Anything but a quiet life…

Bjorn Bantock, SASO’s new conductor, looks forward to the orchestra’s 2010-11 season

Despite an increasingly successful international career, Bjorn Bantock, who has been appointed Principal Conductor of the St Albans Symphony Orchestra (SASO) for its new season, jumped at the opportunity to take up the baton in the city he has chosen to make home:

“I was very pleased when the orchestra approached me because I had previously conducted a couple of repertoire sessions with them, which was a bit like going on a blind date. I was really impressed with the way the orchestra responded and thought at the time that I could really enjoy working with them,” he said.

“It turned out that the concert dates for 2010-11 fitted my existing schedule like a glove, so I had no hesitation in saying ‘yes’.”

Bjorn, 37, moved to St Albans with his pianist wife Hanja seven years ago as a “more normal, less noisy” alternative to London. They now have two small children, two-year old Neo and baby Finn; so he admits that the silence he needs to study orchestral scores is best achieved by retreating to a garden shed and donning industrial ear muffs. “It looks kind of weird, but it works!”

There is no other sense in which Bjorn leads a quiet life. In addition to his new engagement with SASO he is Principal Conductor of the London Chamber Strings and the Europa Ensemble. The many professional orchestras he works with around the world include the Northern Sinfonia, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Cape Town Philharmonic, the Johannesburg Philharmonic, the Royal Conservatoire of Music Orchestra in Copenhagen and Berlin’s Philharmonisches Kammerorchester. He is also known to local audiences through appearances with the Watford Philharmonic and the Hertfordshire Philharmonia, most recently conducting a ‘Film Score Spectacular’ in the Watford Colosseum, presented by the BBC’s Alasdair Malloy.

Great-grandson of the composer Sir Granville Bantock, Bjorn’s childhood was spent in South Africa, where he also studied music at Stellenbosch University. A talented ‘cellist, he won a four-year ABRSM International scholarship to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester and, after further study with Gregor Horsch, principal ‘cello of Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, a promising solo career lay ahead of him.

Fate decided otherwise ten years ago when a fall through a glass door caused permanent damage to the tendons in his left arm. In his own, matter-of-fact description: “One day I was playing and the next day I couldn’t.” Still able to teach ‘cello, he also resolved to become a conductor – a decision that led to more than four years’ study with Colin Metters (“my absolute guru”), the Principal Professor of Conducting at London’s Royal Academy.

Bjorn who succeeds James Ross, SASO’s conductor for the past nine years, will be launching the new season in St Saviour’s Church on October 16th with Dvorak’s much-loved ‘New World’ Symphony. “It’s one of the crossover pieces between classical and romantic music and a nice symbol of a new beginning,” he said.

He also promises a “really funky” New Year Family Concert in St Albans Abbey on January 1st that includes Bruch’s Violin Concerto (with soloist Ellie Fagg) and Tchaikovsky’s dramatic 1812 Overture ‘with cannons blazing’. A concert in March combining Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and the ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto will, he hopes become the start of a Beethoven cycle, leading to a performance in several years time of the composer’s mighty ‘Choral’ Symphony.

Other season highlights include performances of Rachmaninov’s popular Second Symphony and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for the St Albans Festival in June and the annual Children’s Concert, which will take place in May. Bjorn said: “I really want to expand the children’s concerts and build contacts with local schools. Classical music can be a life-changing experience and it’s so important that we are able to introduce children to their heritage in this way.”

For further information, contact:

David Utting (SASO Press Officer): 01727 762855 / 07930 313790