Congratulations on joining the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (RLPO). Could you tell us about the process for getting the job?
It was a pretty standard process for getting an orchestral job. I had my first audition a year ago. While that may seem like a long time compared to other jobs, it’s possible to be on trial for orchestral jobs for years. I feel quite lucky that it was only a few months for me.
For the first round, I performed a few excerpts behind a screen, so they didn’t know who I was, and then the second round was performed in front of a panel. My aim was just to reach the second round so it was a lovely surprise when I got the call offering me a trial period with the orchestra.
I was initially asked to play a concert in January 2023, and then off the back of that I was booked for concerts in April, May and June. It was on my last day at the Academy, just after we’d performed our final concert with the Academy Symphony Orchestra in July, that I received a call from RLPO offering me the job.
How did you manage to juggle your studies at the same time as the trial process?
It was definitely a very busy time! There were a lot of concerts with the RLPO packed into a six-month period. Having to learn quite a lot of repertoire as well as taking all my final year exams and auditioning for other jobs was a balancing act, but it wasn't ever something that was impossible.
It was really helpful that the Academy allowed me the time off to go to Liverpool and do the audition and trial patches, and helped change some of my exam dates. My teachers Chris Cowie, Ian Hardwick and Patrick Flanaghan were fantastically supportive, and Fraser Gordon, the Head of Woodwind, was always great. I had a chat with him about what an orchestra trial is like before I went up to Liverpool the first time, and he'd always check in to see how things were going.
How has the adjustment been from student to professional musician?
It’s still early days, but so far it has been a fairly smooth transition. I’m job sharing this year with the other Principal, who has been there for 40 years and is retiring in the summer. It’s worked out nicely that I can take on half the schedule and have a bit more time to adjust, rather than going in immediately at 100%.
One of the biggest changes has been learning and practising a lot more orchestral parts and repertoire, rather than just studies and scales. In October alone, there are about 12 large scale pieces I have to learn. Then on a very niche level, I’ve had to up my game with reed-making because what I was doing before wasn’t going to cut it.
Everyone in the orchestra has been lovely. I hadn’t done any professional playing before my first trial, so the fact everyone is so friendly and positive has helped me to settle in. It’s a very sociable orchestra. We will often go for dinner together or catch up in the green room in the morning over a cup of tea. I am staying with another Academy alum, Drake Gritton (Oboe, 2023) who is Principal Cor Anglais with the orchestra. It’s been nice having a familiar face and someone to explore the city with on our days off.
How did your training help to prepare you?
As I didn’t do my undergraduate degree at a specialist music university, the formal training I got at the Academy was completely essential to getting the job. Whether it’s technique, scales, exams or learning excerpts, everything we were taught is useful, even if we only discover it much further down the line.
I started playing in a wind quintet during my time at the Academy, which was enormously useful in terms of honing ensemble playing skills. It helps teach you to communicate with other players without speaking and just picking up on their cues.
During performance classes you stand up and play in front of your peers. Having that experience makes sitting in an orchestra full of professionals slightly less daunting. Then there is a lot to learn from the Masterclasses with top professionals. It really forces you to re-evaluate how you play in minute detail.
What about your experience in the Academy’s orchestras?
The experience you get working with professional conductors teaches you the standards demanded of players in a real-life context.
In my first year I played in the orchestra for the Royal Academy Opera. I was a part of the orchestra for Freya Waley-Cohen’s opera WITCH, which gave me more experience playing contemporary music. Then in my second year I performed with the Academy Symphony Orchestra. In fact, one of my favourite memories of my time at the Academy was playing with the Symphony Orchestra for my very last concert. We performed one of my favourite pieces, Gershwin’s An American in Paris, conducted by Ryan Bancroft, who was an absolutely brilliant conductor to work with.
What advice do you have for students as they start out on their own Academy journey?
Go to as many performance classes as you can, especially in your first couple of terms. I found it really useful seeing people at all stages of their training – from first year undergraduates to final year master’s students. You can learn so much from everyone’s playing, plus it’s also nice to watch how people in your department improve over the course of their training.
if things go wrong, it’s important to be kind to yourself!
Finally, what are you looking forward to in the coming months?
There are some brilliant concerts coming up with Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. We will be performing a full orchestral version of Stravinsky's The Firebird next year and before that we’ll be working with the former Principal Conductor Vasily Petrenko who often comes back as a Guest Conductor. Then probably one of the most exciting things we’ll be doing is a tour in Japan. There is a lot to look forward to!