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“People from Finland and Manchester share a lot of similarities: being honest, welcoming, outgoing and straight-talking”

The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, based in Salford, Manchester, is welcoming a new conductor to lead its prestigious ensemble.

John Storgårds, hailing from Finland, is no stranger to the orchestra, having previously served as its Principal Guest Conductor and later as Chief Guest Conductor.

His love for Manchester and its people runs deep, and he considers himself an honorary Mancunian.

John’s connection to Manchester stems from his perception of similarities between the Finnish and Mancunian people – their honest, welcoming, outgoing, and straight-talking nature.

He feels that these qualities make it easy for him to build relationships and feel at home in the city. John is particularly enamoured with Manchester’s devoted, open, and enthusiastic audiences, whose energy inspires him during performances.

John is now a devoted Manchester United fan.

This is thanks to his work with the BBC Philharmonic at its base in MediaCityUK since 2012, which is only a stone’s throw away from Old Trafford.

He has attended many games over the years and now enjoys taking his young children to watch the Red Devils play.

When not conducting, John enjoys exploring the culturally rich food scene in Manchester and taking long walks around the city, soaking up the hustle and bustle.

As a conductor, he has achieved numerous accolades, including annual performances at the BBC Proms, an acclaimed Sibelius symphony cycle in 2013, and recordings for Chandos Records.

John Storgårds’ arrival as the new conductor of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra is highly anticipated, and he is excited to introduce new audiences to the genre.

The orchestra is known for premiering new music by contemporary composers and finding ways to make classical music accessible to a wider audience. With John’s passion for Manchester and its people, the orchestra is poised to reach even greater heights under his leadership.

And lucky for us, he took some time out from his jam-packed schedule to talk to us about his plans for the world-famous orchestra.

What drew you to Manchester in the first place, and how has your relationship with the city evolved over time?

I was invited to conduct a project with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. I knew something about the classical music field in Manchester from before…but more about the football history and its present day reality, really.

How does it feel to be named an honorary Manc?

Fantastic. I love the city, the people are great, lots going on. Love everything about the place.

How have you seen classical music change and evolve over the years, and what do you think the future holds for the genre?

There is still great strength existing within the classical music field all over the world.

There is talent, hard work, big appreciative audiences, very well built-up and , so far, maintained education opportunities and infrastructure and, of course, the fantastic music both historic and modern!

It is more than anything else up to today’s politicians to keep demanding themselves to be really well educated and awake and alert, and when it comes to culture, as for anything else, for them to be able to understand the importance of it and to keep the classical music field as alive as it deserves, instead of trying to disturb or even destroy it! And this is the real challenge of our times!

What are some of the biggest challenges that you face as a conductor, and how do you overcome them?

At the moment I really enjoy being what and where I am, as a conductor and as a musician all-in-all, including very much all the work I do as a violinist.

To develop as a conductor needs time.

I’m now personally at a stage where I have had quite a lot of time to really learn and develop a lot since I seriously started conducting about 30 years ago.

This is a forever ongoing development process, and I still hope to have some decent time left to continue with it.

How do you balance your love for football and your passion for classical music, and do you see any similarities between the two?

I have no problems in balancing my love for football and classical music.

As a professional musician of course I can relax and enjoy football extra-relaxed as a non-player but I do enjoy also finding similarities between these two fields.

Study, preparation, rehearsal, vision, strategy, focus, concentration, knowing your role, reaction, coping with surprises, overcoming and correcting mistakes, the big picture, control, “phrasing”, long lines, drama, psychology, etc etc…the list of similarities is endless!

And as I agreed with Jari Litmanen, the greatest Finnish football legend ever, when I had the honour to briefly meet and talk with him in person some years ago, something that in a fundamental way is the basis for both our careers and success, for him as a footballer, for me as a musician, is the ‘total, impassioned love and devotion for what we are doing’.

What are some of your favourite things about Manchester?

Manchester has a certain kind of relaxedness which I like. People are nice and also generally pretty direct but also with a good sense of humour.

I love the great opportunities to eat really good ethnic food here, and I love the proximity to great football, so many kinds of high quality events and shows (not only classical music), good beer, pubs, and being relatively close to great nature.

And of course I love the BBC Philharmonic and The Bridgewater Hall, which is, in my opinion, the best concert hall in England, and also the great facilities within Media City, including the orchestra’s very good and functional studio space.

What are some of your favourite memories from your time working with the BBC Philharmonic, and are there any performances or recordings that stand out in particular?

There are many very special, strong concert experiences that I have already experienced with the orchestra in Manchester, at the Proms in the Royal Albert Hall and on tour, but of course I’m still thrilled about the opportunity to experience even more!

I’m also very proud of all the recordings we have done together so far, especially for the BBC and Chandos Records.

The complete Sibelius Symphonies box-set that we did for Chandos has a special place in my heart.

Finally, what can audiences expect from your upcoming performances with the BBC Philharmonic, and how do you hope to inspire new generations of classical music fans?

Audiences can expect that total devotion and passion that Jari Litmanen and I spoke about…every time!

I also totally believe in proving to any audience, wherever, that if everybody on stage is totally committed and devoted, and of course very well-rehearsed, they will be self-confident and in the end “free”.

If you want to catch the BBC Philharmonic, they have a huge gig coming up Mid May at the Bridgewater Hall.

BBC Philharmonic: Thursday 18 May, 2023, 7.30pm at The Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.

Tickets cost between £12.50 and £26.50, inclusive of the booking fee. Chief Conductor John Storgårds will lead the orchestra in an emotional evening of music, featuring Pärt’s De Profundis, Sibelius’ Violin Concerto performed by Jennifer Pike, and Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 13, a powerful plea against antisemitism.

Don’t miss this exceptional performance at one of Manchester’s iconic venues.

You can get tickets here.

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