Having the brass to take over the baton

Conductor Andrew Gourlay
Conductor Andrew Gourlay

The guest conductor of The Halle concert at the City Hall on Friday is a familiar figure to members of the orchestra and concert regulars.

Andrew Gourlay spent two years as Assistant Conductor to Sir Mark Elder at the Hallé and director of its Youth Orchestra.

“It’s a wonderful feeling going up to Manchester and recognising everyone, many of them my friends, and that’s a rare experience for me these days,” he says.

“I think in terms of the musical result it’s perhaps limited how much it helps though certainly there’s a different relationship from most orchestras I work with.”

At the City Hall on Friday they will be playing Britten’s Suite on English Folk Songs, the Sibelius Violin Concerto and Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

How much input do guest conductors have in the make-up of the programme? “What normally happens with my concerts is I will suggest a selection of works and they will get the ball rolling and settle on what will be in the programme,” explains Gourlay. “For this one the Britten and the Stravinsky are works I admire and ones I am keen to do.

“Then there may be a certain soloist who is associated with a particular work. The Sibelius is something Henning Kraggerud is fantastic at playing and it’s a piece I love and have performed before so it is the perfect match.”

A professional trombonist until his mid twenties, Gourlay won a Postgraduate Scholarship to study conducting at the Royal College of Music .It sounds like an unusual route from the brass section to the conductor’s podium.

“I think it’s actually more common than many might believe. I know quite a few brass players who have become conductors. You spend so much time watching others there is always an element of wanting to have some responsibility and control over a piece.”

It is a competitive field - “I soon learned how difficult it is to get spotted,” he reflects. His breakthrough came by winning the Cadaques International Conducting Competition with a prize of conducting concerts with 29 orchestras around the world,

“There’s nothing like a competition to give your career an injection. It’s a great way to get noticed and you have to build on that which is what I am doing now.”

The next logical step would be to be appointed to an orchestra but perhaps not just yet. “It would be better for me doing what I am doing now, going from orchestra to orchestra for I am much more concerned about taking on work and a repertoire that I want to do and what suits me best.

“Looking at this concert, the Petruska demands a high responsibility. It’s not an easy piece for an orchestra in its complexity and you stand up there feeling like they might need you for once,” he laughs.