A few years ago I was asked by the powers that be if I would play in the opening show for the BBC Proms in London. One of the pieces was to be Schubert’s ‘Shepherd on the Rock’ with soprano Ailish Tynan and Ian Burnside on piano. It was a very quick conversation as I said ‘yes’ without hesitation. To make it even better, this opening concert was to go out live on BBC Radio 3 presented by Sean Rafferty and Petroc Trelawny.
I remember being downstairs in the Royal College of Music the afternoon of the concert, dutifully going over some passages in the music, when the door swings open and Ailish walked in. Before I could say hello, she had come over and given me a hug and asked why I was practicing and not relaxing! Instantly, I knew that she would be very easy to work with and quite laid back, my sort of person! We played through the piece from beginning to end, discussed one or two tempo things and that was it, leave it until the performance. I think that rehearsing too much can ruin a performance. Good musicians like Ailish have the instinct to hear every small detail and adapt. The fun part is that you don’t quite know what musical ideas might take a musician in the moment and how they might play or sing the very next note. This is what music is all about and the audience definitely notice as well. During our performance, I remember thinking to myself how well we seemed to work together on stage. One of the most challenging things when working with other musicians is to match your sounds. You really have to have your ears on stalks. This all seemed to happen naturally. After a small interview, the concert was over as quickly as it had started. Approximately a year later I had an idea.
In the summer of 2014 I decided that I wanted to record a CD of music that could be considered to be suited to a 19th Century Salon evening. Repertoire such as Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Schumann, Chopin. I thought it would be great to have ‘Shepherd on the Rock’ and a few other pieces with soprano on this album. It was without hesitation that I called Ailish. We then decided to partner with pianist and good friend Christopher Glynn. After many emails backwards and forwards, we settled on an interesting programme. There are a few pieces on this album that are not written for clarinet originally, however we decided to do something slightly different from the normal disc that would feature ‘Shepherd on the Rock’. For this recording, I couldn’t have picked anyone better than my dream team of Producer Nick Parker and Engineer Mike Hatch at Signum Classics. We had 3 days set aside in the coastal town of Aldeburgh (Suffolk). Day 1 was set aside for Ailish to do her solo pieces, day 2 for the trios, and day 3 for the remaining trios and then my duo pieces with Chris. Every couple of hours we’d go into the control room for a break (compulsory cup of tea and chocolate biscuits) and then back to work. The whole time was a pleasure. Being able to work with people that are easy going, fun and also amazing at what they do is a real pleasure.
The next time I worked with Ailish was the Summer of 2014 at the West Cork Music Festival in Ireland – a performance that would include ‘Shepherd on the Rock’. The morning of the concert, Ailish arrived and got ready but didn’t have the music out. Now normally, the singer would have the score in front of them, and as a result so would I. Ailish said with a cheeky grin on her face that she’d finished learning it all that afternoon and that she was going to sing without music and why didn’t I join her. Slightly surprised, and with the smallest hint of trepidation, I thought about it for a couple of seconds. ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ quipped Ailish…with a wry smile on my face I said, ‘You’re on’.
Shepherd on the Rock will be released in October 2015. Catch the trio at Cowbridge Music Festival on 20 September 2015 for your chance to hear some of this repertoire live in concert.