Paul Taylor, Conductor interview by Kaye Remington
Paul, you are a professional cello player, but obviously you really enjoy conducting orchestras. Do you have a preference?
Do I have a preference? I really miss playing in an orchestra. Conducting is something I have just fallen into and it turns out that I am not bad at it. I seem to get results. I miss playing the cello a lot, however, conducting gives you more of a creative outlet and it is much more intellectually demanding – quite challenging, in fact. Playing and conducting feed off each other. I enjoy them both but, at the moment, I do more conducting than playing.
You have a really good, light-hearted approach, which is grounded in a deep knowledge of music. It seems to get people through the most challenging of situations and, at the same time, we learn lots.
One thing that has always bugged me is the stiffness around music. I got so sick of how seriously people took themselves in music. The idea is to make music and not be stuffy or take ourselves too seriously. If you play a few odd notes it does not matter. On the other hand, people have to try to get it right, particularly if you are working professionally, but we are not working professionally, and it has to be enjoyable and accessible at every level. Music does not have to perfect to be accessible.
You have a natural sense of humour which pervades everything. Where did you get your sense of humour?
The orchestra I conduct regularly, Innominato Strings, is full of professional people who are very accomplished in their own fields. I have so much respect for them and for the fact that they want to play music. They should enjoy it. Also, I have never taken myself too seriously. I grew up in a Scottish family. Scots are not funny people! Scots are really serious. Billy Connolly is an exception. When I go to Scotland I offend my entire family. I think I developed a sense of humour as a reaction against the crazy seriousness of my own family. And my friends and I have always indulged in competitive banter.
Some of the music we play is really challenging. You take the pressure off by making other people laugh.
It has always been my teaching strategy to put people at ease and to create a congenial atmosphere during learning. The social aspect of learning is very important. Things learnt in context are well learnt. Also, it is very hard to take risks in a controlled atmosphere. And you have to take risks if you’re going advance. Einstein said if you have never gotten anything wrong you have never tried anything new. And that is what it is like with playing music.
You have been very enthusiastic about the St Albans Strings Workshop? What do you want to happen? What is your vision for it?
I don’t know of anything else that is happening on the north shore or anywhere else in or near Sydney. The St Albans Strings workshop fills a very important niche. In combination with Innominato Strings this workshop has the potential to become something special and provide an outlet for people who want to learn and play music as amateurs, rather than professionals. Playing music in a large group is really something. People cannot get that level of exhilaration playing by themselves.
The repertoire spans many genres which is great for the audience and the players. Do you have a preference? What makes a good repertoire?
The more I play the more I am attracted to Baroque music because of the cleanliness of it. On the other side I am becoming more and more attracted to modernist music; stuff outside the box; more extreme forms of music; work that is investigating the nature of music. However, I also recognise that while a lot of music that tests intellectual concepts is interesting, few people want to listen to these pieces. For something like this we are looking for a nice mix of music. I teach HSC music and must cover everything, 14th century to now. I keep saying to my students that it is all just music; different kinds, but all just music. For example, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is a complex piece of music and Beethoven was actually a commercial writer. He wrote music so he could sell scores! He was the Andrew Lloyd Weber of his day.
You come across as passionate about the music and you communicate that passion to the players and the audience.
People do say I am a passionate musician, but I have never thought about it that way. I never find music hard work. I get an enormous amount of energy from playing and conducting music and I hope the players get just as much out of as I do. I am driven to do it. It is not like employment.
Many thanks Paul