After more than a quarter of a century conducting classically trained musicians, Barry Wordsworth tells ADRIAN IMMS about his time with the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra and what the group is doing to make sure audiences continue to pack out their concerts THE figurehead of a popular orchestra is hanging up his baton after 26 years at the helm.

Barry Wordsworth, the music director and principal conductor of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra (BPO), will become the organisation’s first conductor laureate in the process.

Mr Wordsworth, who celebrated his 200th performance with the BPO last March, has been principal conductor since 1989.

Originally from Surrey, he has become one of the most popular and well respected conductors in the business.

He told The Argus: “It’s a long time for a conductor to be with one orchestra and I’m now 67.

“At the same time I will move sideways so there will be a music directorship to fill.

“I still love to conduct but these things are better with somebody younger and with a longer future.”

As for the role of conductor laureate, he compared it to becoming life president of a football club, where the day-to-day running is handed over to someone else.

However, he said he would still do two or three concerts a season.

He said the football analogy extends to explaining why, in the modern age, people should still go to the orchestra.

He said: “Some football teams are better than others but it’s that feeling of ownership.

“I’m not trying to say that any orchestra is better than another but it’s that engagement.

“We listen to music in all sorts of ways and that’s wonderful because it has enlarged our audience and made it more knowledgeable but one must never lose sight of the fact that orchestras are a social event.

“It’s a chance for music players to get together and talk about it.

“All these things do not really happen if you are just sitting at home in an armchair.

“It’s the live music-making that’s the important part.

“Records, Classic FM and Radio 3, all these things help us get music to the general public.

“You try to encourage them to have a bite of the apple.”

He added: “I’m sure people watch all sorts of sport but if they would go to a live match, they would realise how exciting it is.

“They may not like it but at least they have tried.”

Most would admit the biggest issue facing orchestras is falling attendances, in part due to people getting their music elsewhere. But there is also a perception that classical music fills an arts niche rather than a part of the general spectrum.

He added: “When I was young there was this feeling that music was just for the elite but it’s for everybody.

“The challenge is getting the mix right. It’s a question of being in touch with your audience and listening.

“We are really developing our outreach work. We tend to program works which are on the GCSE syllabus.

“We have been doing a lot of work to make sure people’s enthusiasm is red hot.”

But how do people get involved in what can be an intimidating genre?

“I think everybody should choose music to start with that immediately appeals to them.

“Getting inside musical repertoire is a journey and you start from the place where you are most comfortable and then you branch out.

“I try to choose pieces that I really feel the audience will love.”

Sunday will be his final performance with the BPI at the Dome Concert Hall.

Speaking about the first piece which will be played, Fantaisie Espagnole by Lord Berners, he said: “It’s good fun and everyone will get it.”

Other works in this Sunday’s performance include The Planets by Gustav Holst.

On the programme, he said: “When we chose it we hadn’t finalised my move.

“Even if I had known about this the other way around, I might well have chosen this programme anyway.”

But he does not initially like everything he tries out.

On working on a piece for the BPO’s next season, called The Age Of Anxiety by Leonard Bernstein (a piece where piano takes the lead), he said: “When I first started it I didn’t particularly like it but after a while I thought, God this is a really great piece of music.”

He is not averse to playing a piece twice, either, providing it is not too long.

On the BPO’s standing among other orchestras, he said: “The BPO is what you might call a freelance orchestra.

“You see the same faces on the platform – all orchestras have different personalities.

“The players feel a very direct connection with the audience and that’s very special for them.”

He said the important thing was to keep the orchestra going while keeping the standard up, adding: “I have enjoyed every second of my life in the musical profession.”

However, a question mark remains over who will replace Mr Wordsworth.

A BPO spokeswoman said: “We are not rushing into appointing a successor as it is very important to find the right person.

“The last two times this happened it was about two years between one stepping down and another taking over.”

Next concert

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra’s 90th season ends on Sunday, March 22, at 2.45pm at the Brighton Dome Concert Hall, conducted by Barry Wordsworth in a programme featuring: Lord Berners’ Fantaisie Espagnole Walton’s Cello Concerto, Holst’s The Planets Tickets are £11-£35.

There is a pre-concert interview between Peter Back and Raphael Wallfisch in the Dome at 1.45pm. Tickets are £3.50. For tickets go to the Brighton Dome Ticket Office, call 01273 709709 or visit: brightondome.orgThere is a 50% discount for students.

Barry’s favourite things

Piece of music – The Song Of The Earth by Gustav Mahler Orchestra – Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra Venue – Sapporro Concert Hall, Hokkaido, Japan (because of the design and acoustic quality).

Composer (living) – Mark Anthony Turnage Composer (dead) – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (because of “the quality and quantity of his invention. He encompasses the entire gamut of human emotion”) Conductor (living) – Bernard Haitink Conductor (dead) – Carlos Kleiber Free time - A lovely meal with good friends after a concert.

Barry’s other achievements

Barry Wordsworth is Music Director of the Royal Ballet Covent Garden, having also previously held the position from 1990 to 1995.

In 2006 he became Conductor Laureate of the BBC Concert Orchestra, having served as its Principal Conductor since 1989. He is also Music Director and Principal Conductor of the Brighton Philharmonic, and Music Director Laureate of the Birmingham Royal Ballet.

He has appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras both in the UK and overseas. In a long and distinguished career with the BBC, he has made many appearances at the BBC Proms, and in 1993 he conducted the Last Night of the Proms with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to his concert career, he enjoyed a close association with the Royal Ballet in London and, in recent years, has also conducted ballet productions across the world.

BPO History

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra was formed by Herbert Menges in May 1925 as the Symphonic String Players initially in Hove Town Hall.

By 1928 it moved into the Brighton Dome Concert Hall.

Menges remained as principal conductor and, in 1932, Sir Thomas Beecham was appointed as the orchestra’s first president, a position later held by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.

In 1972, after 47 years as principal conductor and having conducted more than 300 concerts, Herbert Menges died at the age of 69.

His successor was John Carewe, whose first concert as Principal Conductor marked the start of the orchestra’s 50th anniversary season.

In 1989 Barry Wordsworth was appointed as only the third principal conductor in the BPO’s history. His tenure has been marked by performances of both well-known and more unfamiliar works together with a roster of accomplished and distinguished soloists.

In 1999 the Dome closed for refurbishment and the BPO returned temporarily to Hove Town Hall and gave a series of Mozart Piano Concerto concerts in the Theatre Royal Brighton.

In 2002 the Dome re-opened, since which time more than 138,000 tickets have been sold for BPO concerts Last season’s young soloist from the Yehudi Menuhin School, William Dutton, won the string section of BBC’s Young Musician 2014.

The BPO attracts players from around the country, many of whom regularly work with some of the best-known orchestras in the world.