Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Written by: Colin Anderson

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is about to work with its two top conductors, Daniele Gatti and Leonard Slatkin. Managing Director Ian Maclay sheds some light on the Orchestra’s activities…

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is proudly heading towards its 60th-birthday next September. The orchestra founded by Sir Thomas Beecham has big plans for then, including Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand (No. 8) and a commission from Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. The RPO is a versatile and excellent ensemble. Its conductors have included Kempe, Previn and Ashkenazy.

Whether pulling out the stops in the grand setting of the Royal Albert Hall or performing in the intimately welcoming Cadogan Hall, the RPO is consistent. As Ian Maclay, the orchestra’s straight-talking Managing Director, says: “the players do extraordinarily well in what can be difficult circumstances, and those circumstances are dictated, as always, by money. The musicians know how to make the best of difficult circumstances.” I ask Ian about his role. “It’s a bit of everything. I’m a hands-on sort of person, and I try to be around with the musicians as much as possible. The RPO is a self-run co-operative – they like to have an input and I try to supply answers. I’m here to get work for the orchestra, and to get the highest possible standards; although it’s the financial side that preoccupies us more than the artistic, which is not the way it should be.”

The RPO is about to work both with its Music Director, Daniele Gatti, and Principal Guest Conductor, Leonard Slatkin. Ian believes that the RPO’s “playing standards are as good if not better than any of the London orchestras. Gatti, nearly 10 years now as Music Director, has made a massive commitment to the RPO. He’s meticulous in his preparation and very certain as to what he wants. We’ve succeeded in getting principal players from other orchestras, even London ones: Gatti is responsible for a lot of that. We now have a stronger artistic hand than maybe in previous years.” Gatti and the RPO play Debussy’s La mer and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring in the Albert Hall on the 27th.

Five nights later, it’s Slatkin’s turn. At Cadogan Hall, on 1 November, he conducts an evening of romance: Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, Max Bruch’s hugely popular Violin Concerto No. 1 (with David Garrett) and Brahms’s bountiful Serenade No. 1. An unusual programme for Slatkin – more associated with British, American, Russian and 20th-century music – and a tempting one. “Leonard wants to do these pieces in London and has tailored this concert to Cadogan. He’s a very intelligent man, lucid and interesting, and an entertaining addresser of audiences.” Ian goes on to say that “this season’s conductors also include Rozhdestvensky and Dutoit, and we’re doing War Requiem in November in the Albert Hall.” As for Cadogan Hall, “the orchestra now has a home, our instruments and library are there, and this has coincided well with the Royal Festival Hall shutting. The acoustic is fantastic.”

The RPO turns to most things, including regular concerts entitled Here Come the Classics. Sell-out these may be, but do such populist enterprises compromise the RPO’s standing? Ian goes back to Hooked On Classics. “It paid well, and if we hadn’t done it somebody else would have; don’t forget the LSO did Classic Rock. We fill the Albert Hall, and the money we make from Here Come the Classics we put into other projects.” And it should be known that, of the London orchestras, the RPO is granted the least amount of public subsidy. That seems remarkably unfair given the RPO’s quality is indeed the equal of the other world-class London orchestras. “We petition the Arts Council at every opportunity, but we have to cut our cloth.”

Ian reminds that the RPO was the first orchestra with its own CD label, that more recording plans are afoot (including Tchaikovsky’s symphonies with Gatti for Harmonia Mundi), and that the RPO “attracts a wide audience and our Friends scheme has flourished.” Ian is “enormously proud to be working for and with the musicians of the RPO. We’re in good shape and this is a good time for people to notice that we’re around.” Right now, in fact!

  • RPO
  • RPO/Gatti, Royal Albert Hall, 27 October
  • Royal Albert Hall
  • RPO/Slatkin, Cadogan Hall, 1 November
  • Cadogan Hall
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 26 October 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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