Meurig Bowen joined us last month from BBC National Orchestra & Chorus of Wales as our new Chief Executive & Artistic Director.
Find out a little more about Meurig below in this exclusive Q&A.
Where has your work taken you before Britten Sinfonia?
Over three decades, I’ve been really fortunate to work in a range of music management roles. First of all, there were six-year stints with The Hilliard Ensemble in London and the Australian Chamber Orchestra in Sydney. I directed the Lichfield Festival for four years and the Cheltenham Music Festival for a decade, and in between I was Head of Programming at the Aldeburgh Festival/Snape Maltings. Most recently, I’ve been Head of Artistic Planning for BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales. Being close to all that hugely varied and classy music-making has been an enormous privilege.
Did the interest in music come from home or elsewhere?
My father was a concert and opera singer, and so music was a big part of my life from early on – it’s likely that I attended more Messiahs, Verdi Requiems and Gerontiuses than any other under-18 on the planet (and the cool-gang would say this is nothing to be proud of). I was a chorister in my local, North London parish church choir, and that set me up for getting a choral scholarship to King’s College, Cambridge, where I studied music. I am also a long-lapsed viola player. The high points were playing Lutoslawski’s Concerto for Orchestra with the London Schools Symphony Orchestra – conducted by the composer, no less – and hacking my way through Brandenburg 6 with fellow King’s string players in the college chapel.
What are you looking forward to in your new role?
Just as David Butcher did so brilliantly himself for so long, I aim to be an enabler for the musicians – to deliver for them the performing opportunities, and the audiences, so that they can be as fulfilled and inspiring as possible. That means keeping the programming as fresh as it’s always been, and striving to maximise the musicians’ contact points in the community. The social and geographical reach of Britten Sinfonia will be as important going forwards as its undoubted artistic range and quality.
What about COVID and its effect on music and musicians?
Obviously, this six-month shutdown of music-making has been devastating – for the livelihoods of musicians as much as their sense of being and purpose. So many have missed the enriching effect that live, communal music-making can have. Lockdown montage videos online have been ingenious, but they were a means to an end, and we need to rebuild urgently the artist-audience bond of live performance. COVID presents us with great challenges going forward, but the need to create new live performance formats that are COVID-compliant is a great opportunity for resourceful and imaginative thinking. Watch this space…
Which composers of the past are you most drawn to?
I don’t know whether there’s a thread running through the following but here goes: Bach, Schubert’s songs and chamber music, Verdi and Puccini operas, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, Ravel, some Stravinsky and Shostakovich, a lot of 20th century British music. There are some very fine tunesmiths amongst those I guess, and little of it is overly cerebral. But in listing those, some of my most-loved music gets sidelined: Mozart concertos, Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht, Strauss’s Metamorphosen…it’s so tough to narrow down! And I’m also drawn to the lives and music of a couple of musical oddballs, the eccentric visionaries Percy Grainger and Erik Satie.
And the living ones?
I was very fortunate to get to know Arvo Pärt when working for The Hilliard Ensemble. The best of his pieces really affect me (Tabula Rasa above all others), and so I’d rank him and Steve Reich as the two elderly greats of our time. Having said that, Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus last year at ENO was mind-blowingly good, and the most recent new orchestral piece I heard that really made an impression was Anders Hillborg’s startling Through Lost Landscapes. I try to keep my ears open at all times.
What else, apart from music, fills your life?
If the COVID lockdown has delivered any positives, it’s been bonus time with my wife and daughter. That’s been very precious.
But generally…getting out into the UK’s more dramatic landscapes, travelling further afield when time allows, getting better in the kitchen, aiming for a balanced and nutritious diet of books (fiction mainly), TV and film.
And then there’s the sport. Cricket still captivates me, even if it has to be mainly via TV highlights and Test Match Special (I refuse to sign up to Sky). Rugby interests me less and less – it’s too calculating now, too pumped up. I used to play tennis, and still hope to do so again, and I manage to play golf a few times a year. The last time I played cricket was in a match I organised with David Butcher no less – Aldeburgh versus Britten Sinfonia. Each side enlisted some visiting Tibetan monks in Snape to make up the numbers. True…