I have to admit I was bit apprehensive about interviewing Sir Mark Elder, a titan amongst conductors. Every time I’d seen him interviewed, I was struck by his authoritative glare and commanding delivery. This was a Man Who Knows, a man who had the air of not suffering fools gladly.
I soon found out that behind the formidable presence is a warm and very personable man. ‘Ah, you must be Jonathan James’, he said as I introduced myself. I wasn’t expecting him to remember my name, but it soon transpired that he’svery good at connecting with people. I witnessed him with audience members and marketing staff, sharing anecdotes and thoughts and generously giving time when, surely, he must have wanted to be resting after the long rehearsal in the Green room, nursing a coffee.
Turns out Sir Mark has a flair for mimicking local dialects, from a broad Stoke-on-Trent to West Country drawl. This is a great weapon for his armoury of anecdotes, and he is clearly a very natural raconteur. On stage, it was a ‘press-play’ interview: minimal questions and sitting back enjoying the flow of ideas. He held the floor with consummate ease, and his passionate account of Elgar’s second symphony got spontaneous applause. For the first time (I think) ever, people had to be turned away from the pre-concert talk. Those who were lucky enough to be there were treated to insights into the cantabile string sound of Halle (a legacy of Barbirolli, apparently) and thoughts on Elgar’s composing psychology. Brilliant.