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Volume 13 - Issue 1 - September 2007

Richard Bradshaw

Richard Bradshaw revisiteda reprint of our interview from April 2005by Pamela Margles'I had an amusing experience with Rossini the other day,' RichardBradshaw told me during an interview in early 2005. 'I was driving inmy car and I switched on the radio to see whether I was going to beable to get on the Gardiner Expressway. The overture to The Barberof Seville was playing. I listened, and I thought, 'Hmmm, I wonderwho 's conducting, because it's an exciting performance. ' When theygot to the end, which I take twice as fast, I knew it was me. So, eventhough I hadn't recognized myself, I thought it was quite good - and Idon't always think that when I hear myself. 'Bradshaw, who died suddenly in August of a heart attack atjust sixty-three years of age, was undoubtedly more than "quite good"as a conductor. In fact, over the course of his eighteen years in Toronto,conducting more than sixty operas, he became a great conductor.Because he accomplished so much else, and because he conductedso frequently here, it 's easy enough to take his conducting forgranted.He knew every aspect of what it took to put an opera on thestage. He knew orchestras, he knew choirs, and he knew singers. Heeven knew staging. Even though the work he put into building the newopera house is done, it will require more than a single person to replacehim at the Canadian Opera Company. But the most difficult roleto fill, undoubtedly, will be that of Bradshaw the conductor.As I talked to Bradshaw in the spring of 2005, it became clearjust how much conducting dominated everything he did. We alreadyknew from his performances, like Oedipus Rex, Pelleas etMelisande and Bluebeard's Castle that he could do wonderfulthings. But during this past season, when Bradshaw conducted anunforgettable Ring Cycle, and riveting performances of Lady Macbethof Mtsensk, Luisa Miller and, especially, Elektra in his newopera house, he gave us performances of true greatness.To celebrate Bradshaw, we offer this interview, originallypublished in WholeNote in April 2005, again.RICHARD BRADSHAW, GENERAL DIRECTOR of the CanadianOpera Company, is in the midst of a 'mini-crisis' , he calmly informsme at the beginning of our February 2005 interview in his office. Thesoprano for the upcoming production of Il Trovatore, starting rehearsalsin three days, is ill. He and his staff are scouting around fora Leonora available on such short notice. But it's not an easy role tofill at best.This is nothing compared to the series of crises, mainly dealingwith government funding and building the new hall, that Bradshawhas dealt with since he arrived here sixteen years ago as Chief Conductor.While funding issues persist, problems with the unwieldyHummingbird Centre have, after extraordinary complications anddelays, been resolved, and The Four Seasons Centre is finally goingup at the corner of Queen and University.If it is impressive that Bradshaw has managed all the while toproduce increasingly exciting seasons of opera productions, it's ratherremarkable that he has stuck it out at all.. Brads_haw is a tall , robust-looking Englishman with a speakingv01ce so mellifluous that he does the voice-overs for COC advertisements.He said, 'Once I'd committed to the opera house, I had a lotof people behind me . Of course there's all this nonsense about beingpromised government funding and not getting it. But after a certainpoint I did have to be here until I'd done what I started to do. I don'tthink it could be anything I could live with otherwise.''A lot has to do with building something which is bigger thanlast night's performance. Building a company that will go on after me- that' s satisfying. This is a terrific place to be, and I have an extraordinaryteam of people that would take a very long time to buildelsewhere. I happen to like Toronto. So it wasn't very hard to stay .People always think that the grass is greener somewhere else - andthat' s not necessarily true. ''I've done anawful lot of guest conducting.I'd be on theroad for ten months ayear. Of course I stillgo here and there -sometimes it's for theparticular company,but quite often it's forthe piece, particularlywith orchestral repertoire.If it's a Mahlersymphony, I' II probablytake it. 'Bradshaw rebuiltthe COC orchestra,recently describedby the New YorkTimes as 'top-of-theline',then brought itout of the pit to showcaseit in an ongoingseries of concerts.Asked what he's done to create such a vibrant, committed ensemble,Bradshaw says, 'What they've done. A lot of the players stuck inthere - with lousy pay - because they believed in the new operah?use. ~here's a considerable amount of shared responsibility', especiallywith concertmaster Marie Berard and first cellist Brian Epperson.Bradshaw waves his arm as if conducting. 'When I do that, you don'the~r anything. Conducting is a very interesting process, far too mystenousto understand. I don't know why the musicians work for oneperson and not another equally musical. Why do eighty people, highlytrained musicians who went into this business thinking they weregoing to be soloists or chamber musicians, and who have lots of goodideas of how you play a particular passage -why do they want to worktogether? ' Although running the company and building the newhall demand so much energy, Bradshaw is primarily a conductor. InToronto alone he conducts four of the seven opera productions thisyear, along with the COC orchestral concerts, and the student orchestraat the Glenn Gould Professional School in The Royal Conservatoryof Music. And he is in demand as guest conductor throughoutthe world.'I always wanted to be a conductor - for whatever reasonthat was what I was passionate about'. His first paying job was a~ anorganist when he was twelve . 'I was quite good. But they didn' t giveme the choir to conduct. I always longed for the conductor to be awayso I could direct the choir. At school I was always persuading them tolet me conduct the school orchestra'. When he was fifteen he joinedthe National Youth Orchestra as a flute player. ' I wasn't much goodbut I played it because the head of music at my school said, "Ifyou ' re going to be a conductor, you should play an orchestral instrument."'After he took a conducting course with Adrian Boult, therevered British conductor gave Bradshaw a copy of his handbook onconducting. 'He wrote in it, "If you would like to come and see me inLondon with your scores, I shan't charge for an instrument that's notthere." And that's what I did. I studied conducting, organ, and piano.But because my father - probably wisely - insisted I get a degree inso1!1ething el_se , I read English at the University of London. I was gladI did something other than music, instead of competing with all thosewhiz kids concerned about winning competitions and being top in theirclass. By starting on the outside, it's easier to achieve a perspective.''I was lucky that when I was just twelve or thirteen, a nearbycompany lost th~ir pianist during rehearsal of The Barber of Seville,and someone said I could do it. I had to learn it in two days. Thatstood me in great stead because when I arrived in London, one of thesmaller opera companies needed a pianist for Barber, and that startedme off. So while I was a student I played a lot of rehearsals as apianist and harpsichordist. 'CONTINUES ON PAGE 1614 WWW, THEWHOLEN OTE,COM S EPTE M BER 1 - O CTOBER 7 2007Back to Ad Index

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