Interview

Meet Paul Murphy, Principal Conductor

Paul Murphy. Credit: photo: Lee Armstrong.

As Principal Conductor, Paul Murphy gets involved fairly early on in the process of making a new ballet.

“Our work begins as soon as we receive the orchestral score from the composer”, he explains. “We then set about a detailed study of the material and consult with the composer over any possible discrepancies in the music.

“In general, a choreographer will not want the conductor around in the studio until they have finished making the ballet. When this has finished, it will be time to link the various sections together and try to achieve a musical as well as a choreographic flow. Normally we would join rehearsals at this stage.

“The process involves us observing initially and consulting the pianists before conducting the rehearsals. During rehearsals we will discuss matters of tempi and pace with the choreographer/Director and the dancers.”

David Bintley is known for his genuine love and knowledge of all sorts of different music, and according to Paul this becomes all the more important whilst new work is being made.

“The composer/choreographer/conductor relationship is critical to the success of a new ballet. As far as the conductor is concerned, we rely on the choreographer allowing the music to have equal importance to the dance; in other words, not overloading the choreography with difficult steps that make it impossible for us to realise the composer’s intentions.

“Here at Birmingham Royal Ballet, we are blessed with a musical choreographer in David. I have conducted many premieres of David’s ballets and have always felt that not only is the music given equal weight, but that I have a considerable degree of freedom in the overall pacing; rare indeed!”

“British orchestral musicians are the most efficient in the world”

Paul Murphy, Principal Conductor

It is of course a great advantage to work with a living composer. Paul notes that during rehearsals for Cyrano (Davis’ other score for the Company) “Carl Davis was present at all of the rehearsals in London. Consequently, we were able to discuss the finer points of the score and as a result he made changes to articulations, dynamics, even to the orchestration in places. He was also receptive to suggestions from members of the orchestra and altered some of the material accordingly.”

The Orchestra under Paul’s direction is of course The Royal Ballet Sinfonia, who join proceedings at a much later stage than Paul does himself.

“British orchestral musicians are the most efficient in the world”, he says. “They assimilate new material very quickly and therefore do not require an overly extended rehearsal period. Normally for a new full-length ballet, we have between four and six rehearsals, depending on the complexity of the music.

“In addition, we will then rehearse with the Company in Birmingham at the Hippodrome. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is a brilliant ensemble of dedicated musicians and we are very fortunate at Birmingham Royal Ballet to have their services.”