Tatty Theo and Carolyn Gibley of The Brook Street Band

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

TT: I grew up surrounded by music; my grandparents were the pianist Margaret Good and cellist William Pleeth, although I was always drawn to the baroque repertoire performed by my uncle, cellist Anthony Pleeth. I don’t think I ever considered any other career option, although as a family we never chatted about the pros and cons of music as your job, rather than a hobby.

CG: I grew up in a musical family (my mother studied joint-first study flute and piano at the RCM and has taught and performed all her working life). Music was always just what we did, nothing special. I didn’t have a time when I thought I would like to be a musician it just never occurred to me that I might do anything else!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

TT: My family were obviously a huge influence and support, but equally, the members of The Brook Street Band. We’ve been together for over 20 years now, and we really are a close-knit family unit. We all enjoy the spontaneity of each other’s music making. No concert is ever the same as the previous one, and that is very thrilling and stimulating.

CG: My mother has obviously played a very important part in my musical life and still does – she will often come and listen to me practice and give me advice. I was also lucky enough to go to Chetham’s School of Music from the age of 13 where I was again surrounded by wonderful musicians who all worked hard and passionately. It was while I was at Chetham’s (as a first study recorder player) that I had the opportunity to study the harpsichord. I loved it but it wasn’t really my intention for that to take precedence over the recorder. I love the role of the accompanist and so the harpsichord gradually took over. I have always enjoyed playing in small chamber groups and have been with The Brook Street Band for over twenty years. My colleagues (and friends) in the group have inspired and influenced me (and still do) to keep searching for the very best I can be as a musician.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

TT: If I’m really honest, aside from technical challenges around particularly tricky repertoire (usually overcome with practice) I’d have to say adapting to being a parent, and all the complicated logistics around that, travelling and being away for concerts. I also manage the group, so over the years there have been various administrative skills to learn and develop, all whilst fitting in enough time for practice and developing and selling new concert and CD programmes.

CG:I don’t think I was a natural performer – I was painfully shy as a child and still sometimes find being ‘in the limelight’ a slightly odd experience. I actually love being on stage now , particularly with The Brook Street Band – we have all been together for so long that there is a lot of trust and understanding between us so we can help each other over any tricky moments we might have. I have suffered from nerves very badly at times over the years and this is something that I still worry about if I have to perform any solo pieces. I have found that all my teachers were correct when they told me that practice and being properly prepared were really is the only way to overcome these problems!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

TT: I don’t think I can single out a single performance or recording, although generally the recording process isn’t something I relish. I generally prefer live performances, where living in the moment is of paramount importance. The degree of self-criticsim and picking apart needed in recordings is sometimes at odds with the joyous music we get to play. However, we’ve found some wonderful venues, including our most recent in North Norfolk, and the warmth of that venue, together with stupendous amounts of cake really made that recording process a brilliant experience. I’m most proud though of love:Handel, our very own Handel festival, which started in 2017; we are now planning for the next one on 2021.

CG:I have made many recordings with The Brook Street Band and I am genuinely proud of them all. As for performances, the concerts that involve a lot of ‘behind the scenes’ work that might be preparing editions of the music, printing a programme, even baking a cake (yes, sometimes we have cake at our concerts!), are the extremely satisfying. Knowing people are enjoying all the hard work makes it really worthwhile.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

TT: My head says whatever we are working on at the time, be it Bach or Boyce… or Arne. But my heart says Handel. There’s such emotion and humanity in the music. On a personal level, I’ve always had a deep connection with Handel’s music, small-scale chamber right up to opera and oratorio. There’s something in his musical language which resonates with me, and makes me feel whole. We know most of Handel’s chamber music by memory, so when we perform that, be it a trio sonata, a violin sonata or a cello sonata (one of my personal favourites), we really do come alive as a group, free from looking at the page, and able to be completely sponanteous. That always feels very liberating, and audiences always comment on the level of intimacy between us and them.

