THIS IS MICHAEL THOMPSON & KATE OSWIN

The Message scoreOur upcoming concert of music by Sir Harrison Birtwistle opens with The Message – a duet inspired by a quote Birtwistle found engraved on a Bob Law sculpture: “the purpose of life is to pass the message on”. Here at the London Sinfonietta we’ve been commissioning and performing Birtwistle’s music since the ensemble was formed in 1968, and now hope to pass this work on to another generation of players. So, on Friday 5 December we will share the stage with the Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble.

Ahead of their joint performance, we asked representatives from both generations some quick fire questions. The London Sinfonietta’s Principal Horn Michael Thompson (who studied at RAM) and Manson Ensemble violinist Kate Oswin tell us their highs, their lows and their best musical joke.


 THIS IS MICHAEL THOMPSON

What do you regard as your greatest musical achievement?

Singing at La Scala (in a performance of Henze’s Voices with the London Sinfonietta in the 1970s.)

What is your greatest fear?

Boiled swede.

Why did you decide to play the horn?

I started learning the violin at school and then the horn, when I was about 13. By the age of 15, I had realised that I was a terrible violinist, and I had rather fallen for the horn.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?

The Radio Times.

What was the first recording you ever bought?

Dennis Brain performing the Mozart horn concertos.

What’s the most unusual performance you’ve ever been a part of?

Taking part in Bach’s B Minor Mass in the Vatican.

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?

I’m a great admirer of writers, so maybe I could have tried that.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

My wife.  (The double bass player, Valerie Botwright).

Tell us your best musical joke.

Q: How many clarinettists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Just one, but he has to try about twenty bulbs until he finds a good one.


THIS IS KATE OSWIN

What do you regard as your greatest musical achievement?

Performing the complete Beethoven Symphony cycle by age 21, twice! Earlier this year I was playing violin on contract in the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. We had a Beethoven festival where we performed the entire symphony cycle over four days, in Wellington the first week and then in Auckland a week later. It was an absolute musical marathon, but an amazing experience!

What is your greatest fear?

Getting stuck on a broken down tube in the London Underground – before coming to England I had only been on a train a couple of times. We don’t use rail travel that much in New Zealand and the only rail routes we have are very scenic, so getting on the tube at rush hour for the first time was a bit of a shock!

How many instruments can you play and which is your favourite?

My main instrument is violin, but I also like to tinker on the piano and play the viola from time to time.

What’s currently on your coffee table at home?

I don’t actually have a coffee table at the moment as I am living in student accommodation, but back home I would have had my big fruit bowl, a newspaper and, at the weekends, a big rack of home baking cooling off!

What was the first recording you ever bought?

I think it was a compilation CD of violin show pieces. I still have it somewhere.

What’s the most unusual piece you’ve ever performed?

In September each year, New Zealand hosts an international World of Wearable Arts festival that runs over two weeks. A couple of years ago there was a musical category, where all the garments had to be able to be played by the models. New Zealand composer Gareth Farr did a fantastic arrangement of excerpts from Prokofiev Symphony No. 7 (with a few other pieces worked in), which featured each of the garments and was accompanied by a chamber orchestra that I played with. The orchestra were all dressed in steampunk costumes inspired by Alice in Wonderland characters and played in shopping trolleys, suspended from the roof in bathtubs and armchairs, or in my case strapped into the top of a huge A-frame structure, as I was the Queen of Hearts. It was certainly a memorable experience!

If you could have any other profession, what would it be?

Baker – baking for friends is my favourite stress release.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

My family, my music teachers and mentors have all been huge influences in my life. I certainly would not be where I am today without them.

Tell us your best musical joke.

A string quartet is made up of a good violinist, a bad violinist, a struggling violinist, and someone who can’t stand the violin!

 

For more information on Birtwistle: A Celebration and to book tickets click here.

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