We caught up with Bristol-based musical director and pianist Harry Haden-Brown, to hear his views on Bernstein, Busted, and Balkan brass!
What was your first musical memory?
I remember watching the Disney film Fantasia virtually on repeat every time I visited my grandparents house in Brighton from a very young age. I still think that exposure and imagery is one of the reasons I grew to love classical music when I was a bit older. I now can’t hear The Rite of Spring without thinking of dinosaurs or hear Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony without picturing a drunken Bacchus and his unicorn dodging Zeus’ lightning bolts!
Best gig ever?
While on a college trip in Prague, we all went to see the National Symphony Orchestra perform a great concert including Scriabin’s Poème de L’Extase. There is a moment in the finale with an extremely huge crescendo and then a moment of absolute silence. A lady in front of me who was particularly engaged with the music let out a huge gasp of excitement which perfectly coincided with the seconds of silence, much to her embarrassment. A moment like that in an orchestral concert is what live music is about!
Why do you play music?
It might sound clichéd, but there is absolutely nothing like standing up after a performance to see a full house of outstanding audience whooping and cheering. I spend most of my time in theatre pits playing keyboards or conducting a band, and hearing the laughter during funny moments, or deathly silence in other scenes reminds me why I have spent hours rehearsing with a cast or studying a score. As musicians in the theatre we often have the chance to elevate and intensify the drama which the performers are displaying on stage to make a show even more emotional and powerful.
If you could perform with one musician or band from any era, who would it be, and what would you play?
I would absolutely have loved to work with Leonard Bernstein. Not only did he write one of my favourite classical choral pieces, Chichester Psalms, but his score for West Side Story is unbeatable. I’m sure he would also have a lot to say about my piano playing and conducting… If he could bring along his friend and collaborator Stephen Sondheim for a drink too I wouldn’t complain! Maybe we could all write a new musical together…!
Do you have any performances coming up that we should know about?
I am taking a musical called [title of show] (yes that is the actual name of the show!) and a curated cabaret to the Edinburgh Fringe festival with my new production company Cobbles & Rhyme Productions. It is our first show for the company, my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe (and indeed in Edinburgh!) and will also mark my first acting role as an on-stage pianist with lines… We have an incredibly talented cast and team of university and conservatoire students and graduates, and if you like musicals, music, or even just laughing then you shouldn’t miss us. Follow us on Twitter here: @cobblesandrhyme!
Finally, what would be your essential desert island disc?
I’m not sure exactly what I would have on there, but probably some bizarre combination of a Mahler symphony (only counts as one track right?) some awful guilty pleasure pop songs from the 90’s and 00’s (definitely Busted over McFly), some trad jazz, and some Balkan brass from the Boban Marković Orkestar which I was first exposed to at the crazy Serbian international trumpet festival in Guča. Lets hope for everyone’s sake that I am never stranded on an island and that mix-tape won’t have to be created!
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