Tom Hammond to conduct SASO from 2016-17

Tom Hammond
Tom Hammond

St Albans Symphony Orchestra (SASO) is delighted to announce the appointment of Tom Hammond as its new Principal Conductor.

Tom succeeds Bjorn Bantock, who left last summer after five years in charge. He will starting working with the orchestra on a regular basis in the autumn.  He was chosen from more than 40 applicants for the post and a selection process that included an opportunity to guest conduct this year’s New Year concert in St Albans Cathedral.

Although new to St Albans, 41-year old Tom is no stranger to Hertfordshire having been Music Director of the Hertford Symphony Orchestra since 2014 and co-director of the Hertfordshire Festival of Music, being launched there this summer.

His other regular conducting engagements include the Essex Symphony Orchestra and London-based Sinfonia Tamesa. As conductor of the Yorkshire Young Sinfonia, he appeared in a recent Radio 4 documentary and particularly looks forward to performing with the renowned pianist Stephen Hough this summer.

He has visited Jordan and the West Bank as guest conductor of the Palestine Youth Orchestra and directs a professional ensemble in London called sound collective. In 2009, he was prize-winning semi-finalist in the Leeds Conducting Competition. However, fans of TV’s comedy sports quiz A League of Their Own, are more likely to remember Tom attempting to teach celebrity presenter James Corden how to conduct Beethoven.

David Utting, SASO’s Chair, said: “It is a measure of the orchestra’s progress, and growing reputation that we attracted such a strong field of candidates to become our new conductor. We are excited to be working with Tom, who impressed our playing members as well as the New Year audience with his thoughtful musicianship, technical skill and friendly authority. We are confident in his ability to ensure that SASO can continue to attract high-quality, amateur players and raise its playing standards even higher.”

More about Tom Hammond:

Originally from Staffordshire, Tom’s love of music grew from discovering an album of ‘Sibelius’s Greatest Hits’ among his parents’ largely non-classical record collection. “I played it constantly, so they knew from a young age that I was destined to be a bit weird!”

A childhood paper-delivery round also proved decisive, leading to doorstep chats with a retired dance band musician who retrieved a trombone from the loft and gave it to him. Lessons led to a school music scholarship and eventually a place at London’s Royal Academy.

According to Tom, “the conducting thing was always there in the background” including invitations to conduct student brass ensembles. But for the first decade of his professional career he played trombone with groups as varied as the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Gabrielli Consort and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, as well as the on-stage band at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. He also played recording sessions with pop band The Divine Comedy and on the national tours of musicals, including West Side Story.

A turning point came while touring Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express as Assistant Musical Director as well a trombonist: “Although I was conducting as well as playing, I was utterly miserable. I just knew there were other, better things I wanted to do.”

His classical conducting career received an important boost in 2006 when he became the first holder of a Junior Fellowship at London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire created and overseen by the internationally celebrated maestro, Sir Charles Mackerras. Over two years Sir Charles provided crucial mentoring.

“He would have hated any suggestion that he ‘taught’ me conducting, but he was generous with his time and support, giving me valuable leads and ideas to follow. He was so direct and straightforward that it was only after he died in 2010 and I read more about him that I fully realised I had been in the presence of greatness.”

Plans for Tom’s first season with SASO include two of the mightiest by Russian composers – Tchaikovsky’s ‘Pathetique’ Symphony in October and Prokofiev’s Symphony No 5 in March next year. May 2017 will bring a performance of the dramatic Piano Concerto No 1 by Brahms, with St Albans-based soloist Alissa Firsova. There will be further Tchaikovsky fireworks on January 2nd in the Abbey, with music from his ballet Swan Lake as well as the rare, but thrilling, Konzertstück by Schumann for four horns and orchestra.

Tom said: “One of the joys of working with non-professional orchestras is the freedom it gives you to put together exciting repertoire rather than repeatedly programming works that just sell seats. I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but the word ‘amateur’ does refer to people doing something that they love. They are there making music because that is what they want to do.

“I was attracted to SASO by the way it programmes exciting, ambitious repertoire and my aim is to develop that. I also want to strengthen and build on its core audience so that we feel we are really connecting with the people who come to hear us play.”