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Fanfare Contributor Bio

Philip Borg-Wheeler

Although since the age of 10 I had been an avid and indiscriminate listener to BBC’s Third Programme (everything from Gesualdo to Stockhausen, Lutyens and Gerhard), I was 15 before I began learning the viola. The school orchestra (Portchester, Bournemouth, UK) needed a viola, so that was a fait accompli. I attended weekly concerts of the BSO under the wonderful Constantin Silvestri and many other guest conductors. I was a little too young to fully appreciate his magic, but I knew he was a charismatic musician touched with genius. His repertoire was enormous, as a bookcase of his scores testifies—composers as diverse as Mihalovici, Malcolm Lipkin, Marius Constant, Malcolm Williamson, Enescu, and Reginald Smith Brindle.

I spent a few years in the Royal Artillery Band, learning the clarinet and finding lots of time to practice the viola in what was a remarkably enlightened musical (rather than military) atmosphere. We were given tickets to the Albert Hall Proms and the annual prizes included a week at Canford Summer School, near Bournemouth. This was a life-changing experience, as it was there that I met my wife (pianist, violinist, and teacher). We married a year later.

My first professional orchestral position was in the BBC Welsh Orchestra (now the BBC National Orchestra of Wales). Three years later I joined the BSO, retiring in 2013 after 37 years. The most memorable conductors were Paavo Berglund—of uncompromising integrity—Akeo Watanabe, Yuri Temirkanov, Valery Gergiev, Kees Bakels, Tugan Sokhiev, Tadaaki Otaka, and Neeme Järvi. However, I have to return to my formative years and to Silvestri, for whom the orchestra (less technically polished in those days) played out of their skins. Can I suggest you look for some of his CDs?—especially French and Russian repertoire and Elgar. His Manfred Symphony with the BSO is stunning.

After achieving an Open University Arts Degree in the 1990s, I began a parallel writing career. Now retired as a player, except for infrequent quartet sessions and amateur gigs, I write CD notes for about a dozen companies, program notes for about 10 orchestras or organizations, regular book reviews and occasional articles. I also write CD reviews for MusicWeb International and now Fanfare.

As I mentioned, my listening experience was very wide before I became a player, which spared me from becoming narrow. One’s tastes change radically. I remember as a teenager finding Chopin and Schumann sissy, but now the latter is one of my biggest passions. Other special favorites include Monteverdi, Haydn, Beethoven, Bruckner, Bartók, Berg, Hahn, Elgar, Poulenc, Gerhard, K. A. Hartmann, Myaskovsky, Donatoni, and Ligeti. I enjoy the diversity of writing, from a soldier-themed song recital (Butterworth, Finzi, Faure, Schumann, Ives, etc.) to big anthologies for guitar and organ respectively, or from a collection of Stabat Mater settings to Reynaldo Hahn chamber music.

 

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