From The Back Desk - Robert Howarth, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

We venture beyond the back desk this time, and chat to the OAE's resident continuo player, Robert Howarth, about why you should always make sure your organ is switched on.

robert howarth orchestra age enlightenment

Name: Robert Howarth

Instrument: Harpsichord/Organ/Fortepiano (continuo)

Ensemble: The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Why did you decide to become a musician?
Because I can do nothing else.  Besides, being a musician is an all-consuming passion so being a professional player is the best thing in the world. We are amongst the luckiest people on the planet to do our most passionate hobby as our jobs.

What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
When I got the chance to conduct in the Berlin Philharmonie.

What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
Playing the downbeat chord on an organ that wasn’t turned on.

If you could work with one musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Bernstein. I’d love to just talk to him about music. I saw his series of lectures ‘The Unanswered Question’ when I was a teenager and his passionate way of talking about music really struck a chord (pardon the pun) with me.

In concert, have you ever thought, "I can't actually play this bit very well, I'm going to mime and hope no-one notices"?
Not yet…

Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
Having to miss out on important family occasions because of needing to work. I guess that’s because as freelancers we cannot rely on pensions and sick-pay and free weekends like 9-5ers. However, that is the only thing I can envy about them.

Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the orchestra?
Not like it used to if the stories of my more mature colleagues are to be believed. Maybe a bit, but when you’re in South America and the drinks cost pennies compared to the UK, I’ve seen some people reveal a livelier side that’s normally hidden.

Have you witnessed any serious diva strops in your time as a musician?
Yes. I’ve seen a conductor throw his toys out of the pram because the stage wasn’t set up quite right, and a tenor scream and romp round the room because his cadenza was curtailed.

What's the biggest challenge facing musicians like you these days?
"It’s the economy, stupid!"

What's the best thing about being a musician?
Music.

The OAE are currently on tour with William Christie, performing a tribute to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson - all the national and international dates are listed here.

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