Music maker and shaker

Kitchen garden discussion. Alisdair Kitchen, left, explains how his love of music developed and how he approaches conducting and directing

AS: How did you discover that you were musically gifted?

AK: I wouldn’t say ‘gifted’. My parents thought it was a good idea for me to learn the piano, and, though they put no pressure on me, I began when I was about three and found myself quite good at it; I continued it through school but didn’t become really enthusiastic till I was about ten and then via the organ; I was a church chorister and was really impressed by the colossal sound of the organ but I gradually went back to the piano. In Croydon, where I lived, there was something called the Saturday Piano School, which was very strong and took young people on foreign tours; I was a keen participant.

AS: You then went on to the Royal College of Music; what influenced you there?

AK: I was lucky enough to have Nigel Clayton as my piano teacher for ten years and when I graduated [First Class Honours – AS], I had John Blakely for post-graduate work. He could employ just a few phrases to ‘shake out the creases’ to help you with your interpretation of any work, though he could also comment in as much detail as you could wish, too.

AS: How did opera and conducting come to you?

AK: In some ways opera is a more basic form of music than the very specialised fields of solo instrumental playing, for voices and dramatic. I thought about being an accompanist to singers but went on a Solti course in Italy and took to conducting, meeting David Syrus of the Royal Opera House. Berlioz is a favourite of mine.

AS: Pianist, chamber musician, conductor, director – how do you manage it all?

AK: With regard to opera, it’s easier in some ways to be in charge of all of it because it means there’s no real need to consult on matters that someone else is covering. When we did Cosi fan tutte at the festival in 2012, I conducted only and a great deal of time was spent in discussion with the director. There’s obviously a great deal of preparation, particularly of difficult parts and I try to approach the early rehearsals a bit like actors – my girlfriend is an actress – as rather like a first read-through of a play. Fortunately, I’m a pretty calm person and don’t waste time and energy getting angry if things don’t go well; you’ve got to remember that players and singers are not first oboe or one of the choir but people. Singers especially like to emphasise – emote – on especially significant notes and why not? I also very much like orchestral concerts and really enjoyed our Mozart, Mendelssohn and Beethoven with Tamsin Waley-Cohen at last year’s festival.

AS: What do you do to relax?

AK: I like baking and I’m very interested in digital and IT techniques though much of that takes me back to music via recordings. It’s no secret that music and maths’ science seem closely related and though it’s hard to explain, differing weights of sound seem to distort time in music and this seems to me to be connected to relativity theory.

AS: How do you find Rye and the festival?

AK: This is my fourth year here and I really like coming; the festival is well-known though not as well known as some which don’t have such a high standard of musical performance as Rye does.

La Traviata will be performed on Saturday September 16 at Rye’s Milligan Theatre. For details visit the festival website where you can book tickets.