Matthew Hunt

Matthew Hunt, the Soloist’s Story

The soloist in Firebird’s opening season’s concert with Mozart’s exquisite clarinet concerto is Matthew Hunt. Nicholas Keyworth caught up with Matthew to find out more…

So how did it all begin with the clarinet, Matthew?

I’d love to say I heard the sound of a clarinet one day on the radio and longed to make that sound, but it’s a little more mundane.. I played the recorder, and a friend of my parents’ heard me and asked if I’d like to play the clarinet, so I did.

And what happened next? I gather you start off as a singer!

My training took a few stages- I’d say that of greatest importance was being a chorister at Lichfield Cathedral- singing two hours every day from the age of 7-13 basically made me the musician I am. My most influential clarinet teachers were the great Pascal Moraguès with whom I studied for two glorious years in Paris, and the Late Dame Thea King here at the Guildhall school in London. Whilst I was more in tune with how Pascal plays the clarinet, Thea taught me to leave no stone unturned, musically speaking.

You perform as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player. Are there ever any conflicts with these three very different disciplines?

That’s an interesting one- I think at heart I’m a chamber musician, which informs all the playing I do. I believe that if an orchestra is to be of any real musical value the musicians must all know how to play chamber music. The important thing is to listen from within and to shape each phrase as part of a whole. Likewise, any soloist who is worth anything, understands all that is going on, and lives and breathes the music with and within the orchestra as well as playing a solo line on top.

Matthew Hunt

What is your most memorable experience as a soloist?

I think two stand out: I played a Strauss double concerto in the Cologne Philharmonie with Paavo Järvi conducting. We’ve worked together a lot and being a soloist with him conducting is like playing with a great pianist. He is so in control and ready to interact that it makes for an exciting musical collaboration. The other was playing Debussy’s Rhapsody in the chamber hall at the Berlin Philharmonie with a chamber orchestra drawn from the Berlin Philharmonic.

As a teacher, what sort of advice do you give to younger players?

To listen intently to the music, to what the music says to them, to the musician inside them and to be as truthful to that as possible. We are currently producing musicians with a deeply unhealthy obsession with perfection, which is at the cost of expression and musical freedom, and whilst accuracy is important, I try and open students’ minds to the possibilities out there, and to see beyond the notes on the page.

Tell about some of the forthcoming concert engagements.

I’m currently in China playing trios, which is fun and before our Firebird concert I will be on tour with a string quartet and the pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja, which is a tremendous thrill. Next year’s great highlight will be Brahms’ clarinet quintet in a big string orchestra arrangement in Australia with the great Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto, Pekka recently made the proms audience sing a folk song as his encore. We work together a lot, and I know it will be fun.

Mozart’s concerto is in every clarinetists repertoire. What do you bring to it that’s different?

Mozart loved the closeness of the clarinet to the human voice, it’s ability to change mood and sound, make mercurial leaps up and down the instrument, and it’s different registers. The concerto is really like a confection of his operatic characters, who take turn to appear, sing duets and solos, yet all played by the clarinet. I love his operas, and the more I get to know them, the more they get reflected in my performance.

Louis Barclay

Musician of the Month: Louis Barclay

Nicholas Keyworth talks to our latest Musician of the Month, trumpeter Louis Barclay.

Louis has been playing principal trumpet with the London Firebird Orchestra for seven months. He explains three key benefits arising from this:

“For me the crucial aspects of playing with this fantastic orchestra include firstly, the opportunity of learning and playing a wide variety and wealth of repertoire which I would otherwise not get the chance to play. secondly, learning to play as part of a team and perform music as one entity, if you like, is invaluable. Finally the excitement and sense of fulfilment that comes from the camaraderie of an orchestra is next to none, in my opinion.”

Louis Barclay

However Louis tells me that he didn’t start off with the trumpet:

“I started to learn the violin and piano at young age, but I soon saw the error of my ways and started to learn the trumpet. I then continued to become a member of the National Youth Orchestra and the Principal Trumpet of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.

Louis went on to study trumpet at the Royal College of Music, under Mark Calder, Alistair Mackie and Jason Evans, all members of the Philharmonia Orchestra.

Louis Barclay

I ask Louis about his other performing experiences both within and outside of the RCM. He tells me these are quite wide ranging:

“At the RCM I play in various orchestras and chamber ensembles, including the Brass Septet. Earlier this year, I was invited to travel to Germany and play as Principal Trumpet in the Mannheimer Philharmoniker, and this summer I shall be playing with the Britten Pears Orchestra.

