LPO Player Playlists: Kate Birchall

LPO Second Violinist Kate Birchall has chosen music which has inspired and moved her throughout her musical life. She takes us from her first orchestral experiences with youth orchestras, through her time as a music student, to working as a freelance musician and finally to her membership of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The tracks selected include music for solo violin by Bach, string quartets by Janáček and Schubert, concertos by Prokofiev and Ravel, pop music by Neil Hannon, opera by Tchaikovsky and Wagner and orchestral works by Bartók, Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. Her playlist ranges from Bach to Bartók in just 20 tracks.

Kate Birchall

'My favourite composer is Bach and it’s somewhat ironic that I never play his music myself professionally. One of the great pleasures of touring with the LPO is to listen to violinist Christian Tetzlaff play movements from the unaccompanied sonatas and partitas which he invariably does as an encore. Here he is playing the Andante from the Sonata No. 2 in A minor in which the violinist is required to play a melody and accompaniment simultaneously, a wonderful example of Bach’s polyphonic violin writing.

I was lucky to be exposed to so much of Bach’s choral music whilst reading music at Cambridge. The St Matthew Passion is without rival in my opinion and I’ve selected ‘Erbame dich’ for the beautiful interplay of violin and voice.

The opportunity to perform Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 with the university orchestra was a highlight of my time there and I’ve chosen the slow movement, alongside excerpts from his Romeo and Juliet: Dance of the Knights, Love Dance, Death of Juliet. The ballet was written in the same year as the Concerto, and I remember listening to it over and over again to help find the characters and colours I was looking for in the Concerto. 

Just after I left the Royal Academy of Music the focus of my work was with the Killian String Quartet and I remember going into a dark and dingy music shop in the narrow streets of Prague and triumphantly coming out with the parts to the string quartets of Janáček for next to nothing. We went on to learn the Quartet No. 2: ‘Intimate letters’ from which I’ve included the third movement.

One of the first operas I played at Glyndebourne Festival Opera was Janáček’s Jenůfa with its searing intensity, whilst on the concert platform his Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass remain firm favourites. Here is the movement Svet from the Glagolitic Mass conducted by Kurt Masur.

My love of Schubert also dates from this time and I’ve included a movement each from his Death and the Maiden quartet and his Quintet in C, both played by the Belcea Quartet for whom I make the pilgrimage to the Wigmore Hall whenever I can.

Growing up in Liverpool:

I grew up in Liverpool and, as I went to an all girls’ school, the Merseyside Youth Orchestra not only provided a rich musical experience but it also had boys … The music of Tchaikovsky was a potent soundtrack to teenage hormones and alongside the ubiquitous Symphony No. 5, I remember being blown away by the excitement of the Romeo and Juliet Overture heard here.

I first played highlights from Eugene Onegin as a member of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales while accompanying singers for the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, but I only recently had the luxury of learning the whole score under the baton of Omer Meir Wellber at Glyndebourne. Here we go straight into the drama at Act 2 Scene 2: Introduction, scene & aria and Lensky’s aria.

I want to include a fellow Russian at this point as I think that Mussorgsky is often underrated. His Songs & Dances of Death, orchestrated by Shostakovitch, are extraordinary and, as you can hear in the final song, ‘Field Marshal’, Dmitri Hvorostovsky, has the perfect voice for them.

A brief career as a pop artist:

I had a brief career as a pop artist with the Divine Comedy, recording two albums and touring the UK, culminating at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and France. Life on a tour bus was rather topsy turvy as the number of roundabouts in the UK made sleep impossible. We finished by playing live on TFI Friday which was quite an experience, though I’m still not quite sure what my grandmother made of Chris Evans … Here is ‘Generation Sex’ which was released as a single as well as on the album Fin de Siècle.

The years I spent with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain were hugely formative and it was after performing the third act of Die Walküre with Sir Mark Elder at the BBC Proms that I decided I wanted to become an orchestral musician. I’d never worked with opera singers before and I couldn’t believe the sheer volume of sound that came from the eight women at that first rehearsal. I’ve chosen the very beginning of the act, the orchestral showpiece The Ride of the Valkyries.

Another extraordinary Wagner experience followed years later when I played Tristan und Isolde with Jiří Bělohlávek conducting and Nina Stemme in the title role both at Glyndebourne and Baden-Baden. The latter opera house has an extremely shallow and broad pit so I was able to see the stunning production by Nikolaus Lehnhoff whilst playing. Here is the culmination of the opera: Isolde’s Liebestod.

So much music and so few tracks left … I’ll just squeeze in the first movement from Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2, the slow movement from Ravel’s Piano concerto No. 2 in G and the finale from Bartók’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta.'

Have a listen to Kate's playlist:



You can read more about Kate Birchall here.

 Kate's chair is generously supported by David and Victoria Graham Fuller.