Do you remember the first time you saw an orchestra live? Read Stewart McIlwham’s story

Every year the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s schools’ concerts allow over 16,000 young people to see the Orchestra live. Six out of ten children attending the concerts will be experiencing an Orchestra for the very first time. Our musicians have been sharing their first experiences of seeing a live orchestra. Here is our Principal Piccolo Stewart McIlwham’s story ...

'Being born into a musical family my journey into music was probably more straightforward than most. My Father was a flautist and Principal Piccolo of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for over 30 years. This afforded me easy access to live music and musical instruments.

Like so many things that are presented on a plate I was initially not that interested in classical music. Like most small boys growing up in 1970's Scotland I was into football and pop music. My brother initially started learning the flute but gave up after less than a year. I was 8 when I thought I would have a go at the piccolo.

I seemed to hit it off very quickly with this little instrument that nobody else wanted to play. I joined a local wind band and played my way through a wide variety of music every Saturday morning.

I had been to a few of my Dad's concerts previous to this but it was only when I started to learn the flute and piccolo that I really became interested in the world of classical orchestral music. When I went to concerts I now had a real connection to what I was listening to. The world of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Ravel, Debussy and Mahler suddenly opened up in front of me. I remember hearing Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring live for the first time. Simon Rattle (then the BBC Scottish's Assistant Conductor!) performed in the City Halls Glasgow and the impact of the evening was overwhelming. Hearing the kaleidoscope of sound live had an impact that made me decide what I wanted to do with my life. From the Strathclyde Schools Symphony Orchestra, the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland and Great Britain to the then European Community Youth Orchestra my journey ultimately to the London Philharmonic was formed.

I know my access to all of this was more privileged than most which is why I feel it is of the utmost importance for the London Philharmonic to continue to offer the opportunity for young people to experience the thrill of live music that I felt back in Glasgow all those years ago.

Our goal is to inspire the next generation of orchestral musicians and concert goers and to preserve the great treasure that is the world of orchestral classical music. It is with your help that we aim to secure this precious legacy for future generations.'

- Stewart McIlwham, Principal Piccolo

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Stewart McIlwham