Mar 21

An Interview with Matthew Peters

You made your start in the industry with a very eminent organisation- the Chicago Symphony. What can you tell us about your experience there?

Producing the Chicago Symphony radio broadcasts was an exhilarating experience due to both the pace of the job as well as the enormity of working with world-class artists. The pace of the job felt like driving at 90 miles and hour with no brakes because, unlike studio recording where the might be take after take after take of a difficult passage, we only recorded two live performances and then proceeded to edit those together. For the standard repertoire it was rarely an issue – the orchestra has played it hundreds of times, I would know the score really well, etc. However, the CSO often did a number of world premieres – and I wouldn’t have access to the score until the concert. It was sometimes nerve-wracking to sight-read a modern score of a piece I had never heard, and be able to mark it as if I had known the piece my whole life.


It was also humbling – as my job, based on the performances, was to make my editing recommendations to artists such as Daniel Barenboim, Yo-Yo Ma, Pierre Boulez, Zubin Mehta, etc. I was a bit star-struck at first, because these were the artists I listened to growing up and who inspired me to become a musician. However, I was supposed to speak to them as colleagues – which at 21 years old – took a bit of getting used to!


The ESO has a distinguished history of its own, but it’s a much smaller operation than the CSO. What appealed to you about working with this orchestra?

I was actually very aware of its history before I moved to the area – I have the Serenades for Strings album with Boughton on vinyl!

I hadn’t made the connection that the ESO was local to Worcester till the side-by-side performance of the Worcester Youth String Orchestra with ESO. It was at that concert – where I realised the orchestra’s artistic direction was not only about staying true to the standard string repertoire, but also strongly supporting modern music (English composers in particular) – and programming them side by side – that I became very interested in working with the orchestra.

I have been inspired by the projects of the past two years and cannot wait to be an intergral part of planning for the future.


What do you hope to accomplish here? Where would you like to see the orchestra in five years?

It is no secret that the ESO has had some troubles over the years – and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Orchestras, like people, have life cycles and go through prosperous times and also fall on hardships. The number of top-tier orchestras in the United States that have come close bankruptcy or have had strikes and/or lock-outs in the past 5-10 years is heartbreaking. However, when the whole organisation comes together as a team (players, directors, management, trustees), usually the orchestra survives and even comes out the other side stronger.


I think we are at a turning point and the ESO’s best days are still ahead. One of my first directives was to get all of the departments to start communicating better with each other, working together, and realising that the orchestra is above all of us. It is not about any single person, but all of us coming together that will elevate the orchestra to where is should be – and in five years time, I hope that will be nationally recognised as one of the top orchestras in the country, and through our recordings, also develop an international following that could lead to touring opportunities.


Can you tell us a bit about your background as a musician and how that’s informed your approach to orchestra management?

I started playing the cello when I was 8 years old at the Preucil School of Music in Iowa City, Iowa. For a relatively small town in the Midwest – Iowa City is a bit of a cultural haven – so I was lucky to play in 2 extremely good youth orchestras, played a lot of chamber music, studied theory and composition, and did a European tour. The University of Iowa also brought in top recitalists and touring orchestras so I was able to grow up listening to world-class musicians, that lead to me pushing myself to achieve as much as I could.


This actually has informed my orchestral management style in that I feel it is just as important to perform in smaller communities as it is the big, prestigious world stages. Naturally, I would love for the ESO to play Royal Albert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Sydney Opera House, etc… but by playing the smaller halls in more isolated communities, one never knows which child might be inspired so much by that one performance that it fuels them to strive for a life in the arts as well.


We understand you’re still very active as a music educator yourself. Can you tell us a bit about your teaching philosophy and what you see as the ESO’s role in supporting music education?

Yes – I am Head of Strings at the Elgar School of Music and I also teach cello in my own private studio as well as some peripetetic teaching for the County. My basic philosophy is that every child should have access to music tuition, should they want to play an instrument. This is not a unique philosophy, but one that is harder to sustain with government funding cuts and in many cases, parents’ cost of living going up but wages staying the same.


Something I would like to see more organisations adopt are workstudy programmes : reduced tuition in exchange for light work. My family was only able to afford all of our lessons (I have a brother and sister too) because the Preucil School offered us workstudy. I helped out in the office, I set up and cleared away after some classes, and when I was older, I actually helped lead the class and got my first introduction into teaching. Not only did the work study help me afford lessons, but I actually practised more because I was working for them.


I think the ESO is lucky to have the education team lead by Noriko Tsuzaki and James Topp. They tirelessly work to provide opportunities for children and are looking to expand our orchestral courses to more locations. I would like to see the ESO work more within schools, to help inspire children to take up instrument tuition – or at least come to concerts… and on the other end of the spectrum, would like to develop a young artists programme for talented students (perhaps 16-20 years old) that gives them the chance to play chamber music with ESO players and could even lead to a concerto performance.


We gather you’ve also worked a lot in non-classical musical styles. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I have always loved music in all genres, and while I was studying sound recording at McGill University, I had a chance to learn digital audio production. It gave me the tools to make my own music – and while sounding very different to classical – I approached it the same way. I was intrigued by motifs, varying articulations, dynamics, timbre – but I used different sources to “paint with sound”. I did a lot of work in experimental hip hop (I guess in the same way one can only describe Ravel’s La Valse as rather experimental for a waltz!), released several 12” singles and full albums, and performed in New York City (both in clubs and as sound designer for theatre projects) and many festivals in Europe. I also collaborated with jazz musicians, hiphop mc’s, percussionists, vocalists, and other producers in a way that felt like chamber music to me.