Meet the players
Ely Sinfonia draws on local amateur musicians from Ely itself, as well as from further afield in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. The players come from all walks of life, brought together by a common interest in music-making.
Here you will be able to learn more about some of the Ely Sinfonia regulars, as we’ll be posting a variety of interviews and features over the coming months……..
Richard and Yvonne Williamson
From one married couple to another… “Brahms’ Double Concerto for violin and ‘cello holds fond memories for us both. In our first year of married life, Richard and I were in the orchestra of Goldsmiths’ College, London University, where we played the Concerto with Hugh Bean and Lionel Handy as the soloists. What a joy that 40 years later, when we have just celebrated our ruby wedding anniversary, we should s*ll be playing together in an orchestra, (probably a more refined one than in 1974, thanks to Steve Bingham) and able to observe the interac*on of another married couple, Raphael and Elizabeth Wallfisch, in the same work. The piece is intricate, requiring both soloists to be totally aware of each other, the conductor and the orchestra. As Raphael had to sit s*ll, facing forward, it was Elizabeth who was the more mobile and she really held everything together, smiling at all who caught her eye, gesturing expressively with her bowing arm to indicate a change of pace, or an extension of a phrase. We were all mesmerised by her “toe-d” stripy socks in the rehearsal, as she prefers to play without shoes (shame she conformed in the concert). It is always a joy to play in Ely Sinfonia, especially as it is a shared pleasure, and this was a truly memorable concert.”
Dave McLeish (‘Cello)
A Shropshire lad Originally from Telford, Shropshire, David started on the cello at 13. Although cello was his second choice (there was a shortage of flutes), he proved his considerable ability in his subsequent orchestral progress: Telford Light Orchestra, Shropshire County Orchestra, English Symphony Youth Orchestra, various local orchestras and more recently Ely Sinfonia since 2002, as well as ‘the one up the road’ (Norfolk Symphony).
In his childhood, David’s family listened to various types of music and David set the trend for playing, inspiring his brothers (one now a professional musician) and sister to follow suit. His wife plays violin and his three children all play instruments; it remains to be seen whether any of his children follow him in reading music at university (David studied at Leeds).
‘What’s a software architect?’ David’s day job seems a far cry from his orchestral position as leader of the cello section. “I’m responsible for the architecture of a set of products that are used by companies to work together to design, build and maintain everything from an iPhone, car, aeroplane for example. From a phone/tablet/browser, this enables folks to design and view 3D designs, part management, digital simulation so you can prototype virtually and determine things like whether the product fits together, what are its points of failure under strains, heatspots etc. for teams that are globally distributed.” (Phew!) All I can say is that Siemens PLM (Product Life Management) are lucky to have someone who can put something so complicated so succinctly. He works across 24 teams worldwide – no wonder he seems unflappable.
Which brings me to: Hairy moments? One that sticks out was turning a page during a concert to find the next page was missing! It was quickly found but it was a moment of complete shock. Presumably the music had been accidentally knocked to the floor aOer the rehearsal and mixed up when being put back on the stand.
What skills transfer to your posi/on on the ES committee and as workshop organiser? David’s answer is typically self-effacing: “Probably it’s the attention to detail and a willingness to throw yourself into the task wholeheartedly. Essentially, the workshop produces lots of emails and post to deal with; the key is to be organised and keep things ticking over. It takes a few months to pull the whole day together.” The success of the day [see p3] is a tribute to all his hard work and organisation.
How do you relax? Playing and listening to music feature highly. The family has active holidays walking or skiing, and food and culture are also sources of enjoyment. Intriguingly, David plays KorRall for Ely Vikings. I don’t like to display my ignorance….
QUICK FIRE ROUND Night in/night out? Night out. Casals or Rostropovich or? Difficult. My last teacher, Bruno Schrecker, was taught by Casals, whose playing and approach I hugely admire; but then Rostropovich has probably done more for the cello repertoire than any other person in history, with almost every major 20th century composer writing for the instrument because of him.
E-book/ paperback? On balance, paperback.
Cook/ Be cooked for? Either is fine with me. I love food!
Dvorak/anorak? Dvorak, clearly!
