Mayhew and Marvelling Young Minds
Just recently, I was lucky enough to share the stage with the fabulous James Mayhew. Every year we work together, preparing, rehearsing and performing our incredibly successful series of Family Concerts. These are a highlight of the de Havilland Philharmonic season, attracting huge crowds – largely, but not exclusively, made up of youngsters with their parents in tow. Grown-ups come along with their kids – and end up loving it. And the children adore it too: a telltale sign of this is how quiet they are, particularly during the music. As a conductor, even with my back turned to the auditorium 99% of the time, I can always tell when an audience is really listening, deeply tuned-in to all the activities on stage.
Undeniably the star of the show is artist, presenter and master story-teller James Mayhew. He has a quietly engaging charisma, drawing audiences into his fantastical world, whether through speech (often delivered as verse, and always adhering to the true character, plot and drama of any classical masterwork) or through those wonderful paintings.
Thanks to the technical marvels of 21st century HD-cameras, coupled with a clever technical crew and a well-appointed concert hall, James is able to paint on a massive canvas. All his work is projected super-size above us all at the back of the stage: just watch the film above to see it all in action. There’s even a glimpse into the technical box, mid-concert, during our performance of Superman.
James is not only a deeply expressive, brilliant artist, but a warm, involving speaker and presenter too. Like me, he cares deeply and passionately about classical music… about its depth, colours and delivery. James and I won’t compromise, abridge nor water-down any of the orchestral “classics”. We feel that children, and adults, not only can but should experience a full-size symphony orchestra performing classical masterpieces. Either in their entirety, or as close as we can get. No trimming. No sanitising. No dumbing-down.
And we trust each other implicitly. Having performed together so often, we know what works for one another. “I think we make a great team, Robin and I,” says James. “He is that rare thing – a conductor with a sense of humour. The sense of fun is palpable to the audience and our concerts together are the highlight of my year.” Thanks James – that’s praise indeed!
He, too, is a joy to spend time with – whether talking about comic timing, brush strokes and speed of delivery on-stage… Or where he gets his sheriff’s badge from:
Of course, James and I don’t simply play the music. All I do is rehearse it, conduct it, perform it. That’s my whole (wonderful) career in a nutshell. Sometimes I speak to the crowd, introduce James, or act as a temporary stage-prop. Together we pace the concert – me syncing with him – like accompanying a good soloist. He uses verse, commentaries, little asides – whatever the drama needs, and I time the music to the cadence of his text. In turn, James times his artwork neatly and deftly with our music-making. Watch the showreel above (or any of the footage here) and you’ll see this very thing in action: look at the very end of Superman, where James times the final swoosh of the superhero’s flowing cape elegantly in sync with the final musical cut-off.
Classical music is the most extraordinary experience for young children and their families. If our concerts make just one youngster pick up a cello or trombone with increased fervour, or pushes a young lad or lady to revisit a half-finished composition, then the whole venture has been a success. No question. Anything that connects youngsters with their inner, musical pilot-light – making them yearn for music, to make music, to experience music – can only be a good thing.
With the axe about to fall on music services across the UK (as I write, Bromley, Redbridge and Wiltshire are facing this – they could easily not exist by summer: what a TRAGEDY that would be) – anything which gets the power of music over to youngsters is desperately needed. We all need to work on cultivating the audiences, and musicians, instrumentalists, singers, of tomorrow. All of us need to do this, starting now. Like we mean it. With passion, integrity, and humility. I’d like to think that James and I do our little bit in this regard, but I’d love to do much more.
“Working with Robin is the highlight of my year,” James says. “I couldn’t wish for a better colleague for this mission we both share.” And I feel exactly the same. The reason we both do this is because we love what we do: getting the magic of music across to people of all ages, particularly youngsters. When we each watch the youngsters marvel at what they witness unfolding on stage, we know it’s the single best drug there is, for professional musician and professional artist alike. This is why, no matter how many books James may write, and how many Mahler symphonies I may conduct, our projects together remain a cornerstone of my concert life, and of James’ artistic work. And it’s why both of us long to do many more – so we can see those marvelling young minds, first-hand, loving every minute of the music and the art.
And thank you James – for all our concerts together. Here’s to many more to come. Long may it continue!
“Heroes & Villains” Family Concert
Copland – Billy the Kid Suite
Grieg – Peer Gynt (Morning Mood, Death of Åse, Solveig’s Song, Hall of the Mountain King)
Rossini – William Tell Overture
Williams – Superman Theme