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“I started conducting for ballet quite by accident,” Paul Murphy says, which might be hard to believe as he is the Principal Conductor of and newly-appointed Music Director for the Birmingham Royal Ballet. We’re looking forward to his conducting of Tchaikovsky Classics with the Birmingham Royal Ballet on 28 March at Symphony Hall. “I had never intended to conduct for ballet. I studied conducting at the Royal Academy of Music. I did a three-year postgraduate conducting course and I freelanced for about four years. Then I had a random call one day from a member of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the orchestra of Birmingham Royal Ballet. They asked me if I'd ever considered conducting for ballet. They invited me to come in and observe for quite a long period. I conducted a couple of performances, didn't hear very much. It seemed to go OK and a month later they offered me a contract.”

“It all happened very quickly,” Paul admits. “This was back in 1992. And then I became a full-time member of staff here. Working on all the standard productions and learning very quickly indeed. Of course, conducting for ballet is a speciality and a specialism. There's no difference from the requirements from the conductor as far as the orchestra are concerned. The major difference is understanding choreography and working with dancers. We are the conduit between both disciplines. And that takes a little adjusting to if you've never done it. The opera and ballet disciplines have quite a lot of parallels, except for ballet we have to use our eyes sometimes as well as our ears.”

“It can be incredibly exciting if we're performing a new work because it also means working with the composer,” Paul says when asked about what it’s like working with choreographers and dancers. “You have a lot of input as a conductor when you're working on a new score and working with the choreographer. You’re part of a collaborative creative team.” He admits that working on classics that have existed for a long time is much more challenging. “The traditions are already established, so you have to fit in with those. But individual dancers will have, in the same way as singers will have, little requests for flexibility here and there, little bit faster, a little bit slower and so on. You have to absorb all of that choreography and engage with the orchestra to bring the music alive for the audience as well as look after the dancers.”

0 Stars

It's a collaborative role. That's the difference, really, I suppose, from my colleagues in the opera world and on the concert platform. We are not the sole point of attention in the evening’s performance. There’s little room for ego.

“It’s similar to the Evenings of Music and Dance BRB performed at Symphony Hall for years. And it's fantastic because the Royal Ballet Sinfonia get to perform concert items on the stage.” As well as performing music from ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Swan Lake’, the night will also hear music from ‘The Sleeping Beauty.’ “We're doing the waltz from act one with the students from Elmhurst Ballet School. That’s another treat in store. Many of those dancers have gone on to dance with Birmingham Royal Ballet and make their careers here. There could well be stars of the future featured on that evening as well.”

BRB and B:Music shares the mission of supporting the next generation of creative people (on and off stage). “A lot of our ethos here is looking to the future. What can we do about the future of our art form? I’m particularly concerned about the lack of classical music being taught in our state schools. How do we rectify that for the future?” This question is very close to the Principal Conductor’s heart. Paul himself comes from a state background. “Were it not for that being available, I wouldn’t be here today. It's the political landscape of our art form and, of course, the cuts that are happening in centralised government are absolutely appalling.” Organisations like BRB and B:Music hope to bridge this gap with their outreach programmes. “Many of the ballet stars of today, in both our company and at the Royal Ballet and around the world, have started at the Royal Ballet School. I've worked with them since they were sometimes as young as eleven. I've seen them go right through the ranks. I think it's critical for us to reach out to younger people, not only at ballet schools but in our education system in and around the city as well. And we have an amazing LEAP (Learning, Engagement, Access and Participation) programme here at BRB where we do a lot of outreach work as well as the Constant Lambert Conducting Fellowship, which has been hugely successful in developing the careers of young conductors and introducing them into our world of ballet.”

Principal Conductor Paul Murphy, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the Birmingham Royal Ballet will bring Tchaikovsky Classics to Symphony Hall on 28 March. “It's a huge thrill to be back in Symphony Hall. We just love being there. It's a very special venue. It's a great opportunity for the orchestra to be able to perform some of Tchaikovsky’s symphonic music that we don't normally perform.” There’s a lot to look forward to during the evening’s performances, both for the audience and for the performers involved. “We’re going to play the ‘March Slav’, that's new to the orchestra. ‘Capriccio Italien’, which we’ve done once before in that concert, but it's not standard repertoire for us. We’re really, really excited about it and looking forward to it.”

Interview by Lerah Barcenilla, Marketing & Communications Officer

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