“Playing with the Ely Sinfonia under Steve Bingham is always a great pleasure and it was a privilege to be part of their all-Elgar programme. As cellist and timpanist, I’ve been lucky enough to play the “Enigma Variations” several times over the years, and I’d like to share with you a little of my perspective as timpanist. Elgar writes great timpani parts! Enigma is no exception; his directions are very clear (usually – more about that later!), the notes fall well across the drums and within the compass of each drum, the contributions from the timpani are meaningful and that all makes for a very satisfying play.
As ever with such powerful instruments, sensitivity and balance are the watch words, while realising the wishes of the interpreter of the day – in this case, Steve. As one might expect, each variation brings different technical and musical challenges, with plenty to think about. After a performance of Enigma, the variations I get asked about most by audience members are VII (Troyte), IX (Nimrod) and XIII (Romanza). The fizzing exuberance of Troyte is very satisfying to bring off, where perfect unison of timpani in harness with lower strings is the aim; one in a bar and syncopated to boot! To whip up a whirlwind of energy and… finished, leaving listeners breathless and smiling! Great stuff, Sir Edward. Just a little scary, but great stuff.
Then there’s Nimrod. So beautiful, so well-known and, in my experience, the variation subject to the widest …er… “variation” in interpretation by conductors. It only takes one or two players to go their own way (not the Ely Sinfonia!) and the impact of that very noble, deeply moving portrait is lost. A timpanist can ruin this for everyone, so to play one’s part in supporting the conductor’s interpretation according to mood, personal vision and acoustic – this is very rewarding. In different performances I’ve been asked for a very restrained, understated contribution, with hard mallets producing very clear articulation in quiet passages – right through to soft mallets and a big, romantic sound “playing like you’re going to go through the drum heads!”, and just about everything in between.
In the mysterious and evocative Romanza, we have the composer throwing in an uncharacteristic curveball for his timpanist. For once, the usually-dependable Elgar adds a direction which is impossible to execute as written, leading to something of a tradition for which timpanists have to be ready! To represent the sound of a ship’s engines on a sea voyage, the direction is for the timpani rolls to be played with side drum sticks.
No problem there but, as the music moves on, the next direction is to continue “naturale” (i.e. with feltcovered timpani mallets) – following immediately, with no time to swap from one to the other. There are several versions of how this came to be noticed, who noticed it and who proposed a solution in the rehearsals preparing for the first performance – but it has led to the tradition of playing the “side drum sticks” passages with coins grasped between each thumb and forefinger, whilst holding the soon-to-be-needed timpani mallets in the hands also.
Pennies, half-crowns, sovereigns – depends on who’s telling the story. But some conductors do not want this, preferring to somehow have the timpanist adhere to Elgar’s original instruction. For others, the concern is whether the acoustic will permit it; it worked well in Ely cathedral I gather, but there were sticks on standby just in case and we did experiment in rehearsal. One conductor (not Steve!) asked me to use coins at one performance and then, years later and in the same venue, the same conductor was amazed that I would countenance such a thing – so sometimes, even “know your conductor” doesn’t work! It is possible, now, to buy mallets which have been designed specifically to deal with this one passage in the repertoire. Whichever solution is chosen, the final hurdle is what on earth to do with wrong mallets, extra sticks or coins for those conductors wishing to go “attacca” into the finale, variation XIV (which requires a different pair of mallets completely).
Believe it or not, that split second and the horror of spilling the lot on the floor is the most nerve-wracking of all! As ever, it seems to me, the key is to prepare well. Know your music and its logistical challenges but have no preconceived ideas, and work with conductors to get as close as possible to their desired interpretations. All orchestral musicians would say the same, I’m sure, and it’s important to remember it in supporting the whole orchestra when sitting behind modern timpani, which can obliterate the entire ensemble with power and bombast, or sheer lack of care.
Of course, power and bombast can have their place; the final bars of Shostakovich Symphony 5 pressing their way down the cathedral nave will live long in the memory. But that’s a discussion for another day! For those who enjoy knowing such things, the coins I have at the ready, “just in case”, are a pair of pennies and a pair of half-crowns. All four coins are dated 1899 and are thus the same age as the variations themselves.
Cheesy? Perhaps, but it makes for some lovely chats after concerts.”