George English

Musician of the Month: George English

George started playing with Firebird as an extra percussionist 4 years ago but for the last season he has been timpanist. In this newsletter we hear more about the musical career of this Kent born musician…

Let’s start by hearing about your musical training and current orchestral playing…

I was very lucky to study for 5 years at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama which gave me a wonderful opportunity to be on the Orchestral Artistry Masters course in conjunction with the London Symphony Orchestra. Since leaving I have been privileged to work with some of the top orchestras in the country, including the Philharmonia, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, London Concert Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra.

What else are you involved with in the world of music?

In addition to my orchestral playing, I spend a large proportion of my career within the theatre, having worked on various productions in the West End. I thoroughly enjoy the chance to collaborate with actors and dancers and to really get to the heart of the narrative and soundscape of a work.

I am currently percussionist for Sheffield Crucible’s production of ‘Wizard of Oz’ and I’m a member of the Percussion Ensemble of London. I also play in a trio with comedienne and actress Josie Lawrence and am a regular member of the house band for the Bateaux London Thames Cruise company.

George English

Tell us about some of the highlights in your career to date…

The world of percussion is always so varied with each new day bringing a new set of challenges and opportunities. Highlights must include stepping onstage at the Adelphi and Haymarket Theatres to perform in ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ – a National Theatre production starring James Corden – with a 1960s suit, slicked hair and only a washboard and a pair of spoons, it’s not something I’ll forget!

Performing Britten’s ‘Billy Budd’ at Cornwall’s at the Endellion Festival with Sir John Tomlinson, Mark Padmore and Roddy Williams in a tiny church on the Cornish coast is not something I will ever forget, truly extraordinary.

Perhaps my two most memorable experiences though have had a more somber note, having played in memorial concerts for Sir John Taverner, at Southwark Cathedral with the Icelandic Chamber Choir, and Sir Colin Davis at the Barbican with 45 brass players performing Strauss’ ‘Festmusik der Stadt Wien’ to open the LSO’s celebration concerts that were also broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.

And what about your ambitions for the future?

I am a very ordinary guy and I feel hugely lucky to be working at something I love. Although it’s not always easy, I adore what I do. I always aspire to do wider and greater things and am constantly reading and listening as much as I can, to absorb all styles and methods of music and art. I would love to have a more long-term orchestral job, and within that an individual voice.

I would also love to spend time educating and inspiring future generations of musicians. I have always been incredibly fortunate to have a supportive and inspirational family and teachers and I believe that it is my responsibility to pass on what they gave to me.

George English

Finally, what do you see as the value of an organisation like London Firebird to younger professional musicians like yourself?

For me, Firebird captures the spirit of a youth orchestra, with the flexibility, discipline and ability of a professional orchestra. That combination of high level talent and also fiery passion and, at times, terrifying energy creates music making that really stimulates the love we have for our art form.

On a more personal note, the chance to play in a smaller orchestra is not something that I as a percussion player am able to do very often. Chamber orchestras and earlier romantic and classical works rarely feature more than timpani and so professionally those spots are reserved for principal players. To be able to explore the symphonies of Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Haydn etc. is not something I thought I would be able to do at my age and so it’s incredible to have the opportunity to do so; and even better to do so with friends.