REVIEW: Summer Dreams – Douglas Boyd Tribute

Posted on June 1, 2011

Douglas Boyd   Classical Music Blogger Chris Ramsden reviews Manchester Camerata’s Summer Dreams concert at the Stafford Gatehouse and at The Bridgewater Hall on Saturday 28 May 2011.

“The Camerata refreshes the concert halls other orchestras cannot reach.”

Almost ten years ago, a star oboist made the Manchester Camerata an offer it couldn’t refuse. At his concert with them in Ellesmere Port, he’d perform on the oboe in the first half if they let him conduct in the second — and they’d save the conductor’s fee.

The cash-strapped Camerata jumped at the buy one, get one free offer, and the rest is history.

Douglas Boyd admits he has had no formal conducting training, and this
career change came as a sort of mid life crisis. Very few oboists have
made it on to the rostrum, and these days the young lions have been to
conducting school and through endless competitions.


He was influenced by two conductors of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, where he had made his career. One was Claudio Abbado, whose performances were always amazing, but who mumbled through rather boring rehearsals, the other was Nicholas Harnoncourt, who knew every last detail about the music and the composer, and taught the performers a lot.

But one lesson Douglas Boyd had learnt, he said, was to be himself; orchestras spotted it very quickly if conductors were trying to copy someone else’s style.

Speaking to the audience before Friday night’s concert at the Stafford Gatehouse, Douglas Boyd’s style came over as affable, approachable, and down to earth, but fired with a determination to make the best music possible. I think he’d be good on TV if he wanted to go that route.

He has managed to make the Camerata world-class and a successful recording ensemble, while squaring some sort of circle; it’s an orchestra that’s not just happy but determined to perform in places like Doncaster, Ulverston, and — yes — Stafford, an interesting contrast with many of Britain’s top ensembles who find touring a
necessary evil.

Unfortunately, he leaves as music director just as the budget is cut by ten per cent. He acknowledged this was “only” ten per cent; many bodies have had larger cuts. But he admitted it had a large impact on the Camerata’s already tiny budget.

Contrast this with his “other” group, the Musikkollegium Winterthur in Switzerland. They have long holidays, great pensions, and –crucially — no less than twice as long to rehearse. Douglas Boyd carefully restrained himself from suggesting they might be a little spoilt.

Not that any cuts were visible on Friday night… indeed, quite the opposite. The Camerata fielded a larger than usual orchestra, around forty, soprano Eleanor Leadbetter, the Ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir, and the imposing John Savident, formerly butcher Fred Elliot in Corrie.

Douglas Boyd said he wanted to make every concert an event, and this was. It opened with Mendelssohn’s wonderful violin concerto in a nervy, fleeting performance from the Camerata’s new leader, Giovanni Guzzo.

We were then treated to almost the whole of Mendelssohn’s magic music for a Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which John Savident plainly relished narrating and performing most of Shakespeare’s characters.

It was a very special climax to a special ten years — though Douglas Boyd suggested he’d be back as a guest conductor at some point if he can find a window between Garsington, Glyndebourne and Zurich operas and the orchestras of Dallas, Detroit and Seattle.

Another quote; “The Camerata refreshes the concert halls other orchestras cannot reach.” A good enough epitaph, I feel.

Posted by Chris Ramsden 

Read Chris Ramsden’s Notes from Middle England Clasical Music Blog

Watch Douglas Boyd talk about his time at Manchester Camerata