Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra conductor marks 40 years

Michael Stefan Wood celebrates 40 years as principal conductor of Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra with a special concert on May 14 at 7.30pm at St Andrews Church, Junction Road, Burgess Hill.

Michael Stefan Wood
Michael Stefan Wood

The programme will include Khachaturian – Adagio from Spartacus; Wagner – Tannhäuser Overture; Saint-Saëns – Cello Concerto; and Beethoven – Symphony No 5: a fine way to mark Michael’s four decades in charge.

“I feel very proud. Being a conductor is a wonderful privilege because you are sharing wonderful music with people but also you are learning about that music. You’re going inside that music and learning what the composer was trying to do and what he was trying to convey which is down to interpretation to some extent. But it is an organic process and it is constantly changing, and working in a creative way with an orchestra as your instrument is just wonderful.

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“But above all it has been fantastic to be working with such lovely people that are so enthusiastic and so keen to play, and also over the years we have also built up a really good audience to support us.”

Also gratifying is the fact that in the past couple of years the orchestra has shown its strength by surviving the pandemic: “And the lovely thing is that we are growing all the time. Since we’ve been back to live performances we’ve had six or seven new members joining us which is great.”

The world has changed hugely since Michael’s first concert as conductor of Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra in May 1982. As he says Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister back then and the Falklands War was happening: “It does seem a long time ago in many ways and really it has covered the majority of my working life.”

It’s a record of service even more impressive when you look at the statistics that Michael has drawn up.

“I have conducted 96 concerts with the orchestra and we have done 240 different works of which 28 are overtures, 38 concertos and 55 symphonies, including all the Beethovens and all Brahms.

“In all I’ve conducted works by 85 different composers and their popularity in terms of our concert appearances are 12 by Brahms and Dvorak and Elgar; 14 by Wagner; 16 by Haydn and Tchaikovsky; 26 by Beethoven; and 44 by Mozart.

“I was a horn player and I had been playing horn for a while.

“And then I met a flautist that I knew in a chip shop by chance who said that there was a new orchestra starting in Burgess Hill and they were looking for horn players.

“I took my horn and my violin along and as I unpacked my horn, I noticed that there were two other players already so I put that back and got out my violin and sat down. And that was my first introduction to it.

“That was 1979 and it had been started by Stephen Evans who was just literally getting a group of musicians together.

“It was not a formal organisation and he was paying for everything himself so I said to him ‘Why don’t you set up a proper organisation with a constitution and with a committee to run it’, and that was what he and I did.

“I was the first chairman of it and Steve conducted from 1979 to 1982.

“He had various other projects and he also moved away from the area. He gave up in 1982 and in May 1982 I did my first concert as the new principal conductor.

“I had conducted schools orchestras and things like that but that was all, so it was a big leap of faith.

“I took to it but it was a lot of hard work.

“The orchestra is made up of some amateur musicians but also some very experienced ex-professionals.

“You’ve got a lot of people that are experienced at working with lots of conductors and some of them at a very high level and that was quite daunting standing up in front of a lot of very discerning people to start with!”

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