Features: Conductor’s close bond with Huddersfield Choral Society

IT HAS taken a few days but finally here’s conductor Martyn Brabbins at the end of the phone.

IT HAS taken a few days but finally here’s conductor Martyn Brabbins at the end of the phone.

He’s been doing interviews in London and is now heading off to catch a flight to Amsterdam.

Tomorrow he is in Huddersfield to conduct Huddersfield Choral Society’s 175th anniversary concert.

It is a big, celebratory event, a milestone concert for a choir renowned as one of the best there is.

The Choral will sing Elgar’s Dream Of Gerontius with the might of the Hallé Orchestra behind them. And the man with the baton will be the Choral’s conductor laureate Martyn Brabbins. It should be quite a night.

His has been a long association with the Choral and he reflects about his early years with them.

“I was the Choral’s principal conductor for about 10 years and when they asked me to take it on my reaction was one of great pride and honour to be asked,” he said.

“I had a few things that I wanted to achieve with them. When you work with a choir two or three times, you quickly begin to see their strengths and any weaknesses,” he said.

“The Choral had wonderful qualities, amazing commitment and a wonderful tonal quality, a richness of sound.

“There were also challenges in certain areas. It is the same with choirs all over the world.

“I wanted to stretch them, to take them out of their comfort zone. What you find is that if you deal with the challenging things, those challenging things become little by little less daunting.

“We did, for example, the Rachmaninov Vespers, 50 plus minutes of unaccompanied singing. That was a shock horror moment for the choir.

“How are we going to cope, some of them asked? I pushed them on it and I think they would agree that was a very strong development, perhaps the most inspiring challenge for them.

“I still feel that the Rachmaninov took them to a place that they had been reluctant to go.

“I wanted to challenge and develop them as a group of musicians and I think that continues.

“The Choral has kept the momentum and kept going forward. They are going from strength to strength.

Martyn was quick too to praise the work of chorusmaster Joseph Cullen, who takes the choir’s weekly rehearsals.

“Joseph is an incredible tower of strength. He has done a fantastic job with the choir.

“He has just the right touch with them. He is very demanding but with the right touch.”

Earlier this year, it was Joseph Cullen who stepped in to conduct a major concert at Huddersfield Town Hall when Martyn was told by his doctor to rest and not to take up the baton.

It was a particular blow for Martyn who had led the way in shaping the concert’s ambitious programme of music by Bruckner, Stravinsky and the contemporary British composer Jonathan Harvey. The concert was a rarity for the Choral Society in that it featured no soloists.

“I was having problems with my left shoulder though it’s getting better now,” said Martyn.

“I did slip and damage it but it wasn’t in good shape anyway.

“It’s an unnatural thing to move your arms up and down all the time as I do!”

And the positive that Martyn took from not being able to conduct himself was that his absence offered an opportunity to someone else.

“Once I’d realised I couldn’t do it, I thought, Choral please ask Joseph to do it. He will do the best job for you.”

As for his relationship with the Choral, it is clear that it remains one of respect and affection on both sides.

“I feel such a strong and close bond to these people,” said Martyn.

“I know them so well. I feel very close to all of them.

“I don’t know much about any of them as individuals. I know them as colleagues in rehearsal and that has become a very strong bond.”

While tomorrow’s concert is the one taking the focus of Martyn’s attention just now, there’s another performance fast approaching in which both he and Choral singers are involved.

On July 17, those singers will travel to London to take part in a rare performance of Havergal Brian’s Symphony No. 1 in D minor, known as The Gothic.

This is an epic piece requiring multiple orchestras and choirs.

“This is one of the fabled works, it is a gargantuan piece,” said Martyn.

“I was asked if I wanted to do it and said yes. And when it came to choosing the choirs to take part, the Choral was top of the list.”

And that says it all about just how highly this internationally renowned conductor views the singers that he will conduct once again in Huddersfield tomorrow.

 
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