Ahead of Royal Holloway University’s London Concert, taking place on the 2nd February 2022 at Shoreditch Town Hall, we caught up with Rebecca Miller, our Director of Orchestras, who will be conducting the concert, to find out more about what treats lie in store for those who attend.
Royal Holloway's Director of Orchestras, Rebecca Miller, conducting
As conductor, what’s your favourite part of your role in the concert?
My favourite part is definitely the performance. There is a lot of organisation and planning involved in the process, and then there is a great deal of rehearsing beforehand, which is all enjoyable, especially working with the London Mozart Players in our rehearsals. But nothing can match the feeling of finally being on stage for the performance, with all of the ‘work' behind us, everyone dressed up, adrenaline running, and the buzz of the audience in the room!
Last year, the concert couldn’t take place because of the pandemic. Are you excited to be back for 2022? Does it feel even more exciting than usual?
Everything feels new this year, which is great and challenging at the same time. We cannot return to ‘old habits’, and we need to now incorporate COVID precautions in to our planning and our rehearsals and performances. Whilst this means that we are excited to be back, we also proceed with a good deal of caution and preparedness for change and flexibility. Of course it’s great to be back, we will never again take for granted the joy of making music in person for a live audience, and I know that audiences feel the same. Every note is precious for us, as we never know what’s ‘round the corner. But I do think we have the tools now to cope with whatever the world may throw at us - we know how to play in a socially-distanced situation, we can play in masks, we know how to test the orchestra before each rehearsal, and we are experienced at performing for the live-stream cameras. We in the music business have always been excellent at flexibility and adaptability, and this is just another manifestation of those skills. So I am hopeful that the music won’t need to stop again, and that the power of live music-making can continue, as we have learned that human interaction is so precious.
The theme of the concert this year is ‘Youth and Culture’. Could you tell us a bit about that, and why it’s important to celebrate?
Diversity and inclusion has been a topic of much discussion, both in the music world and in wider society. I feel passionately about the topic and try to integrate diversity into every single programme that I do no matter how low or high profile. If we only perform/view/read/listen to the voices of one sector of society, then we are not really representing the demographics of our world, and we are getting a very narrow perspective, aren’t we? It’s important to hear many voices. And crucially it’s important that diverse voices are represented in order to speak to the younger generation - that there is a space for their voices - all genders, colours, cultures, races, religions - as well.
And to celebrate youth - well… it’s why we all work at Royal Holloway, isn’t it? We live and work for our students. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than working with my students - to enable them, to unlock doors for them, to build their confidence and to see them achieve things they never thought they could - to reach heights seemingly untouchable, to help them work together as a team, to respect each other, to work collectively towards a common goal. To be the best they can be. These are the things to be celebrated in my work with orchestras, and to do it with the bright, passionate students of Royal Holloway is an inspiration to me every day.
Do you have a favourite piece from this year’s programme? What is it and why?
That’s not a fair question! That’s like asking me which of my children I prefer. I can’t choose. All the pieces I will conduct have something different and wonderful to offer the audience. The Brahms is a long-time favourite of mine. Brahms is very close to my heart, but this piece in particular has it all - his sweeping melodies, his rhythmic drive, his extraordinary inventiveness, and the absolute perfection of his compositional technique. It’s all contained in a short 10 minute piece that’s packed full of ideas, drama, and beauty.
The Coleridge-Taylor is an absolute gem of a piece, and something I only discovered recently. In my search for pieces by diverse composers, I started to explore his music, and fell in love with this little suite. It’s not a piece that’s going to change the world, like Beethoven’s 5th or something - and it’s one of Coleridge-Taylor’s less ‘adventurous’ works, but it’s a little jewel - packed with beauty, charm, wit, humour, and joy. And I felt it was perfect for our celebration of live music at Royal Holloway.
And the third piece I will conduct is by Gabriela Lena Frank - she’s a favourite composer of mine, and an absolute inspiration of a human being as well. She’s a climate activist and is now exploring this through her music, but is a true multi-culturalist in the way she beautifully blends together aspects of her Latina heritage and her western classical music training. She is a composer who is entirely relevant, modern, and one whose style is distinct yet is growing and developing as she does herself. Her compositions are packed with an amazing canvas of colour, with vivid flavours and imaginative storytelling and I can’t wait for the London audience to hear the Three Latin American Dances.
What do you hope an audience member at the concert will experience?
I’m so glad you asked this question. I hope that the audience member will have an experience that they will take with them for days, weeks, months, years to come. I hope they allow their minds to shut out the outside world for a couple of hours - to shut off Twitter, Facebook, the news, politics, pandemic, climate change… and just allow their minds to be open and to absorb. I don’t mind what anyone thinks about during the concert - I don’t mind if they drift off, daydream, come up with the cure to cancer, or think about their shopping list. But I want them to allow themselves to have an experience that is meaningful, true, heartfelt, and memorable.
The Royal Holloway London Concert takes place on the 2nd February 2022, 7.30pm, at Shoreditch Town Hall. For more information and ticket sales, please click here.