Welcome to the Orchestra

Ben takes up the position of LPO Principal Clarinet from September 2019. Born in Sydney, Australia, he was previously Principal Clarinet with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. We get to know Ben and find out a little about his life both on- and off-stage.

Welcome to the LPO, Ben! What have been your first impressions of the Orchestra during your period as a triallist for the Principal Clarinet position?

I felt very welcomed by all the friendly people right from the first day that I played with the LPO, which is always nice! Then I quickly grew to love the way this band plays: the LPO always plays very generously and expressively. I’m honoured to be able to join and keep developing my playing in this environment.

What part did music play in your life when you were growing up?

I was lucky to grow up in a household where there was an openness to different musical styles. Early sounds around me ranged from psychedelic rock or Italian opera, all the way to black metal! In the family car we had a cassette of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto that got jammed in the tape player for about ten years, so we could only listen to that on long car trips.

Which of the LPO’s autumn concerts are you most looking forward to?

Actually, my first two weeks with the band will be very special – Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony (27 September) and Strauss’s Alpine Symphony (2 October)! The Tchaikovsky was the first complete symphony I ever played when I was 16, so it still holds all of those strong memories of exploring powerful music with close friends for the first time. An Alpine Symphony is simply epic – one of those pieces where you feel humbled by your small contribution to this enormous orchestral machine.

Do you experience performance nerves before a concert and if so, how do you deal with them?

Actually, nerves tend to hit me hardest in the first rehearsal for a piece that I haven’t played before, but usually settle by the time the concert comes round. I like to practise Qi Gong during the half-hour before a gig starts: it’s a series of movements that promotes circulation through the body, and also makes my mind feel relaxed.

Had you not pursued a musical career, what might you have considered doing for a living instead?

I’d love to work in a kitchen. I have huge respect for the passion and skill level of many chefs. As a student I had a job making coffee in a fancy French restaurant. The chefs downstairs would regularly work 15-hour shifts, on minimum wage, and still be trying to better every plate they put out with a great spirit. Whenever I’m feeling tired at work I try and remember those colleagues.

Who are your musical heroes?

I don’t really have heroes in a ‘musical celebrity’ sense. I’m more inspired by my close friends (many of whom are musicians) and colleagues; I get to learn from their music-making and soak up their great personalities all the time, so I’m able to admire more about them than any famous recording artist.

Outside orchestral music, what are your musical interests?

I’m really fascinated by electronic music. When I’m not playing clarinet I write and produce this sort of music as a hobby, and also practise DJing at home. Building music like this is somehow more ‘literal’ – you’re manipulating sound signals on a computer rather than playing an instrument, but you’re still trying to create something that has aesthetic value. For me, the feeling of bass rattling through your chest on a huge sound system is powerful in the same way as a full orchestra going crazy!

What else do you get up to when you’re not working?

I spend far too much money on food – both eating out and cooking at home – but at the same time I can’t think of a more worthwhile way to become poor! I also play chess a lot, but I’m painfully aware of my low skill level and how much practice is required to be a threatening player.

What advice would you have for a young instrumentalist hoping to follow in your footsteps?

Try and lead a life that’s balanced, and allow yourself to have as many rich and eye-opening experiences outside of your instrument as possible – both musical and non-musical. I always feel most relaxed and confident on the clarinet when my mind is curious and open to other things, rather than obsessive and neurotic. Practising is important, but you can’t learn humility, empathy or any of the collegiate skills required of musicians by playing scales all day.