The Bristol Magazine caught up with conductor William Goodchild ahead of Bristol Symphony Orchestra and City of Bristol Choir’s epic concert A Night at the Opera on 24 November at Clifton Cathedral
How did you become a composer and conductor? What was your inspiration growing up which made you want to go into the world of music?
Inspiration has always come from all sorts of people and places. I was very fortunate to have many musical opportunities when I was young. From the age of six, I attended the Royal College of Music. The Junior Department offered a fantastic music education, and I learnt violin and piano, singing, musicianship, theory and an introduction to playing in orchestra.
I remember first hearing an orchestra rehearse in the concert hall there. I was captivated by the sound – from that point I was hooked.
I was 15 when I had my first stab at conducting, and had some lessons from a fierce but amazing teacher called John Lubbock, who was conductor of the BBC Ulster Orchestra and Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square. This experience lit a flame – I knew right away this was something I wanted to do.
Other people that had a big impact on my life were jazz pianist Leon Cohen, London arranger and orchestrator Steve Gray and British film and television composer Edward Williams. For years I worked as a pianist, arranger and conductor, including time spent assisting Edward. Composing came later on.
What have been some of your career highlights?
Working with some brilliant film producers here in Bristol, notably James Reed, for whom I composed the scores for award-winning films Jago – a Life Underwater (BBC/ Netflix), and Rise of the Warrior Apes (Discovery) – which has just won the WWF Golden Panda Award at Wildscreen Festival; and Steve Gooder for Lobo – the Wolf that Changed America (BBC), Jungle Gremlins of Java (BBC) and Africa’s Lion Kings (BBC).
Two concerts I orchestrated and conducted really stand out in my mind: Nature’s Great Events with the BBC Concert Orchestra and Sir David Attenborough narrating, and Roni Size and Reprazent with Bristol Ensemble. Both of these took place as part of the Colston Hall Festival to launch the new foyer. What an amazing few days that was for Bristol with over 2000 musicians taking part.
You are involved with orchestras and music groups around Bristol. Could you tell us a little more about who you are regularly involved with and how you work with these groups?
I’m artistic director and conductor of Bristol Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra was founded in January 2016 and is a young and dynamic ensemble. Our vision is to inspire as wide an audience as possible with exciting programmes that draw on the players’ versatility. In addition to championing symphonic music as a living art form, the orchestra commissions new music and we regularly collaborate with musicians and groups from other musical traditions and genres.
Our recent Jazz Meets Bristol Symphony with Get The Blessing (June 2018 at Clifton Cathedral) stands out as a joyous example of working across genre. I’m also guest conductor with Bristol Ensemble – Bristol’s professional chamber orchestra. We have done a lot of recording together for film and television projects over the years, and numerous performances in Bristol and also abroad.
What are your thoughts on the classical music scene in Bristol? Is it growing? Have audiences changed over the years?
As any glance through the programmes of the city’s music venues will show, there is a lot of classical music-making taking place in Bristol, with an incredible variety of choirs, soloists, chamber ensembles and orchestras. Participation is immense, both in terms of audience and performers. Adventurous programming is vital if groups want to attract and inspire younger audiences.
Perhaps audiences demand slightly more from the concert experience these days. Bristol Symphony has found that it’s new commissions and collaborations have served to interest and attract new audience. Pre-concert speakers like Jonathan James can play a role in widening the experience: Jonathan is unequalled in his imaginative and thought-provoking illustrated talks on composers and their works. Bristol also plays host to an array of fantastic visiting ensembles such as Aurora, OAE and Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Your next concert in Bristol is A Night at the Opera on 24 November at Clifton Cathedral. Who will be involved in this performance and what are the themes of the concert?
A Night at the Opera will bring together Bristol Symphony Orchestra, City of Bristol Choir, and a quartet of soloists including international soprano Rebecca Evans, and three young professional singers: Hanna-Liisa Kirchen (mezzo-soprano), William Wallace (tenor) and Edward Jowle (baritone).
Every opera tells a story. We have created our own operatic story with themes of love, fortune, mischief – and, of course, death: no opera is complete without a death. The audience will hear some of the greatest overtures, arias and choruses ever composed.
As this is an opera concert, how is this different to performances you have conducted in the past?
This is my first opera gala concert. Conducting choirs is not something I do very often, so I’m looking forward to the experience tremendously. City of Bristol Choir is a wonderful group with a talented and experienced musical director in David Ogden. David will be preparing the choir in the early stages before the chorus joins the soloists, Bristol Symphony and me for final rehearsals.
What is your favourite piece that will be performed on the night?
There are so many gems in this wonderful programme of music by Bizet, Verdi and Wagner, amongst many others; it’s very hard to choose a favourite piece. The dramatic Polovtsian Dances by Borodin forms a white-knuckle ride for choir and orchestra, which I’m very excited to conduct.
On the other hand, the beauty, pathos and poignancy of Purcell’s soprano aria, ‘When I am laid in earth’ is deeply affecting. I am hoping the programme will delight, surprise and move our audience.
What charity will this concert be supporting? And why did you choose this cause?
Since its inception in 2016, Bristol Symphony has raised more than £13,000 for local charities. This year we chose to support St Peter’s Hospice Room to Care Appeal. For their capital appeal – for vital improvements to St Peter’s hospice accommodation – the charity needed help from as many sources as possible. The charity is such a delight to work with and we have enjoyed helping in a number of ways including our players ‘losing the booze’ in January, taking part in the charity’s Ruby Dinner Auction, and finally, helping to support with November’s concert.
Do you have any exciting plans for future performances or projects that you can tell us about?
I’m looking forward to conducting The Battle of the Ancre with Bristol Ensemble in early November. This is the original 1916 silent film with a score by Laura Rossi. In March 2019, Bristol Symphony will be performing a UK Premiere of Guy Barker’s new violin concerto with Charles Mutter as soloist and a world premiere of a new work of mine.
I’m also composing a score for a new indie drama due for release in 2019, and a documentary for PBS in the States about Wild Dogs in Mozambique.
William Goodchild will be conducting at Bristol Symphony Orchestra and City of Bristol Choir’s epic concert A Night at the Opera on 24 November, 8pm, at Clifton Cathedral. Advance tickets: £20/£10.
Main image: Rosa Fay Photography