• Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra
  • November 1, 2018

Revisiting War Requiem, 55 years later – an interview with Frank Mathison

Ahead of our concert  – War & Peace – on the 11th of November at 3:30pm in Huddersfield Town Hall, I had an opportunity to do a telephone interview with our bass trombonist Frank Mathison.
Frank is our “Classical Celebrity” amongst our ranks as he has played with all the greats during his time with various musical ensembles, including the London Symphony Orchestra (he played on the original soundtrack of Star Wars with John Williams conducting)
We will be performing Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at the Town Hall next Sunday and Frank just happened to drop it into casual conversation with our Conductor – Robert Guy during the initial few rehearsals, that he had performed in the 1963 premier in Coventry Cathedral, as a then member of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, with Benjamin Britten and Meredith Davies conducting.  Peter Pears (an Englishman) and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Heather Harper as soloists.
Frank marks this performance as his last with the CBSO in 1963 before he joined the LSO. His memories are a little vague but he does remember that something went wrong during the premier performance. He could not tell whether it was the conductors fault or the Trumpets but Benjamin Britten was not at all happy with the performance, though the audience would have been none the wiser. When the piece was subsequently recorded, Benjamin chose the LSO over the CBSO to do the recording, conducted by himself. I asked him whether that concert was tinged with any personal sadness, knowing it would be his last concert with the CBSO but I think he was so excited to be joining the ranks of the LSO that the only thing that moved his was the music itself.
Aside from doing the recording with the LSO, Frank has not performed the War Requiem live since the initial 1963 debut. I asked him if the music all came flowing back to him and did he have muscle memory that lasts more than 55 years? he laughed and said that his memories are sadly very vague, so he has to rely on the memoirs of his late wife – Kathleen.
Frank is our longest playing member of the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, having played under the baton of 6 of our conductors, the first being William Reeyce and the most recent being Robert Guy. I asked him did he have any favourite memories of his time with the Orchestra or any outstanding concerts? He didn’t have the delve too deep into the memory box to find his favourite. Shostakovitch Festival Overture, performed by the Orchestra in June 2014. Frank thinks that during this performance we really sounded like a good professional Orchestra, and he would know!
When I asked about his favourite conductor however, he chose Claudio Abbado of the LSO. Frank says he lived the music, and never used a score in a concert as it was all his head. His concerts were magical though his rehearsals were a bit boring. Other conductors such as a Andre Previn, though friendly with him, didn’t impress him as much.
Despite his age (90 years young), Frank keeps himself very busy as a member, not only of the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra, but also the Halifax Symphony Orchestra, The Orchestra of Square Chapel, The Friendly Band in Sowerby Bridge where his son Peter plays principal cornet, and his own Trombone quartet and Brass Quintet. He puts these groups down to the reason why he is still very happy and going strong!
As an Orchestra we consider Frank a very special member and are privileged to have him play with us in each concert, the next one being War & Peace – next Sunday the 11th of November at Huddersfield Town Hall. This concert will be a unique opportunity to hear two of the finest and longest running musical establishments in the area – the Huddersfield Philharmonic Orchestra and the Huddersfield Choral Society, with a Junior Chorus and a chamber orchestra, all to commemorate the Armistice, in partnership with the Kirklees Mayors Office.