Louis Barclay

Although Louis is still studying at the RCM and has already had some fantastic musical experiences so far. 4. Playing with the Grimethorpe Colliery Band was one of them, but told me of others too:

“Some of the highlights for me include playing in major UK concert venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Cadogan Hall and Symphony Hall. I am also hugely looking forward to playing Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony under Semyon Bychkov this August.”

Louis seem to be well on track to make a successful career as a professional orchestral trumpet player. In addition, he also enjoys education work and schools projects – something so essential for the 21st century musician. 

Lost on the sportsfield

Performer of the Month: Kimon Parry

Kimon has been involved with the London Firebird Orchestra since its inception, playing a mixture of 1st and 2nd Clarinet. He talks about the orchestra with great affection:

“London Firebird has helped me tremendously – every project enables me to develop my skills as an orchestral player and consolidate my love for classical music. It has also been a great way to meet other musicians based in London.”

Kimon studied music at the Royal College of Music, London gaining a BMus followed by an MA at the Royal Academy of Music.

After graduating in 2011 he went on to become a Solo Artist on the Countess of Munster Recital Scheme, giving many recitals around the UK. He is now a freelance clarinettist and music teacher.

Kimon Parry

Kimon Parry

Kimon told us about some of the other orchestras he has played with:

“As a freelance player I feel very privileged to get invited to play with some of the leading orchestras in the UK. These have included the London Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I am also now playing with the Southbank Sinfonia.”

Kimon has also been on trial with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Philharmonic.

In terms of chamber music he is a member of the Ellis Ensemble with pianist Belinda Jones and bassoonist Susanna Simma. Described by Southbank Sinfonia as an exceptional young trio they have quickly been building a reputation through their virtuosity, expressive playing and original repertoire.

Ellis Ensemble

Ellis Ensemble

To find out more about visit their website at:

We asked Kimon about some of his career highlights to date. He told us:

“One of my highlights was playing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with Southbank Sinfonia. This concerto is a real treasure in the clarinet repertoire. I studied the work throughout my time at music college so to play the piece with an orchestra was an amazing experience.”

Kimon’s ambitions in music are straight forward and inclusive: to keep practicing, to continue to discover great music, and to pass on his musical knowledge to his students and audiences.

Emily Andrews

Performer of the Month: Emily Andrews

Emily Andrews has been involved with London Firebird Orchestra playing 1st and 2nd flute for around four years. She is a freelance flautist and mixes her time between orchestral playing and chamber music.

Emily completed her Masters at the Royal Academy of Music following an undergraduate degree in Maths from Cambridge. She is still involved as a mathematician and tutors maths three evenings a week alongside her flute playing.

Emily Andrews

Emily Andrews

Firebird asked Emily about some of the other music ensembles and orchestras she is involved with. She said: “I’ve worked with many of the London freelance orchestras and frequently played for choral societies. I also have a flute and guitar duo which we formed in 2009 called the Andrews Massey Duo. We have three CDs under our belt and you can hear some extracts on our website.”

Emily went on to tell us about some of the highlights in her career to date: “A couple of years ago I performed Mahler’s second symphony and Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall and Theatre de Champs Elysees in Paris which was just tremendous.

“Both of the Firebird Orchestra concerts I’ve been involved with at Kings Place were awesome! My solo recital at St Martin in the Fields has to be another highlight. I still get hits on my YouTube videos for this!”

Emily Andrews

Emily Andrews

Playing with the London Firebird Orchestra is of real value to younger professional musicians like Emily. She told us how one of the most important aspects for her was the non-hierarchical structure of the orchestra – how the flutes often change places between concerts playing principal, second or third flutes – all of which have very different technical and orchestral skills. She also values the high expectations which come with preparing demanding programmes within a limited time frame. Despite this, she told us with great enthusiasm how the concerts are always super, of a high standard and how she always really enjoys performing with the orchestra!

Emily’s then told us about here current passion which is learning to sing opera.

“I’m currently learning to sing opera- that’s my project in progress,” she said. “I’m increasingly including songs in my recitals, such as incorporating a few lute songs in a flute and guitar recital, or some art songs in a flute and piano recital. It’s going down really well so let’s see where that takes me next…”

To find out more about Emily visit her website.

