IT’S always good to have something to celebrate — and as it prepares to embark on
IT’S always good to have something to celebrate — and as it prepares to embark on its 46th season the Henley Symphony Orchestra has announced it will be marking the 70th birthday of its musical director, Ian Brown, with a special celebration concert.
The event at the Reading Hexagon on Sunday, November 8, is really a double celebration, because Brown — a celebrated pianist, chamber musician and conductor — has now been with the orchestra for 20 of its 45 years.
His first concert at the helm, back in July 1995, featured works by Weber and Sibelius. Two decades on, both composers will be represented — this time bracketing Brown’s solo performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 1.
The concert opens with Weber’s atmospheric overture to his most famous opera, Der Freischutz.
Then, following his recital of Beethoven, Brown will conduct Sibelius’s popular Symphony No 2, with its grandiose and thrilling finale.
Given the occasion, it is natural to discover that both are among the composers for whom Brown says he feels the deepest affinity.
“Well, yes, certainly. I mean, Beethoven piano concertos are sort of supreme in that medium, you know, of piano concertos. All his five piano concertos are what you might call masterpieces. And they’re all totally different.”
Brown’s affinity for Beethoven as a pianist is clear. But does his also being a conductor lend him a different perspective?
“Oh, very much so. And of course Sibelius wrote very little for piano. He was supremely an orchestral player — he is absolutely one of my favourite orchestral composers.”
As it happens, the November 8 concert at the Hexagon falls exactly one month before the 150th anniversary of the great Finnish composer’s birth.
“Yes, that’s right. He’s being celebrated a great deal this year, so it’s nice that we’re doing a Sibelius symphony. Certainly number two is one of the most approachable works and it’s just a great, great piece — very intense emotionally and very profound, really.”
With the Sibelius set to comprise the second half of the concert, Brown is pleased that the first half — Weber and Beethoven — is being conducted by Chris Walker, the former director of music at The Henley College.
Brown’s own musical education began when he joined the choir of Salisbury Cathedral aged nine — not an especially young age by modern standards, although it should be noted that both his parents were professional musicians.
To their credit, he says, neither attempted to propel him in the same direction.
“No, I think they got it about right. They had a great love of music themselves and they passed that on to me, and indeed my siblings. But they never sort of rammed it down our throats, you know? They would have been just as happy if we’d done anything else, so I think they got that balance right.”
• Tickets for the concert are £12, £15 and £18 for adults, with a range of concessions and discounts available. To book, call 01235 859210 or visit www.readingarts.com