Shrewsbury Symphony Orchestra

Shrewsbury Orchestral Society

Profile of friend of the orchestra: Matthew Gibson


Over the last twenty years there have been so many musical highlights: playing Bartok with Sir Georg Solti, who was very combative with the players of the orchestra but always insulted you with a humorous twinkle in his eye; a complete Shostakovitch cycle with Mstislav Rostropovitch, not a great conductor technically and yet such an incredibly compelling musical personality; Stravinsky with Pierre Boulez, who, as well as being a musical genious, on every visit to the orchestra always insists on taking all the back stage staff (librarians, stage and personnel managers, truck drivers etc) out for a sumptuous meal on him; Bruckner with Bernard Haitink, the musicians musician; Strauss with Andre Previn; Bernstein with Michael Tilson- Thomas; Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky with Valery Gergiev , who generates enough energy in one performance to power a small Russian city; and just about everything that Sir Colin Davis ever chooses to conduct. In fact Sir Colin has been conducting the orchestra for over fifty years now so he is kind of our musical father and it really does feel like the family is back together again when he stands on the rostrum. These are just some of the many musical events on the classical stage which I feel proud to have been a part of.

The LSO is a self governing organisation and as such elects a Board of Directors from the playing members, all of whom own shares in the company. I served on the Board for a ten year period, four years of which as Vice Chairman. This provided me with a fascinating insight into the ins and outs of the running of a major arts organisation and resulted in me being a part of some interesting and sometimes bizarre situations. I was involved in the process of appointing a new Managing Director to replace the outgoing Sir Clive Gillinson, now CEO of Carnegie Hall. This included having to interview many of the top arts managers from around the country and the world and resulted in the the very fortunate and successful appointment of Kathryn McDowell. I have had to chair meetings of the Finance Committee with the ex mayor of the City of London and some of the most influential city bigwigs .... ('no, honestly, I don't know anything about finance - I'm just a bass player form Shropshire....HELP!!'), I have had to conduct pre concert talks with artists like Sir Colin Davis, Rodion Shchedrin and Paavo Jarvi, I have had to to assist the gargantuan Leif Segerstam on with his support stockings, without which he would have been unable to stand in front of the orchestra for a three hour rehearsal. I have experienced Valery Gergiev falling fast asleep whilst in mid conversation with me. I could have accepted this like a man had I been the one talking but it was HE who was mid sentence! This was a new one on me but admittedly it was three o'clock in the morning, in a car, after a long performance of something, somewhere, followed by a very 'heavy' reception!

In fact I have had the privilege and good fortune to have been taken out for spectacular meals with many of the top conductors in the world - talking Russian politics with Yuri Temirkanov, sharing wonderful evenings with Sir Colin and the delightful, late Lady Davis after concerts in Madrid, discussing bell ringing with Pierre Boulez (!), singers with Tony Pappano and concert hall construction with Michael Tilson-Thomas. He has just had a new one built in Miami!

Of course the other thing which makes life in the London Symphony Orchestra constantly interesting is the flexibility of the organisation. The orchestra has always been very happy to involve itself in all genres of music, as long as whatever it happens to be is performed to the highest level at all times. Albert Hall rock concerts with Deep Purple, jazz concerts with Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, John Dankworth and Lalo Schiffrin. Film productions with James Horner, Jerry Goldsmith, George Fenton, Alexandre Desplat and of course John T Williams. Amongst many other films, we have recorded all six Star Wars soundtracks with John Williams (I was too young to be on the original three but was there for the last three!) so I got to see the films on the enormous screen on the back wall of Abbey Road Studios as we played along to John Williams conducting his score. As part of the large education project which the LSO runs I visit many schools and it is great to be able to go into a classroom full of teenagers who have a very limited knowledge and experience of classical music, if any, and being able to tell them confidently that every one of them will have already heard me perform. As soon as they realise this their engagement and interest levels immediately jump - so thank you Mr Williams!

Education work is a major output of our orchestra and provides me with many fantastic experiences and opportunities to take myself out of the comfort zone of performing and I really enjoy giving people the chance to find out what music can do for them. A quintet of players visited Mostar in Bosnia to assist in the rejuvenation of the Mostar Sinfonietta after the devastation of the war, a somewhat harrowing but incredibly rewarding experience. We have done some fascinating work with the Royal School for the Deaf in Margate, helping students to express their feelings through the medium of group performance. I take part in recitals in private homes of people who, due to ill health, are unable to attend the concerts we perform in various cities around the world. This included playing for the 90 year old lady in her top floor New York appartment who happened to have been the PR representive for Leonard Bernstein for his entire career. I was thrilled to meet her and have the opportunity to discuss my childhood hero at great length!

More recently I was involved with preparing a large mixed ability youth orchestra for a masterclass with Gustavo Dudamel. As I was conducting and talking to the the students I found myself recalling my own formative experiences which really opened my eyes (and ears) to the possibilities of a life in music - playing cello in an ensemble for the first time at the age of eight with Hamish Drummond conducting; the many memorable youth orchestra experiences with Richard White and one of my first experiences playing the double bass in an orchestra - at the age of twelve sitting on stage in Shrewsbury Music Hall next to Joy Charlesworth, performing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with the Shrewsbury Orchestral Society.

Now I know for a fact that I didn't play all the notes in that performance - but I do remember the feeling of excitement and involvement it gave me!

Matthew Gibson