Profile: Nick Carpenter, clarinettist

Nick is playing Weber’s great Clarinet Concerto No 2 with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Chichester Festival Theatre on Friday 26 November. 

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

I started my formal musical education as a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London under the choirmaster Barry Rose. However, my introduction to the clarinet goes back to my earliest memories. My father, Raymond Carpenter, was Principal Clarinet with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra for nearly forty years, and provided the inspiration for my love of the clarinet as well as the enthusiasm and encouragement to start studying the instrument.

I’m from a musical family. My mother was a violinist in the BSO and they met in the Orchestra. Three out of four of my four siblings are involved with music to a greater or a lesser extent.

Following four years of study at the Royal College of Music, I was asked by the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, at very short notice, to play guest principal for the Glyndebourne Tour. What was to have been a 13-week assignment with that orchestra as principal clarinet became ten years. We toured all over the south and south-west of England performing in areas of England that had no other provision of high-quality, professional music. It was also during this time that I began to appear as guest-principal clarinet for orchestras in London.

In 1995 I joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra where I remained for the next eighteen years. I am fortunate enough to have played in most of the major concert halls of the world, under the baton of many of the world’s finest conductors of the last thirty years. I have appeared on countless recordings of works from the classical repertoire as well as many soundtracks including Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

In 2014, in an effort to explore other facets of my musicianship, I was appointed director of music at the Prebendal School in Chichester, the choir school for the cathedral educating the cathedral choristers. The school enjoys a very high standard of music, and it was an enormous challenge for me to go from life as an orchestral musician to being responsible for running the entire music department.

However, despite enjoying so many aspects of life within the school, after a couple of years at Prebendal I resigned my position as I felt that I was losing my connection to the clarinet.  After a brief period as a freelance musician, in 2017 I was invited to join the Welsh College of Music and Drama as Head of Woodwind where I remained until the very start of 2020. After the last eighteen months of the pandemic, it was a complete thrill to be asked to join the BBC Concert Orchestra as principal clarinet.

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

The pandemic was initially a dark time for me. Having left RWCMD in Jan 2020, before anyone had even heard of the word Coronavirus, I did not qualify for any form of income support. There was also the constant worry of what would be left post-pandemic of the music profession. I soon realised that the only thing in my control was how I played the clarinet and subsequently I invested an enormous amount of time in practising and was determined to emerge from the pandemic a better player than when I entered.

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

Orchestras are a collection of disparate personalities, who are somehow unified by the conductor. I’ve seen how working with a great conductor draws everyone together to produce a superb end result. I’ve been fascinated by this process – what are the different skills that a few conductors possess which gives them the ability to get everyone pulling in the same direction, within a short period of time? I’ve worked with many great conductors, possibly my favourite being Kurt Masur, who was principal conductor with the LPO for eight years.

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

As a musician with eclectic tastes, I don’t really have any favourite composers, though I’ll gladly play almost anything by Mahler, Beethoven, or John Adams. I sang Britten at St Paul’s and have played many of his operas at Glyndebourne; his War Requiem is an absolute favourite. There are one or two contemporary, avant-garde composers whose music I try to avoid, but I won’t mention their names here!

Recently I have appeared on several contemporary soundtracks such as ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them’ and ‘Captain Underpants’. A couple of weeks ago, recording highlights from ‘Twentieth Century Fox Musicals’ with the BBCCO was a complete joy.

Which performances are you most proud of?

I still very occasionally listen to my recording of the Mozart Clarinet Quintet with the Brindisi String Quartet, which was made in 1997.

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

My two sons are both studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, one as a classical trumpeter, the other as a jazz drummer, and they both love studying there.

One needs to recognise that whatever the difficulties musicians currently face, if you are doing some form of music degree at a UK Conservatoire or University, you will emerge with plenty of transferable life skills which are attractive to employers in many careers and walks of life – not just music. Skills such as being motivated and self-driven, being good at communicating and working as part of a team, really understanding about application and perseverance, being good at peer and self-appraisal…I could go on!

My two boys are fed up with hearing me say, “there is no substitute for hard work!” If you cannot practise for at least 3 -4 hours a day, you will soon discover fellow students and colleagues who can! You also must accept the need to learn and grow as a musician for the rest of your professional life – it is a never-ending journey!

How would you define success as a musician?
Striving to be the best musician you can be and enjoying the process.

Find out more about Nick at the link below. 

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