Conductor Focus: Michael Thrift

24th February sees the Firebird debut of conductor Michael Thrift. We asked him a few questions about his career to date and the role of the conductor.

Michael Thrift

Michael Thrift

1. You are originally from Sydney, Australia which has quite a reputation of having a lively musical and cultural scene. Why the relocation to Europe?

In a word – opportunity. The Sydney scene is indeed vibrant and of high quality but for a conductor building a career it has some limitations. There isn’t much between music school and the upper echelons of the industry. I was conducting 5-6 days a week with youth orchestras and university ensembles but I quickly found that this was where the ladder ended in Australia. London has an abundance of orchestras and opera companies giving many exciting experiences to the younger professional. Furthermore, London is a city rich with high-quality companies that see training as central to their values and providing crucial stepping stones for people breaking into the top level of their field.

2. Since you’ve been in Europe you have conducted opera performances in Graz and Vienna, the Cheltenham Festival, The Queen’s Opera and Fulham Opera. Which was your most memorable experience and why?

A year after arriving in London, a strange convolution of circumstances led me into some work in opera. It went well and led to more and more work in this genre. Now I think of it as central to who I am as a musician, and equal to my work with orchestras. ‘Opera’ and ‘orchestra’ aren’t adversarial but complimentary. The skills you need for one inform the skill set of the other, especially when it comes to active listening, blending of sounds and finding balance between lines. This year I am already scheduled to conduct four operas – I can’t wait!

3. This next concert will be your debut performance with the London Firebird Orchestra. What sort of preparation do you need to do before you and the orchestra start rehearsing?

Like an iceberg, most of the hard work is ‘under the surface’ and never seen by the audience. Preparation is the key and knowing what you want to achieve musically and working out the best way to achieve it within the rehearsal time is crucial. I’m really looking forward to conducting the Beethoven, but as he had one foot in the classical period and one in the romantic there is even more to think about. For me, much of the preparation is determining a set of guidelines as to how I – and the orchestra – will respond to Beethoven’s instructions, so that we can develop an orchestral sound that is consistent and homogeneous. Otherwise, with so many players on-stage, we would run the risk of all playing Beethoven differently and the performance would lack cohesion.

Find out more about the Fantasia concert and buy tickets.

Michael Thrift

Michael Thrift

4. What are the key things you need to focus on during the actual rehearsal?

Listening. All music is listening – it informs everything. Insisting upon active listening from all involved always leads to good music-making. When the players of an orchestra are switched on to each other they balance better, they play in time easier, they are more sensitive to dynamic needs and they play more musically. When you encourage players to listen you can empower them to rely on their own musicianship to help them make decisions in the moment. This actually frees me up as a conductor – I don’t have to spend as much time fixing tuning errors or timing issues but can focus on bringing out the best musical qualities of the piece.

5. And when it comes to the concert itself, what would you say is your key function then?

To be a navigator through the music. If the players have been rehearsed well, they know all that they require, they just need to be reminded of what is happening and what is coming up, who they should be listening to now, and what they should next be getting ready to engage with. It’s actually one of the hardest lessons to learn as a conductor – to remember that the players are highly skilled and don’t need constant micromanaging. ‘Over-conducting’ creates tension and removes a player’s impetus to take charge of their own performance. If I do my job well, the performance will feel like an organic collaboration between myself and the players.

Michael Thrift

Michael Thrift

6. Any other exciting projects in the pipeline you can share with us?

The aforementioned operas for starters. I’m rehearsing Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra at the moment for a show in March. Sticking with Verdi, I’m part of a revival of Falstaff in a couple of months. In the second half of the year I’m leading a run of Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and I’m hugely excited to be conducting Wagner’s epic Parsifal too. There are several symphony concerts in the diary not least of which is the Firebird Orchestra’s June concert with Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky on the ticket. This will be an awesome night.

For more information on Michael, keep an eye on

Performer of the Month: Jacqueline Martens

Jacqui is leader of the London Firebird Orchestra. We asked her a few questions about her career to date and the importance of the role of an orchestral leader.

Jacqueline Martens

Jacqueline Martens

1. Your violin training took place at various high profile musical institutions in the UK. Who were your most influential teachers and for what reasons?

