On Friday 5 December Birtwistle’s Theseus Game will be conducted by both David Atherton and Geoffrey Paterson, with the playing ensemble split into two parts, and their story spans the life of the London Sinfonietta: David Atherton co-founded the ensemble back in 1968 and has become one of the most distinguished conductors of our era; Geoffrey’s establishing a brilliant career and is currently one of our Emerging Artists. Ahead of the concert we put three questions to our two conductors.
What do you regard as your greatest musical achievement?
David: Establishing the London Sinfonietta when no similar organisation existed anywhere in the world.
It seems a bit soon to be thinking in terms of greatest achievements – I always strive to make music with my colleagues as well as I can, and hope that I’ll continue to do it better and better! Of course there are performances that stand out: conducting Peter Grimes
a decade ago as an undergraduate was a definitive moment for me and something I’m incredibly proud to have done. More recently, collaborating with Martyn Brabbins and Baldur Brönnimann on last year’s Gruppen
with the London Sinfonietta was an unforgettable experience.
Which is your favourite piece of music by Sir Harrison Birtwistle and why?
David: Impossible to pick out just one piece as his originality and genius shine through every work. I have been incredibly privileged and honoured to premiere many of his pieces, notably our first collaboration at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1968 (the opera Punch and Judy). Consequently I asked Harry to write a work for the London Sinfonietta’s second season (the virtuosic Verses for Ensembles) and so began a lifelong partnership and friendship with him. Amusing, forthright, original, caring, detailed, thoughtful – pick an adjective, that’s Harry, the consummate professional. It has been a marvellous ride – long may it continue. His imaginative creative powers continue to grow and flourish.
Since I first discovered Harrison Birtwistle’s music in my early teens, it has been one of the central obsessions of my musical life, so it’s very difficult to pick out a favourite piece. I remember the first time I heard Earth Dances
, with Rattle and the CBSO at the Royal Festival Hall, and being stunned speechless; I also have a soft spot for Secret Theatre
, which was the first piece of his I conducted. To answer the question slightly differently, there’s no doubt that my life’s greatest musical ambition is one day to conduct The Mask of Orpheus
Tell us about your relationship with the London Sinfonietta.
David: I co-founded the London Sinfonietta alongside Nicholas Snowman in 1968.
As a schoolboy I regularly came up to London to see the London Sinfonietta concerts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and have many inspiring memories, chief amongst them Oliver Knussen conducting the UK premiere and second performance of Elliott Carter’s ASKO Concerto
in immediate succession! My first experience as a conductor with the ensemble was a London Sinfonietta Academy masterclass with Elgar Howarth, following which I was asked to lead sectional rehearsals of Boulez’s …explosante-fixe…
. Making my recording and concert debuts last year with Ben Foskett’s Hornet II
and Stockhausen’s Gruppen
was the fulfillment of a childhood dream, and it’s a thrill to feel my relationship with the London Sinfonietta continue to develop.