CG:I would have to say Handel’s chamber music particularly the trio sonatas. As a Band our signature tune is probably the passacaglia from Handel’s Op. 5 no. 4 trio sonata. We have played and recorded it many times and it’s a wonderful piece. I first played it in the very first concert I did with BSB back in 1999, when Tatty (who is our cellist and runs the group) handed me the music backstage at the end of the concert saying ‘quick, this is the encore’. We had practised the programmed pieces a lot but had forgotten that we might need an extra piece! Luckily the others knew it well so I was able to fit in fairly easily. Of course since then I’ve got to know it extremely well.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

TT: We generally know what programmes we’ll have in our repertoire in different seasons, partly determined by our recording schedule, or festival appearances and themes. There are always old favourites, which underpin whatever we do (it’s rare for us to give a concert without any Handel in it!), but equally, it’s always fun to design a programme for a specific reason. Later this year for example we’re recreating the lifestory in music of a broken-hearted Scotsman , who spent time at the Court of Frederick the Great, before extensive travels in Italy.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

TT: I’m a big believer in psycho-geography and the ‘memories’ that buildings hold of previous musicians who have performed there. It’s always wonderful to play in a space which Handel knew, such as his local church, St. George’s Hanover Square, or his house at Brook Street. There’s also a huge thrill occupying the same stage as previous generations of chamber musicians such as my grandparents at world-renowned venues including Wigmore Hall. But a venue doesn’t always have to have a historical or hallowed connection. It’s often the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience that create that special atmosphere, so sometimes the best venues can be incredibly intimate or quite unusual.

CG: It is such an honour to perform at places such as Wigmore Hall or Snape Maltings. When you walk out on stages like these you can’t help but feel that you are walking in some very wonderful footsteps. Snape Maltings holds a very special place in my heart as my grandmother was a fisherman’s daughter from Aldeburgh and lived there most of her life. When we went to visit her years ago we would go to concerts. I particularly remember sitting on the floor at The Maltings proms listening to a wonderful Beethoven 7th symphony conducted by Roger Norrington. Whenever I perform there I do feel a special excitement. Having said that some of my favourite concerts are in much smaller, perhaps more relaxed venues – church or village halls for example – where we are much closer to the audience and can chat and feel that we get to know the audience as individuals a little.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

TT: It’s hard to pinpoint a single experience, but there have been many intensely memorable moments over the Band’s more than 20-yr concert giving career. Sometimes they’re memorable for the pure joy, such as a standing ovation at Wigmore Hall, or the sheer craziness of the situation, including music falling to the floor during a live radio broadcast. Amazingly, no one listening at home even noticed, as Sean Rafferty crept around our music stands, replacing the fallen music. Other memorable experiences have been an absolute emotional focus, such as during some of the composer festivals we’ve programmed and performed for venues including St. John’s Smith Square, where you are totally immersed in the composers’s music and world over an intense time-frame, fitting in as many as 10 events into a weekend.

CG: You usually remember the times when things go wrong! For example there was a place where the harpsichord was someone’s pride and joy, something they had made from a kit. Unfortunately it had a never been finished properly and it gradually seized up during the concert until I was left with only a couple of notes working! Or the time when we were abroad in the middle of performing Handel’s incredibly powerful and challenging cantata Lucrezia, when a photographer decided to walk right up the middle of the auditorium to the front of the stage to take noisy pictures! Of course these are the exceptions and most concerts are luckily very happy occasions.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

TT: Musical success for me is when I’ve understood what the music requires from me, technically, emotionally and intellectually, and am able to give that, conveying my interpration to the rest of the band, and crucially, the audience. It’s at its most intoxicating when the members of the Band are literally all ‘working in perfect harmony’, coming up with our own unique stamp on the music, and finding new things to say about it, whilst surprising each other.

CG: I always strive to get to the heart of a piece of music and play it in the best way I can. Sometimes when you play in a chamber group something magical happens during a performance and we all reach some place together where the piece makes total sense and each of us is playing at our very best. Often this happens when something a little unexpected happens in a concert – one of us might play a phrase in a slightly different way and we all react to this to make something very special.

Tatty Theo and Carolyn Gibley are members of The Brook Street Band. Since its formation in 1996 by baroque cellist Tatty Theo, the award-winning Brook Street Band has established itself as one of the country’s foremost interpreters of Handel’s music. The name comes from the street in London’s Mayfair where George Frideric Handel lived and composed for most of his working life. For more information go to www.brookstreetband.co.uk

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