Interview with Naomi Butcher MD, Tonbridge Philharmonic Society

TPS Choir and Orchestra

In Conversation with Naomi Butcher

Can you tell us about the selection process in terms of how you chose the music for this particular season?

Absolutely – we try and make sure there’s something for everyone in every season, and this season is particularly varied. Back in November we performed one of my personal all-time favourite pieces – Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast – which is very modern, lots of whacky harmonies and difficult, and brilliant, rhythmic moments. I knew I wanted that in the season, so we needed our next choral concert to be something completely different to balance it out, for both audiences and performers. The Bach March concert was the one that people have been trying to persuade me to programme almost since I arrived at TPS so it felt like the right thing. The summer concert we always try to make lighter, more laid-back, often programming lots of music that people might already know, and this year is no exception: we’re putting on a night of ‘Tonbridge Proms’ – plenty of audience participation encouraged! The orchestral concerts we usually build around one headline work (in February Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony, in May Dvorak’s New World Symphony), and build out the rest of the concert with complimentary music. It’s a complicated, but really fun part of the job.

Can you expand a little on each concert that’s coming up for the remainder of this season so our readers know what’s on when?

In May, we’ve got an orchestral concert where we’ll be lucky enough to be joined by Sofiia Matviienko, 2022 winner of the Tunbridge Wells International Music Competition, playing Ibert’s fiery flute concerto, as well as Dvorak’s 9th Symphony in the second half. And finally, in June, our summer proms event.

What do you think audiences will enjoy about the May and June concerts?

The winners of the Tunbridge Wells competition are also always worth hearing, and their regular slot with us in the May concerts always prove popular. And as for the summer, who doesn’t love the chance for a sing along?

TPS Choir and OrchestraWhat do you enjoy most about conducting? And specifically about conducting the TPS?

I love the variety of my work and how many different pieces of music and groups of players/singers I get to work with over the course of a year – to be able to have been working on Walton one week and Bach the next with the same people is a lot of fun. TPS is a notable amateur group – it’s not many societies that are fortunate enough to have both a choir and orchestra that can take on the big symphonic works, and perform them to a high standard. They are a total pleasure to work with!

Which composers have been influential in your love for music?

Lots…as a child I learnt piano and saxophone and so played everyone from Bach, Haydn and Clementi to Jazz writers and really whacky modern stuff. Schumann entices me back to the piano almost daily at the moment. Pieces that I have never been able to get enough of listening include Handel’s Messiah, the Sibelius symphonies and Mahler 2. The first symphony I listened to all the way through by choice was Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony when I was 15, and I bought the score the next week with my pocket money with the ambition that maybe one day I would conduct it…watch this space!


by permission of Eileen Leahy (former Editor at the Times of Tunbridge Wells)