‘When I was around 6, I went to a Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall where Sabine Meyer was playing Mozart’s clarinet concerto. After the first note I knew that she was my new favourite clarinettist. I can remember meeting her afterwards and trying (through the language barrier) to convey my utter disbelief at what I had just heard. I decided then and there that one day I would have a lesson with her. I finally got my chance back in 2000 when I took a trip over to the beautiful and picturesque town of Lübeck in North Germany. Bach famously walked 280 miles to Lübeck in 1705 to hear Dieterich Buxtehude, who was considered as the greatest living organist at the time, play some concerts. Bach stayed in Lübeck for around a quarter of a year before making the two and a half week walk back home! It is a town full of beautiful churches and cathedrals (a great place to study).
‘I remember almost everything about my journey and first lesson with Sabine. I was 10 at the time, and had spent weeks practising two pieces. ‘The Sonatina’ by Boshlav Martinu was first up, followed by ‘Abime Des Oiseaux’ from the Quartet for the End of Time by Oliver Messiaen. Nothing could prepare me for the experience of having a lesson with Sabine. This was attention to detail on a level I had never even dreamt of and it was amazing. Within minutes Sabine had identified every single weak point in my playing. It was so intense, and on such a different level to anything I had experienced before. It really hit home. This was the first time I had ever thought that maybe I would never get to the level that I had dreamt of.
‘After picking myself up off the floor, I took everything on-board as constructive criticism. I knew that everything I was being told was for my own benefit. It was my choice whether I listened or not. All of a sudden I was in the big bad world.
‘It wasn’t to be until 2 years later that I finally became a student of hers. When I did, first on the list was technique. Without a sound and solid technique you have nothing. It’s like building a house on dodgy foundations, it will fall down! I spent months practicing long notes, legato intervals, articulation, breathing, posture… You name it, we did it!
‘I would always travel from England to Lübeck for my lessons. I would wake up at 4am, get driven to the airport (thanks Mum!) and fly to Germany on my own. I’d arrive just before 9 and most of the time I’d go to Sabine’s house. We’d then have a lesson for a couple of hours going over technique and any pieces I had decided to work on. Then we’d break for lunch.
‘Not only did Sabine teach me the clarinet, she also taught me important life lessons, like how to cook! After lunch we would work some more and often I would work with her husband, Reiner Wehle, on specific technical aspects of playing. It’s very hard for me to explain in writing exactly what Sabine and Reiner taught me. It wasn’t limited to just technique and musicality. It was every single aspect of being a musician. She was incredibly tough on me, which is exactly what I needed.
‘In 2006, Sabine very casually suggested the idea that we make a recording together. I couldn’t quite believe it. It progressed pretty quickly and we started discussing repertoire. I remember us discussing repertoire for a good few weeks and playing through all sorts of options. In the end we decided on the Krommer Concerto for two Clarinets, and 2 of the 4 Spohr Clarinet Concertos. The date was set and the orchestra was to be the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. There was to be no conductor, and it was going to take place in the iconic Abbey Road studios… No pressure!
‘The recording session finally came and what surprised me the most was how relaxed and calm Sabine was about the whole thing. This, I learned, only comes with experience of recording sessions. It actually made me very relaxed and made me see the fun side of the whole recording process. Looking back, it should have been quite a nerve-wracking experience. I’ve never, until this very moment, considered the enormity of the whole thing! Here I was, my first ever recording with orchestra with my teacher who also happened to be one of the world’s greatest clarinettists. Combine this with the fact that it was my first time ever playing the Spohr No.2 with an orchestra, and it was also without a conductor. There I had around 100 people sitting there looking at me, bows on strings waiting for me to take charge, the producer and engineer in the control room eager to listen in great detail, Sabine watching on. Then that little red light came on. This was it.
‘Had someone told me when I was 10, having my first lesson with Sabine that in 5 years I would be making a duo CD with her, I would have thought they were completely crazy. As a kid, awestruck by her Mozart in the Proms, not once did it ever cross my mind that one day I would be sharing a stage and an album with such an iconic musician.
‘There is no career quite like being a musician. The thrill of standing on a stage in front of an audience who are waiting to hear what you are going to play. The adrenaline rush you get when they appreciate what you’ve just played for them. To me there is no better feeling.
‘Every single musician will go through times where you feel unstoppable and also times when you feel like you’ll never get to the level you want to be at and that it’s ‘impossible’. It is about perseverance and outright determination. If you want it enough, it’s all there waiting for you.
‘What if I hadn’t of gone to that Mozart concerto performance as a six year old? It doesn’t bear thinking about.’