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"Music is class blind, talent is class blind"

Friday 14 June 2019

"Music is class blind, talent is class blind"

One of Britain's "most distinguished conductors" plans to shatter class barriers and help more local children enjoy classical music as he takes the reins of Jersey's largest orchestra.

The comments came from Hilary Davan Wetton, the Artistic Director of the City of London Choir and Associate Conductor of the London Mozart Players - and now the Jersey Symphony Orchestra's (JSO) new musical director.

Express met the man who wants to stop the "scandal" of lower income backgrounds being unable to enjoy classical music, and help everyone to access and appreciate it...

Over his 50-year career, Mr Wetton has been particularly admired for his interpretations of twentieth-century British music, conducting many first performances for British composers.

He frequently appears as a guest conductor with choirs and orchestras in the UK and overseas, which is what led him last summer to perform with the JSO.

He came over to cover for a friend, who had just been offered “a job he couldn’t refuse” in China. It wasn't his first trip to the island either, having previously performed in the island in the 1990s with Milton Keynes City Orchestra, where he was Principal Conductor from 1975 to 2007. 


Pictured: Mr Wetton performed with the Orchestra last summer.

He enjoyed last year’s visit so much - “I had an absolutely lovely time, I very much liked the people I met” – that he agreed to take on role of Musical Director, much to the delight of JSO, which hasn’t had one in three years.

“It’s an exciting role,” Mr Wetton said, adding that he has already been researching future concerts.

He went on to praise the “wonderful model” of the JSO, who he says is very close to “professional standard” and “miles above the average amateur group.” Mr Wetton said the make-up of the “community orchestra” - which includes a third of professional performers from the UK, a third of local performers and a third of students returning from university or amateurs with a passion for music - provides a lovely mix.

But according to the newly appointed musical director, the JSO also has other strengths, including its hospitality. “The professional performers are made to feel loved and looked after, they love to come here,” he said.

Hilary Davan Wetton

Pictured: Mr Wetton says the JSO is very close to “professional standard” and “above the average amateur group.” (Roger Way)

In fact, Mr Wetton even expresses preference for the JSO's model over the British Orchestra in terms of rehearsals, as the latter only allows for one three-hour rehearsal on the day of the concert.

“With the JSO, we have four evenings of rehearsals before the concert, plus one on the day,” he explained.

“It gives more time to explore the music, to go beneath the surface of notes and the meaning of the music. It’s really significant. One rehearsal is not enough, there’s a process to get to know the music and the players well, to find out what the music is trying to do.”

“Audiences in Jersey are lucky. What they hear is a very long gestation process by musical standards,” Mr Wetton added. “I want to maximise that by doing a repertoire that is very interesting.” 

Hilary Davan Wetton

Pictured: The new musical director wants the JSO to remain “deeply involved in the community.” (Roger Way)

Mr Wetton also has big plans for the orchestra, which he wants to remain “deeply involved in the community.”

Ahead of his first concert with JSO as musical director on 3 August, he has made contact with Dr Graham Cox of the Jersey Music Service to discuss areas of collaboration. He is planning on giving concerts in primary schools and to encourage children to play an active role and prepare the material beforehand, in the same vein as the Classical Roadshow in the UK.

Above all, however, Mr Wetton hopes to convince people that classical music is not something only “the relatively affluent middle-aged” people love.

“That is nonsense! Music is class blind, talent is class blind,” he said. “Anything that can’t be measured easily has disappeared, which is terrible for the less well-off, who are the most deprived. It’s a total scandal!”

Hilary Davan Wetton

Pictured: Mr Wetton says classical music takes a little more time to get to know but that its rewards are far great than any other genre's. (Clive Barda)

Discussing the opinion held by some that classical music has no benefit, Mr Wetton says: “That is not true, I have so much experience of how much music can change people’s lives.”

The musical director says people need to have a little more patience when it comes to the genre.

“Come with your eyes and hearts open,” he said. “If you want to see if classical music has something to say to you, you have to go to at least three concerts. Really good music takes time to get to know. People just need to have a little patience. The level of reward is greater than with any other music.

"It takes a little bit longer but it’s worth it.”

Pictured top: Mr Wetton, Jersey Symphony Orchestra's new Musical Director. (Filskifoto)

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