Following four years of dedicated study, it was time for me to leave the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester in the summer of 2003. It had been four years of one-on-one lessons, masterclasses, music history, music theory, practical musicianship, gym workouts, ensemble experience, hikes in the Peak District, pubs, nightclubs, and let’s not forget those famous mouth-altering Manchester curries.
As for many students properly leaving education for the first time, this was an exciting time, albeit uncertain and daunting. I’d already done a fair bit of professional trumpet work while I was still a student, mostly with the Lowry Brass Quintet. The group had gained a PPRNCM (Chamber) qualification, passing with flying colours, and we had a healthy amount of bookings. However, as is the case with most newly qualified professional musicians, it was not enough to live on.
This was definitely a time to go home to my Mum and Dad’s house in Devon, have a few beers with some old school friends, take some long runs through the calming Ashclyst Forest, and allow a personal career strategy to evolve. My mates and I had a great summer enjoying all the things that people in their early 20s should enjoy. The summer of 2003 was particularly and consistently warm and sunny, so much of our time was spent enjoying the East Devon beaches. In addition to this fun, I was also practising for about five hours every day and thinking of routes to future prosperity.
As the summer turned to autumn, it was time to leave this relaxed lifestyle and travel. I briefly moved back to Manchester, but it was not long before I was approached by the Orquestra do Algarve, a chamber orchestra based in Faro in the south of Portugal. It has since been replaced by Orquestra Classica do Sul. The Orquestra booked me to play first trumpet for a couple of weeks. It was during this fortnight that I first met my friend Roy Theaker.
There were two concertmasters of the Orquestra at this time and Roy was one of them. In our first rehearsal together, we played Ludwig van Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) Overture by Felix Mendelssohn. The group was mostly made up of young professionals from all over Europe, North America, South America and South Africa. College was great fun, but it was liberating to be making music with these energetic people in a different part of Europe. On the way back from a very tasty coffee break down the road from our rehearsal venue, Roy struck up a conversation with me about the orchestra and his earlier professional life. I’d managed to bring some rain with me from Manchester, which was unusual for Faro in late September. I remember listening to Roy as we walked and he told me about playing with pop groups such as Destiny’s Child, Nitin Sawhney, Radiohead and Groove Armada whilst the flimsy trainers I was wearing became increasingly saturated.
Roy had moved out to Faro about a year before me when the Orquestra do Algarve was formed, with his wife Kalina (the very gifted principal cellist) and their young daughter Clio. He’d had an interesting journey from his early musical education in the UK, where he was a chorister in Chichester Cathedral Choir.
Like quite a few accomplished violinists, he also played the viola, and attended the Yehudi Menuhin School, studying with Wen Zhou Li and Maurizio Fuchs. He then attended the Royal Academy of Music, London, studying violin with Erich Gruenberg and Howard Davis. He’d studied conducting with Colin Metters and Denise Ham at the RAM, and later moved to the Vienna Conservatoire to continue violin with Boris Kuschnir. After his studies he toured extensively as a violinist with the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields and the London Chamber Orchestra, freelanced with the Philharmonia and London Sinfonietta, and was a conductor for Disney’s West End Musical “The Lion King”, a role he has since returned to in Melbourne for a 2015 production.
Roy is an extremely diverse and versatile musician. He was then and still is as comfortable conducting symphonic, operatic and commercial music as he is a violin soloist, chamber musician or concertmaster. While he was in Portugal, Roy featured in CD recordings, as a soloist with the Orquestra do Algarve and the Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra, and as a chamber musician with the Brodsky Quartet, alongside a wealth of studio sessions for commercial artists, TV and movie soundtracks.
It was a week or two after arriving in Faro, that I met an Irish violinist who was also booked to work on a short-term basis with the orchestra. She was beautiful, had Rivendell qualities and was great craic. The principal trumpet seat was not permanently filled at this time. There had recently been some auditions to fill it but a decision to appoint someone had not yet been taken.
So, along with some other candidates, I did a screened audition and I was offered the principal trumpet job full-time. These first two weeks in Portugal were unique and life-changing. I met my future wife and managed to get a start in the music industry. Most weeks, the orchestra would travel, normally to picturesque towns over the length and breadth of Portugal, but sometimes further afield.
Roy made an early impression on many of us because of his qualities as a leader in general as well as his orchestral leadership. He was often a mediator between the management and the musicians, and showed lots of initiative regarding artistic ideas, including some very tasteful arrangements. An enjoyable memory that has stayed with me is some arrangements of ballet music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that Roy put together. We accompanied a local ballet company who put on a beautiful show.
When I think of the time with my Faro friends, I think of growth, ambition, fun and hope. I remember stumbling around the Portuguese language, playing exquisite classical music, eating piri piri chicken and drinking chilled vinho verde. I remember orchestral soccer games, squash tournaments and games of pool. There were a number of good restaurants and bars in Faro. One of our favourite haunts was Taco D’Ouro on Av. 5 de Outubro, where they sold very reasonably priced coffees, pastries and toasties. It used to be possible to buy a “caneca” full of cool lager for €1.50c (a caneca is a glass with a handle that holds more than a pint). There were also some nice bars nearer to the marina. One was known to the orchestra as ‘Shack Bar’, which stayed open late. There used to be street sellers with glow sticks and other things such as hand puppets.
A number of the orchestral members from this time have stayed in touch and this has certainly been the case with me and Roy. I’ve since invited him over to work in Ireland on a number of occasions. He can’t be heard, but is conducting the Dublin Brass Ensemble on our inaugural album ‘Brass Warriors’, which was recorded back in 2009. He also came over to Dublin in June this year to conduct two trumpet works written for me and the RTE Concert Orchestra. One is ‘Postcards from Home’ by Peadar Townsend, a marathon trumpet piece that explores musical postcards being sent between Peadar in England and me in Ireland in a crossover musical style between orchestral and Irish traditional. The idea of a musical postcard came from Peadar asking about childhood memories of my home. For each musical postcard, Peadar takes one of his or my memories and uses them to shape his composition. The second is Ar Sceal (Our Story) by my wife Siubhan Ni Ghriofa, which explores a story of a family in both certain and uncertain circumstances. Roy will be returning to us again in 2020 to conducted some more recording sessions for my upcoming album, which will feature tracks for solo trumpet with orchestra and tracks for symphonic brass ensemble.
In 2008, Roy moved to Australia to take up a contract as one of the Concertmasters with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra. He’d stayed on in Faro after I left in 2005. He was the concert master of the Orquestra do Algarve for six years in total, during which time he also regularly conducted or directed concerts alongside fully staged theatre, ballet and opera productions. I’m really grateful for having the opportunity to meet, work with and become friends with Roy.
I could easily fill this blog with his very impressive biography. In short, he’s worked with some of the best in the business all over the world and if you’d like to know more about what he has done and is up to, I strongly recommend that you visit his website: https://www.roytheaker.com/
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Roy for allowing me to write about him.