Meet... Matthew Hamilton
Matthew Hamilton joined Liverpool Philharmonic as Director of Choirs and Singing earlier this year, and we caught up with him about his new role, career and plans for Messiah…
What’s your earliest musical memory? When did you first realise you wanted to work in music?
My first exposure to music was really when my parents inherited a piano when I was about five years old and my brother and I started lessons. At about the age of 10 I started violin lessons too – I can’t really remember what it was that inspired my choice of violin, but there must have been something! Spending weekends and summers at youth orchestra was one of the best parts of my teenage years, and convinced me that I really wanted to work in music.
Have you always been involved in choral music, or has that only featured later in your career?
I sang in a children’s choir for a year or two, but left that when I started playing violin. It was really at university where I got the choral bug. I arrived at Oxford as a violinist who was interested in doing a bit of singing – I’d never had singing lessons and didn’t have much of a voice, but I was a useful sight-reader and found myself singing four services a week in the college chapel. Suddenly I was discovering Byrd and Tallis and Palestrina for the first time, and the violin soon fell by the wayside. I spent a few years after graduating doing bits of singing and composing but without any real direction. In 2010 the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama established an MA in choral conducting, and I was in the first cohort of that course. That really set me up and gave me a career. Pretty much all of my conducting work has been with choirs – it’s a wide enough specialism and definitely the repertoire that I care about – though I will say that I think my background as a violinist has been useful when dealing with symphonic choral music.
We’re very excited to have you work with us in Liverpool – what are you looking forward to most about your new role?
I’m so looking forward to getting stuck in – working with and developing the chorus of course and helping Domingo [Hindoyan, Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra] to fulfil his artistic vision on the concert platform. There are some exciting and unusual bits of repertoire on the horizon which should really give the choir a distinct identity and ability. I’m mostly looking forward to getting to know the members of the choir – I’ve found that the kind of people who dedicate so much of their lives to making these performances possible are usually energetic, interested and interesting individuals, and it will be great to get to know them.
Can you tell us anything about your plans for developing choral activity at Liverpool Philharmonic?
I think it’s really important that choral activity at all levels is celebrated and taken seriously. It is great art, of course, and it’s imperative that the chorus can play its role in making very special performances happen for Liverpool audiences. But it’s also a great social activity and communal good, for all ages and abilities, and can help us reach new audiences and develop relationships with different parts of the community. I’d love for choral music in Liverpool to be visible – and audible – from the Philharmonic outwards!
Tell us about the highlights of your career.
I’m never sure what counts as a highlight, but some of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve done in the last few years have been: preparing the chorus for a performance of Stockhausen’s Donnerstag; singing the riotously bonkers music of Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen in Norway; and getting the National Youth Orchestra to sing the choral parts of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe at the Proms.
What are your favourite choral works?
The aforementioned Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen deserves a second mention – his Madrigals from the Natural World are zany, fun and very beautiful. Bach’s unaccompanied motets are pieces I could just live inside for a very long time. John Adams’ Harmonium has to be one of my favourite choral-orchestral pieces, and I adore Berlioz’s symphonic pieces with choir - Romeo and Juliet and Le damnation de Faust in particular.
What is your favourite part of Messiah? Why?
It’s so hard to single out a favourite bit of Messiah as it’s the whole that’s so wonderful, which I think is why a performance that gets the pacing right is really the holy grail! But I love the Christmas sequence, and the run of three “S” choruses - Surely, Stripes, and Sheep – is a moment where the choir really gets to shine.
What’s the key to Messiah’s enduring appeal to audiences?
For me, the main reason for Messiah’s enduring appeal has to be the text. Why is it so much more beloved than his other English oratorios? Surely it’s because he sets the most beautiful, poetic and resonant words of the Old and New Testament, side by side. Whereas in, say, Israel in Egypt we have to make do with arias about the land bringing forth frogs. The music of Israel is very fine, but it’s no contest really!
Sat 30 December 2023 Various Times Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
Relive the magic of Harry Potter’s wizarding world as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra perform John Williams’ iconic score alongside a screening of the film.