Park proms conductor promises flag-waving favourites

ONE of the first records John Rigby remembers his grandfather playing him was the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Tomorrow night he will be conducting them at The Very Best of The Last Night of the Proms in Ipswich’s Christchurch Park, which will also feature soprano Natasha Marsh, baritone Richard Morrison and renowned tenor Wynn Evans.

“You know, 35 years later to be conducting them is wonderful,” says the 41-year-old, who describes conducting as like piloting a ship, guiding the 70-odd musicians and the music in the right direction.

“I did a concert outdoors with them on Saturday just gone; every one we’ve done so far has seen nice weather, so I’m really hoping Ipswich doesn’t break that trend. I have been to concerts when it’s been throwing it down and it’s hard work.”

He loves working with the world famous orchestra.

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“They’re a great bunch of players and personalities; it really is an enjoyable job. You know you hear a lot of horror stories about orchestras and how difficult they can be with conductors but the RPO are fantastic. We know each other well so it’s all very relaxed, it’ll be like a family outing.”

A graduate in orchestral and choral conducting from the University of Huddersfield and the Royal Northern College of Music, John has worked with many of the country’s leading orchestras – from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to the Orchestra of Welsh National Opera and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra to name few – covering a wide repertoire at many of the country’s top venues.

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He is a much respected conductor and musical director in the world of musical theatre and also a musical supervisor, recently overseeing the 18th century musical comedy The Poor Soldier for the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds.

Also a composer, arranger and orchestrator he has produced music for a variety of events, shows, soloists and orchestras. His commercial recordings include the original London cast album of Marguerite, featuring Suffolk’s very own Ruthie Henshall.

His passion for music stretches back to long before he could play anything.

“I always loved it. My dad used to love the dance bands and Glenn Miller, so there was always music on in the house and it was just something I always wanted to do,” says the pianist, flautist and guitarist who also used to play the bassoon. “Some people have a passion for football; I just developed a passion for music.”

John grew up in St Helen’s on Merseyside, the son of a lorry driver and housewife.

“None of my brothers or sisters are musical; my granddad was quite a talented singer, but never professionally. All my other brothers work in factories and do manual labour, so I’m kind of the black sheep of the family I suppose,” he laughs.

Was it hard to become a conductor?

“There’s one conductor at every concert as opposed to 50 string players, so it’s always a struggle” he laughs. “I’ve had as good a chance as anybody and you make out of these opportunities what you can. I’ve been very fortunate that things have gone well; one thing has led to another and I’ve conducted all round the world – it’s been great.”

He’s spent 15 years of his life conducting theatre, doing more orchestral concerts over the last five.

“I suppose most new shows that open now don’t have a conductor; they’re smaller bands than they used to be – eight or nine-piece pop bands – so I suppose orchestral conductors are a little bit of a dying breed on the West End. My heart really is in orchestral conducting, so when the opportunity presented itself for me to do more it was great to do so.”

John promises something for everyone at Saturday’s event.

“We’ve got a selection of operatic highlights, but it’s all the popular classics like things from Carmen and La Boheme; even if they don’t recognise the names in Italian they will certainly know the tunes from TV, movies and so on. Then there’s the usual flag-waving favourites; Land of Hope and Glory, Jerusalem.”

The Very Best of The Last Night of The Proms, featuring the RPO, takes place at Ipswich’s Christchurch Park tomorrow. Gates open at 4.30pm so you can enjoy your picnic before the performance starts at 7.45pm, rounded off by a fireworks finale around 10pm.

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