Friday, 14 October 2016

Article published in Manchester Evening News 14 October 2016

THE Hallé’s ‘Opus One’ concert programme this month (given on Wednesday, repeated Thursday and next Sunday) includes a magical work by Mozart – the Concerto for Flute and Harp.

It’s pretty well unique in the orchestral repertoire, and making its lovely sounds in these performances as soloists are two of the Hallé’s own players, principal flute Katherine Baker and principal harp Marie Leenhardt. Conductor is Gergely Madaras.

Katherine and Marie are both established, familiar and much-loved figures to Hallé audiences, after 12 years and 22 years with the orchestra, respectively. Both began playing when quite young.

“I started at 12, but it was really like a hobby for me until around 17 or 18,” says Marie. “Making the harp my career didn’t cross my mind until we moved house (she is French-born) and then I had a teacher who was training professional players.

“I actually wanted to be a surgeon when I was younger – but after a gap year from school I knew I wanted to be a musician. I’ve never regretted it.”
Katherine is the daughter of musical parents – her father, Julian, was principal horn with the
Hallé for seven years – and she learned the flute from the age of 10.

“My parents were very down-to-earth about the realities of being a musician, though,” she says. “I always wanted to be an orchestral player, and they’d say ‘You may never make it’” – but she went to London’s Royal Academy of Music and was with the BBC Welsh Symphony Orchestra before the Hallé.

It’s not the first time they’ve played the Mozart concerto together with the Hallé, but the first for some time. I asked how they go about preparing to be joint soloists.

“We rehearse together first,” says Marie – and Katherine chips in: “I do find it quite odd, because with a solo concerto you prepare completely on your own, of course. Then we play it through together with piano accompaniment.

“It’s almost like playing chamber music – but we’re doing it in front of the whole orchestra. And the conductor is supposed to adjust to what we want to do, isn’t he?”

Marie adds: “For me it’s easier when there’s a conductor there – then you have someone to relate to, because the orchestra is also part of the music.”

“And Gergely Madaras was previously a flautist himself,” Katherine says – “so he knows the piece really well!”

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