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Profile: Crispin Ward, composer, conductor, university lecturer

09/09/2020

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I grew up in a musical family; my father, now retired, was an opera singer so I pretty much know most of the major opera repertoire. I remember that when I was young I used to sneak down after bedtime and sit at the bottom step and listen to music being played on my parent’s stereo, in particular I recall Mozart’s Magic Flute, Verdi’s Requiem and Beethoven’s Fidelio.

When I went to school there was government support for music education, something sadly lacking now. There were free instrumental lessons in school and I started on a tenor horn. My teacher Graham Johnson was inspirational and he encouraged me to join all the local county bands. This opportunity is being denied our children now with only the wealthy being supported in this way.

When I was a senior at the Royal College of Music I was encouraged to take up conducting and my teacher, Christopher Adey was an absolute inspiration. I copied his style so closely my friends used to call me Little Chris.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

There seem to be three main challenges for me. One is to try to put self-doubt behind me and ignore the negative comments from others whilst still striving to constantly improve.

The second is a lack of a clear career path: it is sometimes a challenge to decide which way to go, which direction to take, when deciding what to do next. Each concert is often a self-contained entity and each might, or might not, lead to something else. It is always difficult to know which jobs to take and which to leave alone.

The third challenge is trying to persuade people that this is the way that I, and my colleagues, make our living. Although I love my job, it is not my hobby.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Music has taken me all over the world and introduced me to princes, presidents and celebrities. It has given me friendship and allowed me to contribute to the lives of others. One thing I have noticed about working in this field is that those musicians at the very top of the profession are almost all really very nice people.

How would you describe your musical language?

I am what some might describe as classically trained. This misnomer is a really loose term but I think it describes what I do. I am absolutely not a musical snob and I enjoy many forms of music but I am only really any good at one type. The composers with which I am most at home would be Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich and Weinberg. I wanted to be able to play the piano like Oscar Peterson but I really can’t, other priorities got in the way and I didn’t practice my jazz piano enough.

How do you work?

When I am composing I follow the brief. If it is a commission, what do they want? Who is the soloist and how do they play? If it is film music, then what does the director want an audience to feel at any given moment?

The actual composing is done in my head and I write the melodies and harmonies down on manuscript paper (the old fashioned way) with notes to myself as to structure, I then put it onto a computer program. I use Sibelius notation software. If the client needs to listen to it then I use a programme called Logic with a virtual orchestra from Spitfire Audio called BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

I am proud of a very few things.
I am proud of my French Horn playing in Mozart’s Magic Flute with William Christie and Les Arts Florissants.
I am really proud of the education project I developed in Moldova which tripled the salaries of the musicians whilst reaching many thousands of school children in the poorest country in Europe.
I am really pleased with my new score to the black and white silent film Battleship Potemkin which I have just finished.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Beethoven.

Which works do you think you perform best? Why?

Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony and Shostakovich’s 5th Symphony because I am sure I understand what they are feeling.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

I took Messiah to Chisinau (Moldova) – neither the musicians nor the audience had ever heard it before. There used to be a tradition that the audience would stand during the Hallelujah Chorus (it was said that King George stood at the first performance, as he said that he felt the presence of God, so everyone stood from then on). This tradition died out in around the 1960s. The chorus is the end of the second part (of three) and the audience in Chisinau had a translation in their programmes, however when the Hallelujah was about halfway through people started to stand up. At the end they were completely out of control, clapping and screaming, and stormed the stage. It took us a while to calm them down but at the end of the Amen chorus they erupted once again.

Also playing the French horn in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder in Berlin with Abbado, Norman, Sukova, Langridge et al when I was 23 was simply amazing. To this day I meet people who played this concert and we all still remember it with pleasure.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Only become a professional musician if it is the ONLY thing you could imagine yourself doing. It is full time!!!

How would you define success as a musician?

I will let you know, I have yet to meet anyone who really feels as if they have truly made it.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

I am writing my PhD and am trying to improve my Russian.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

In no particular order but combinations of…. family, beer, food, mates, the pub, walks, good music, cricket, rugby, London Irish winning/Harlequins losing (a very good day when both happen on the same day), the novels of Rex Stout.

Crispin Ward studied conducting for four years at the Royal College of Music. He has worked with many inspirational musicians such as Claudio Abbado, Zubin Meta, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovitch, Bill Christie, Leonard Bernstein, George Solti and Ravi Shankar.

For four years he gained British Foreign Office sponsorship that supported his efforts as the artistic director of the National Chamber Orchestra of Moldova. This involved conducting this, and other orchestras, in Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Bucharest, Tver, and around the former Eastern Bloc.

Whilst working in Moldova, he instigated and sourced funding for a music education project with the orchestra. This involved over two hundred performances in schools to some 12,000 children, was backed up with considerable resources for teachers and tripled the salaries of the orchestral players. It has generated a huge interest from amongst the pupils and it receives many letters of thanks on a daily basis.

As a result of his extremely successful work in the whole sphere of Moldovan music, Crispin received the title of Om Emerit in Republica Moldova from President Vladimir Voronin. This is the highest award that a foreign national can receive and is the equivalent of a British Honorary Knighthood. Last year Mr Ward was given full Moldovan citizenship and a Moldovan passport in recognition of his continuing success in developing Moldovan musical excellence and East/West relations.

Crispin is Head of Orchestral Studies at the University of Chichester, which boasts the second-largest music department of any university in the UK.

Visit his website for further info.

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