Andy the Tuba, Cresci that is

Andy CresciFOR pushing 30 years now, Andy Cresci has been a familiar presence in the back row of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with his trademark tuba.

Having served under principal conductors Rudolph Barshai, Andrew Litton, Yakov Kreizberg, Marin Alsop and Kirill Karabits, he is in as good a position as any to assess where the orchestra has come from and what its next steps might be.

He is very proud of the standards being attained by the orchestra in this season. One concert that sticks in his mind particularly was the performance of Bruckner’s 7th Symphony in October. Andy was ‘quietly dreading’ the concert – surely Bruckner needed a few grey hairs on the podium rather than the youthful Karabits – but in the event the concert was ‘phenomenal – one of the best performances I’ve been involved with for years. The way Kirill paced it out and the way the orchestra rose to it was just terrific’.

Andy sees continuity in the orchestra as the basis of the teamwork which produces such high standards. He has near-telepathic communications with fellow musicians he has been playing with for his entire career at Bournemouth, such as harpist Eluned Pierce and trumpeter Peter Turnbull – ‘I know what Pete’s going to play before he’s played it!’ The deep brass team of tuba, bass trombone and trombones that we heard blending so seamlessly and confidently in Bruckner is long-established and stable. Playing like that doesn’t happen so easily when every concert has a different scratch line-up.

Our talk moved to the role of the leader, and how a leader works with a conductor.

I offered Andy a couple of analogies – was it like the captain and first mate of a ship, or like a managing director and a union leader? He rejected both of these in favour of an analogy of his own: it was like an officer and senior NCO an the army. The officer is in charge, but of course not all officers (and not all conductors) are equally competent. If there are problems, ‘the senior NCO will sort of take control in a subtle way so that it doesn’t expose the officer. Normally a weak conductor wouldn’t even be aware that we’re really following the leader, and you’re getting the house version.’ Andy reassured me that it very infrequently comes to the point reached in the recent story of a top German orchestra so losing faith in their big-name guest conductor that they ignored him completely in performance and kept their eyes on the leader while the poor man flapped ineffectually on the podium.

Andy feels that the advances in teaching players in recent decades hasn’t been matched by conductors, because top conductors are so busy earning fortunes by filling their diaries. They have a duty to give back to the profession some of what they’ve learned, he feels. Although someone at least is getting it right: ‘somewhere in Scandinavia – maybe it’s just the Finns – someone is teaching conducting properly’.

So what makes a great conductor? As a frequent guest in other orchestras, Andy has worked with the cream. He’s a particular admirer of Bernard Haitink, Carlo Maria Guilini and Yuri Temirkanov, the principal conductor of the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic who he describes as ‘almost like a mime artist at the front, you know what he wants’. Of the conductors with whom he has worked with the BSO, the Finn Paavo Berglund stands supreme. All of these had flawless technique, so that there was a very firm foundation to however they wanted to interpret the music. A lot seems to depend on confidence: ‘when you work with the great conductors, you relax, and that enables you to play better than you thought you could, whereas with lesser ones you tense up.’ But ultimately ‘we don’t really understand what sets Haitink or Guilini apart: often they don’t say say very much, but whatever it is, they’ve got it – in spadefuls!’

We then looked forward to the rest of the season. Andy is relishing being able to play and record all the Prokofiev symphonies with Kirill Karabits. They have particularly rewarding tuba parts: watch out for the 6th Symphony, in which Andy gets to play the very opening notes, on 29th April in Poole, 30th April in Bristol and 1st May in Portsmouth. Another unmissable concert will be the one Andy has personally programmed in his capacity as chair of the orchestra’s Benevolent Fund. This concert raises money for musicians who are having financial difficulties because of illness, and to maximise takings, all the performers give their services free. The concert, conducted by Karabits, is on 17th May at the Lighthouse – put it in your diary now! It will feature a performance of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto by local girl Natalie Clein and Tchaikovsky’s electrifying 6th Symphony, a real Karabits speciality.

Paul Jordan