IT’S a big night tomorrow for Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra and not least for its conductor Benjamin Ellin.
The orchestra takes on a programme which includes Elgar’s ever popular first symphony.
But you suspect that for the orchestra there’s even more of a sense of challenge – and pride – in the world premiere performance of a new work by none other than the orchestra’s music director Ben Ellin.
Here is a man who not only conducts orchestras across the world but is in much demand for his talent as a composer.
It promises to be quite a night for orchestra and composer. Ben’s mother Dorothy, who is celebrating her 70th birthday this year, will be in the audience along with other family members, to hear the work that Ben has dedicated to her.
“They live over the hill in Bolton and so come to all my concerts with Slaithwaite Philharmonic,” said Ben.
The piece is a Harp Concerto, in itself a rarity in the orchestra repertoire.
“It’s being played by a mate of mine Deian Rowlands who is big and Welsh,” said Ben.
“We were both at Guildhall and I had so many friends who played different instruments. It was really good because it meant I could hear them play and listen to the instruments and discover what they are about.
“I had always thought of the harp as an orchestral instrument, something else in the musical palette but not as a major solo instrument.
But Ben then changed his view. “The harp can be incredibly theatrical. But it can also be played very delicately.
“It is not the loudest instrument in the world – it’s not like a trumpet. But there are many things about the harp – you can play more than one note at once and so on.
“I wrote the initial piece for Deian about 11 years ago. It was probably one of the hardest instruments to write a concerto for.
“A couple of years ago Deian and I met up at a barbecue and I thought about re-doing the piece.
“In the meeting where the orchestra’s season was being programmed, I was asked if I would like to get a piece of mine into the season.
“It seemed to me that I could re-write this harp piece.
“The orchestra will really like Deian because he’s such a larger than life character.
“It’s a big piece for a big orchestra which is what Slaithwaite Philharmonic is.
“It is probably difficult for the orchestra to rehearse it when the soloist isn’t there.
“Deian has had the concerto since February but since then he’s been on a national tour with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. His harp’s been in the back of a lorry.
“I think some of the orchestra thought it was going to be some kind of gentle soft piece between the two Elgar pieces that we are playing. But it is not like that at all.
“It will be amazing to see what happens. It is too easy in life to pour judgement on anything until you’ve actually heard it.
“It is a theatrical piece. The harp is a very physical instrument. You see a lot of movement and there will be a lot of blood and sweat.
“I just wanted to create a brilliant sound world to go with that very bright texture of the harp.
Ben is just as excited about the other challenges on tomorrow’s programme.
The concert opens with Elgar’s concert overture Froissart, plus what is considered a masterpiece of the English repertoire, Elgar’s Symphony No 1 in A flat major.
“We’ve not done the Elgar before. It is such an important part of the history of British music.
“There is something very selfless about writing music. When you are talking about Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Tippett and Britten, it seems to me a very selfless act to sit down for possibly weeks and months to create something for other people to listen to or to play.”
For Ben, composing is a crucial part of his extraordinarily busy life.
But it has to dovetail with his work as a much in demand conductor who flies around the world to conduct major orchestras.
“This harp concerto has travelled with me all over the place, to France, Italy, London – I just chipped away at it.”
After our chat in Slaithwaite he was off to rehearse the orchestra before heading for a family bolt hole on the east coast.
“I’m back here on Saturday to conduct the concert and so I decided that rather than go back to London I might as well head to Staithes, get my head down and get some serious work done,” said Ben.
Another piece perhaps that audiences in Huddersfield might just get to hear!
Tomorrow’s concert is at Huddersfield Town Hall at 7.30pm and Ben will talk about the evening’s programme at a pre-concert talk in the hall at 6.30pm.