Ben Voce is one of our orchestral viola players – but it turns out that was actually quite a recent decision as he was studying on a Maths degree course at Imperial College London. In this interview we find out more about how Ben came to be a viola player with the London Firebird Orchestra.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your training to date.
Getting a place at Imperial College London worked out quite well because I got a scholarship to have my lessons at the Royal College of Music with Jonathan Barritt. Maybe because viola players are always in demand and also due to the kindness of the RCM by the time I graduated I had appeared as principal viola of the RCM Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras, played in viola and chamber music masterclasses and had many chamber groups at the college.
This was a great education and even though I did a Maths degree I was still able to enjoy the full music college life. I am currently studying privately with Martin Outram and am considering going back to do a masters in viola somewhere.
How long have you been involved with London Firebird Orchestra and what other music ensembles/orchestras are you currently involved with?
I first played with Firebird in October 2016 as co-principal viola. I was actually covering for a friend of mine who couldn’t do it, which turned out to be quite lucky! I’ve been playing as principal viola since then.
I do a lot of chamber music mainly. I consider that the real home of the viola, which is sometimes a slightly under appreciated instrument in solo and orchestral repertoire. I’ve always played in string quartets and been attending festivals and courses. At the moment I’m involved with Maiastra who are a group that put on string chamber music concerts.
Tell us some of the highlights of your career to date.
I suppose as a viola player you always remember the concertos when you get the chance to do them. Playing the Bowen concerto with my school orchestra and the Trinity College of Music Junior Department orchestra in 2013 was quite big for me, but of course you always remember your first time… Since then, playing the Telemann concerto at the Royal Albert Hall in 2016 was wonderful and I’ll always remember some very happy summers spent at the Dartington Summer Festival with string quartets.
What are your ambitions in music (or any other field)?
About half way through my degree I realised a city maths job wasn’t for me and I am now settled on a career in music, but not necessarily exclusively viola playing. My teacher says that these days musicians need more of a “portfolio existence” anyway. I am really very drawn to conducting but I’m not sure yet what form this will take.
I’m thinking of setting up a small group to play modern music which I’d conduct and then play the viola for classical repertoire. Anything I do will include some viola playing and I’d love to be a chamber musician and play in chamber orchestras, but conducting seems like the greater long term prospect at the moment.
Finally, what do you see as the value of Firebird to younger professional musicians like yourself?
Orchestras like Firebird play an important role in bridging the gap between college and professional working life. The opportunity to learn repertoire and work when you’re either still in college or have just left is really good experience. However, the social side of it also shouldn’t be underestimated. By playing in these orchestras you meet young musicians from other colleges and make good friends and contacts – and that is essential in all walks of life.