All of my violin teachers were very influential at different times in my life, and I am so grateful to have studied with some amazing professors. I would say that one that really stands out is Howard Davis, who used to be a violin professor at the Royal Academy of Music. I had a few lessons with him from 2005 to 2008 and he was so supportive and encouraging. At the age of 11 and 12 this really helped me to start believing in myself and seeing music as a possible career in my future.

Jacqueline Martens

Jacqueline Martens

2. You have performed on many prestigious occasions as a soloist. Which was your most memorable experience?

I would have to say that playing the Shostakovich concerto with the Chandos Orchestra was my most memorable experience. This was a very challenging work but was also so rewarding to perform with such kind and welcoming musicians.

3. You have also played much chamber music – often with your parents who are also professional musicians. What do you see as being the essential differences in musical challenges between chamber and orchestral music?

I feel very strongly that the best orchestras play with the same mind set as they do when playing chamber music. I think that because of the sheer number of musicians in an orchestra, it does take an extra element of concentration to formulate a united sound and musical idea. This summer I will be returning to play at the Stellenbosch International Chamber Music Festival in my native South Africa, which is always such an amazing experience.

Jacqueline Martens at From Darkness to Light

Jacqueline Martens at From Darkness to Light

4. What was it like being involved in a very different type of music making when you played the solo violin part in the Durham Concerto and co-led the orchestra backing acts by pop musicians like Deep Purple, Paul Weller and Rick Wakeman?

This was an amazing experience for me, especially as I had never done anything like this before. To work with such talented musicians in a different field than I am used to was a really eye opening experience.

5. You have been leader of the London Firebird Orchestra now on numerous occasions. Perhaps you can tell us a bit about the important role?

The leader is another point of contact for the orchestra, alongside the conductor. It is the leaders responsibility to guide the orchestra through the repertoire to create the best performance possible.

Jacqueline Martens

Jacqueline Martens

6. Any other exciting projects in the pipeline the you can share with us?

I am really looking forward to working with Vastly Patrenko and Bernard Haitink in July and August this year as part of the European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) Summer Course. We will be touring to some of Europe’s most beautiful locations including Prague, Amsterdam and Berlin.

Conductor Focus: George Jackson

George JacksonFirebird is delighted to be welcoming back the winner of the 2015 Aspen Conducting Prize to conduct the 20th October concert. London-born George Jackson came to international attention after stepping in at short notice to make his Vienna Musikverein debut with the ORF Radio Symphony Orchestra in June 2013.

Since then, George has worked with some of the world’s big name orchestras and opera houses including the Metropolitan Opera New York, the Opéra national de Paris, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and the Vienna Chamber Orchestra. He also made his Vienna Konzerthaus debut last season with contemporary music group Ensemble Platypus. 

George Jackson

George Jackson

George’s studies have included international master classes with some of the world’s great conductors such as Bernard Haitink, Michael Tilson Thomas and Kurt Masur. George is currently a member of the Deutsche Bank Stiftung’s ‘Akademie Musiktheater heute’ scheme for young opera professionals, and also holds the Sir Charles Mackerras Fellowship in Conducting from London’s Trinity Laban Conservatoire.


Performer of the Month: Jennifer Pike

Jennifer PikeThe Firebird audience is in for a real treat on 20 October with the starring appearance of “Britain’s foremost young fiddler”​ (The Independent), Jennifer Pike. 

Jennifer has taken the musical world by storm with her unique artistry and compelling musical insight. She gained international recognition in 2002, when, aged just 12, she became the youngest-ever winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year and the youngest major prizewinner in the Menuhin International Violin Competition.

By the age of 15 she was making her acclaimed debuts at the BBC Proms and Wigmore Hall, and soon after became a BBC New Generation Artist. In 2014 Jennifer performed Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending at a special live broadcast on BBC TV commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of WWI in Westminster Abbey.

Jennifer Pike

Jennifer Pike

Now Jennifer is in demand worldwide as a soloist with major orchestras frequently appearing on radio and television including all the BBC orchestras, City of Birmingham Symphony, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Philharmonia, Hallé, and Nagoya Philharmonic orchestras.

Passionate about helping young people from all backgrounds enhance their lives through music, she was recently invited to become an ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and Foundation for Children and the Arts, and patron of the Lord Mayor’s City Music Foundation.

Jennifer’s performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto on 20 October follows her acclaimed Chandos recording of the work with the Bergen Philharmonic and Sir Andrew Davis, described as “superb” (The Times) and “violin genius” (Mail on Sunday).