I should have conducted or that I should know and are fantastic.

“Basically, there are pieces I really love and want to do or pieces I should explore more. By programming them with the orchestra I know I will work through them.”

In other words, there is a conductors’ bucket list?

“Yes, definitely!” he laughs.

At just 33, Robert is young for a conductor and is hungry for more experience.

“Lots of these pieces, particularly Elgar One and Mahler Three, are pieces I wanted to get under my belt,” he says.

“They are not the sort of thing you would do with an average amateur orchestra, but CCSO are definitely not average. Cambridge has a higher proportion of highly skilled musicians than is normal in the rest of the country so to get to play these pieces is fantastic. I wouldn’t think about programming them with another orchestra who would struggle with them.

“When I choose what to put on the programme, in conversation with the musicians, it’s important to me whether I want to conduct the pieces and whether I think the orchestra can play them.”

This season’s first concert will be a performance of Beethoven: ‘Prometheus’ Overture, Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1, and Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, Eroica.

“In each concert there is one really big piece and in the first one that is the Beethoven Eroica symphony,” says Robert.

“It is a such a fantastic piece. It changes history and the way all symphonies were written afterwards. Beethoven is the link between the classical and romantic period. He was a bit of a rule breaker so things that are supposed to happen, like relationships between movements and the keys that they are in, he sort of doesn’t do them.

“He broke conventions. It’s the first symphony that doesn’t start with a slow introduction. It uses big chords at the start instead. It’s 50 minutes long which is huge for a symphony; Haydn and Mozart symphonies can be just 15 minutes, so it was a massive change.”

Robert explains that the challenge of working with an amateur orchestra on new pieces of music is ‘hugely satisfying’.

“I would love people to be able to hear an orchestra’s first rehearsal and then compare that to the concert because that journey is so exciting. First rehearsals can be absolutely awful sometimes and it’s the work we do that turns it into the concert that people enjoy five weeks later.

“It’s a really different process from working with professional orchestras where you are just tweaking things here and there and they can already play it. You have a role to pay as a conductor but it is much less involved.

“The connection is quite physical and if you get it right you really feel that you are moulding sound in that area in front of your body and everyone is feeding into that sound from the orchestra. When you have the connection right it feels fantastic.”

The audience at the first concert on October 13 can look forward the performance of acclaimed piano soloist Florian Mitrea.

Robert says of him: “With an orchestra like this you get really top rate soloists coming along at the beginning of their careers who are full of ideas and energy and usually really lovely.”

The British-Romanian pianist was the winner of the 2018 Royal Overseas League Piano Competition, and a double-laureate at the 2017 Scottish, 2017 Saint Priest, 2015 Hamamatsu and 2014 ARD-Munich International Competitions. Very recently, he was top prize-winner in the 2018 New York International Piano Festival, thus winning the opportunity of a debut performance at Carnegie Hall.

The first performance of the City of Cambrudge Symphony Orchestra this season will be at 7.30pm on Saturday, October 13 at West Road Concert Hall. Tickets are £18, concessions available. Box office: Adcticketing.com or 01223 300085.

Concert schedule

Concert 1

13 October 2018 at 7:30pm

Beethoven: ‘Prometheus’ Overture Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1 Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, Eroica Piano: Florian Mitrea

Concert 2

1 December 2018 at 7:30pm

Mendelssohn: Hebrides Overture Elgar: Sea Pictures Britten: Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’ Debussy: La mer Mezzo-soprano: Julia Portela Piñón

Concert 3

2 February 2019 at 7:30pm

Walton: Johannesburg Festival Overture Walton: Viola Concerto Elgar: Symphony No. 1 Viola: Rosalind Ventris

Concert 4

23 March 2019 at 7:30pm

Liadov: Kikimora Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3 Respighi: ‘Fountains of Rome’ Stravinsky: ‘The Firebird’ (1919) Piano: Dinara Klinton Guest conductor: to be confirmed

Concert 5

11 May 2019 at 7:30pm

Mahler: Symphony No. 3 Contralto: Hannah Poulson St Catharine’s College Girls’ Choir St John’s College School Senior House Chamber Choir

Concert 6

29 June 2018 at 7:30pm

Bernstein: ‘On the Town’ – Three Dance Episodes Korngold: Violin Concerto Korngold: ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ – Suite Bernstein: ‘On the Waterfront’ – Symphonic Suite Violin: Júlia Pusker


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