Benjamin Cunningham Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Posted on 01/05/2020
The talented Benjamin Cunningham who is both the Chairman of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a double bass player, tells us about their varied program, the piano soloist Khatia Buniatishvili, and his history with classical music! See London's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday, January 11 at 8pm!
Read the transcribed interview below
With Kelly from All Access and special guest Benjamin Cunningham from the Royal Philhramonic Orchestra
Kelly: We’re back on All Access on State Theatre New Jersey, I’m Kelly Blithe. Coming up on January 11th we are presenting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, coming back to New Brunswick, January 11th an 8pm performance. We are thrilled to have them and joining us today is Chairman of Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Ben Cunningham. Welcome Ben!
Ben: Hi Kelly, it’s lovely to be with you.
Kelly: So, Ben we are so excited to bring Royal Philharmonics to New Brunswick. Tell us all about this tour and about the Orchestra.
Ben: The Royal Philharmonic orchestra was set up in 1946 by a rather eccentric Englishman by the name of Thomas Bechman, so we just celebrated a big anniversary a few years ago, and we have another one coming up in another few years, our 75th anniversary. We just appointed a new Music Director Vasily Petrenko who will start next season as Music Director Designate. We are an orchestra full of history, but we are very much looking forward to our future.
Kelly: We are looking forward to it as well coming up on January 11th the orchestra will be performing, and you, the double bass. You are double bass player for the orchestra?
Ben: Yeah, I’m a double bass player in the orchestra. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra like many of the orchestras in London is owned by the players. The Board of Directors of the Orchestra is made up the majority player directors who are elected by their fellow players. The Chairman of the orchestra, the Chairman of the Board of Directors is elected from the players of the Board of Directors.
Kelly: Wow, not too shabby.
Ben: It leads to a busy life, but I think firmly there’s a real sense of involvement with the players we make a real decisions with our management team.
Kelly: We are excited about the program that is coming. Do you want to tell us a little about the Walton and the Sibelius and what we have in store?
Ben: Absolutely, we will be playing Portsmouth Point which is a Walton overture which I’m sure you know fabulously. Then we will be playing Liszt, second Piano Concerto and that’s with Khatia Buniatishvili and she is a wonderful, wonderful, very expressive pianist, and it’s a great piece for her to showcase her considerable talents. Sibelius, second Symphony, now I’m a huge Sibelius fan and his second Symphony is just—I think he wrote it when he was on holiday in Italy and the sunshine and this opening is the sunshine in Italy you can just hear it. It’s a glorious piece and we are bringing with us Mark Wigglesworth who's a fantastic British conductor so he will be leading us in that performance. We are very much looking forward to starting off our tour, so it’s a great note to start on.
Kelly: You talk about vacationing in Italy, that piece right there just sounds amazing and just by that piece alone and of course the concert pianist that you are talking about I hear that she’s kind of like a pop star in a way.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely, she is a very beautiful woman and she a really very popular out here and she has a very young exciting following. She’s a wonderful pianist as well, an exciting package.
Kelly: Ben, take us back is this the career path that you saw for yourself as a little kid? Did you think one day I want to be in an orchestra.
Ben: As a relatively little kid I think I flirted with a few other things, I decided to order my parents to send me to a specialist music school when I was about 16. I sent off for the perspectives and presented it to them and I want to finish my education, I want to be a double bass player, so they dutifully went to the opening day and that kind of kicked the ball rolling. As a double bass player, they aren’t many career paths ahead of you, so the orchestra is very much the career path you are headed to if you want to be a classical double bass player.
Kelly: I liked that you said you basically made your parents enroll you into school.
Ben: I did, I presented this very expensive school, I think my Mum was a bit worried at first, but I think I made the right decision.
Kelly: What lead you to Royal Philharmonic? You go to school, there had to be some steps in between.
Ben: I went to this specialist music school from there I went Royal Academy of Music in London. After that I went to the Julliard School in New York, so I spent some time studying in the states. I came back to London and I started auditioning for jobs in London and this is actually the first job I auditioned for.
Kelly: I always like to talk to musicians about the touring life, specifically with people who play in orchestras. It’s such a big crowd, it’s not like a band where there are a couple of people and you get up and the roadies do the job. You guys get everybody together pack it up and go, it’s a big thing. How do you feel about tour life?
Ben: Honestly if you are in an orchestra like the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra the touring life it’s a really exciting side of the business, people are drawn to orchestras such as my own because of the touring life that we lead. We have a fantastic touring and stage management team who take care of the nuts and bolts of getting the instruments to different places. We as an orchestra, there’s about 75 of us and there can be as many as 100 plus people on various tours depending on what the repertoire is. We spend a lot of time standing together in airports, checking keys, and getting on trains and getting on to buses. I always say that it’s a lifestyle not a job, but I think you kind of get the bug quite early on and once you get the bug it’s hard to walk away from it.
Kelly: For sure, it sounds amazing. Do you ever come across any aspiring musicians that ask you about this and what they can do to do what you’re doing?
Ben: Well often the orchestra is filled with people who do teaching and coaching in various places with youth orchestras and conservatories up and down the UK. We do meet a lot of young people ask for hints and tips, I think the best tip is to keep practicing, keep the hard work going. I always say, “make sure to practice your scales and when you finish practicing your scales practice them some more.” I think the hard work is important bit, and having the guts to out yourself out there and do the audition and to be able to take on criticism and grow from that is really important to young people.
Kelly: We are talking with Ben Cunningham the Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, also a double bass player in the orchestra. Coming to the State Theatre Saturday, January 11th 8pm, Conductor Mark Wigglesworth and wonderful program and a wonderful pianist. You can get tickets at STNJ.org. So favorite moment in your career with the Philharmonic? Favorite places, favorite moments? What are some of your favorite times?
Ben: Our last music director was a man named Charles Dutoit we had so many wonderful musical experiences with him. I remember the Montreux Festival in Switzerland, doing Bluebeard's Castle by Bartók with some fabulous Hungarian singers, that was a real artistic highlight. Any French repertoire that we used to do are all excellent music experiences. Touring experiences, I tell people to get to Japan as soon as they can, that’s such a wonderful place to see. I heard someone say that Japan is the place where the past, the present, and the future all get to meet, and I think that’s very true. Touring the food and the drink and the culture in Japan is a real highlight. Generally, I love doing it with this bunch of people, they are a fantastic bunch of people and it's a real honor that I get to make music with them. It's a great place to be.
Kelly: There you go, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra coming to State Theatre New Jersey Saturday, January 11th at 8 pm you can get your tickets at STNJ.org Ben Cunningham Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, thank you for being on All Access today and we look forward to seeing you on January 11th!
Ben: Kelly it’s been a pleasure we are looking forward to seeing you too.