Interview: London Contemporary Orchestra’s Hugh Brunt, on Portsmouth Festivities

The London Contemporary Orchestra perform the Portsmouth Festivities opening gala concert at Portsmouth Cathedral on Friday 17th June.

I spoke to LCO’s co-Artistic Director and Principal Conductor about his passion for what he does, and excitement for the forthcoming Portsmouth Festivities concert.


How did you get into conducting, and how did you come to be co-Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for the LCO?

I met co-Artistic Director Robert Ames when we were 17/18 in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain – it was around then that we were both developing an interest in conducting.

We headed off to university/music college and towards the end of our degrees thought it would be a good idea to bring together many of our friends from NYO days, who were passionate about contemporary music, to start a new ensemble.

So, we staged our inaugural season at LSO St. Luke’s in 2008 and here we are eight years later!


What does it take to be a great conductor, and what is the role of the conductor?

In essence, the conductor is responsible for directing the musical rehearsals and performance — on a basic level, this means setting the tempo/pace of a work, cueing entries from the players, balancing dynamics within the orchestra and in response to the acoustic of the performance space, and beyond that, building a narrative for a work and ‘telling’ a story through his/her interpretation.

The conductor does all of this often without using many words in rehearsal, and of course through just their eyes, gestures, and body language in a performance. The greatest conductors, in my opinion, can encourage an orchestra of 100-odd players to breathe and listen like an expanded chamber group.

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What sets aside a contemporary orchestra from a more traditional one?

In terms of the LCO, we look to be ‘contemporary’ in many senses, chiefly in what music we programme and how we present it.

For example, this means: we collaborate with artists and organisations from other cultural spheres such as Boiler Room, Actress, Secret Cinema, and Radiohead; that the orchestra is ever augmenting and diminishing in size depending on the scale of the project; and that we’re as likely to be found performing at Latitude Festival or in the disused Aldwych Underground station as we are in the Barbican or Royal Festival Hall. It’s simply about the music, artists, and spaces that most excite us.


What can audiences expect from the performance at Portsmouth Cathedral?

We hope we’ll offer the audience an interesting snapshot of the music that feels most important to the LCO in 2016.

There are pieces from two composers often associated with their work both in film and away from the ‘classical’ world, Jonny Greenwood and Mica Levi; electronic and acoustic pieces by two of the most vital and visionary sound artists of the 20th century, Jonathan Harvey and Pauline Oliveros; a work commissioned recently from the LCO’s Composer-in-Association, Edmund Finnis; a beautiful and intense exploration of string sonority from Berlin-based musician Catherine Lamb; and finally, Claude Vivier’s Zipangu.

That final 16-minute piece was inspired by Vivier’s travels to Asia in 1976 (Zipangu being the name given to Japan by Marco Polo) and comprises 13 solo strings positioned antiphonally. It spins out a single grand melodic statement which is coloured and blurred extensively through various techniques suggestive of electronic effects, like the granular white noise crunch created from exaggerated bow pressure.

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You’ve been working with young people from Portsmouth Grammar School — why do you feel it’s important to keep young people engaged with orchestral and classical music?

In short, the best and most engaging live classical music-making has the ability to stimulate the imagination and spark individual and collective creativity.

We’re really looking forward to being joined by the talented Year 10 musicians from PGS for Pauline Oliveros’ Rock Piece, the performance of which will be inspired by the architecture and acoustics of Portsmouth Cathedral. Rock Piece is a work rooted in the Deep Listening movement that seeks to explore a way of hearing in which we, as performers, are fully engaged with what is happening in that moment without looking to judge or control it.

London Contemporary Orchestra’s opening gala concert takes place from 8:00pm through 9:45pm at Portsmouth Cathedral.

The Royal Naval Club and Royal Albert Yacht Club just around the corner will offer a pre-concert one-course hot buffet from 6:15pm to 7:30pm. Tables must be booked by Wednesday 15th June by emailing, being sure to include details of any dietary requirements.

Concert tickets are £22.00, with £18.00 concessions. Concert and meal tickets are £33.00, with £24.00 concessions. Book online now »

This concert forms part of the Portsmouth Festivities 2016 programme. See all of the Portsmouth Festivities 2016 events here on Team Locals »