To mark the occasion of his retirement as Secretary of the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra, Andrew Chapman was interviewed in July 2015 for the CSO Newsletter by
Michael St. John
Tell me about your early musical career
My mother was very musical – a piano teacher – and I started on the piano but disliked it. At the age of about 14 I heard The Planets and decided that I would like to play the cello. I had an excellent teacher for the remaining few years at school and carried on playing in orchestras as much as possible during my time as a medical student at the Middlesex Hospital – and since.
How did you come to join the Cheltenham Symphony Orchestra
My wife Jill attended the Royal Ballet School for 2 years. Being taller than most of the graduates, she decided to become a physiotherapist rather than a ballerina. In Cheltenham General Hospital she treated a chap with tennis elbow – Jamie Adams – and as soon as she discovered he played the violin, introduced us. I was then training in anaesthetics. I went along and played with the group that was to become the orchestra. We moved away to Winchester for a couple of years, but no sooner had I moved back into the area (Tewkesbury) to take up my post as a GP than the organiser was on the phone. That was in 1972. I have never looked back!
When did you become Secretary of the CSO?
It was in 2002.
What have been the ups and downs as Secretary?
The ups are seeing the orchestra expand and develop over the last thirteen years under the guidance of David Curtis (conductor). There have been tricky issues at times but I have been blessed with wonderful colleagues on the committee, in the cello section and, indeed, in the orchestra as a whole.
I was honoured and pleased that David and the orchestra performed my compositions, especially the cello concerto played by Emma Denton in 2005. I was also happy that I was able to support the performances of memorable works such as Britten’s War Requiem and Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. My violin concerto will be another highlight, perhaps…………..!
How did you find time to do so much on behalf of the orchestra?
I retired from being a GP at the age of 52. I had developed a depressive illness that came out of the blue and which stopped me in my tracks. It was inexplicable to me, I loved my job, I had a happy marriage and a wonderful family, there seemed to be no explanation. I suffered for four years from the illness which was accompanied by incessant compulsive suicidal thinking. That was the worst aspect but thanks to an excellent psychiatrist and drugs, I recovered enough to return to life and to take up work for the CSO. Jill was hugely supportive, literally a life saver during this difficult period.
People often ask me whether I miss being a GP and the honest answer is no. I have always been a strong advocate for general practice which has been, I believe, undervalued in the past and is under serious attack in our reformed NHS. Yet strangely I do not miss it, something that I do not really understand. These are issues that are explored in my first novel Beyond the Silence. The responses that I got to that book suggest to me that many people, doctors and patients, share my thoughts on this.
Do you have any favourite composers?
Not really – I tend to have favourite pieces of music, widely spread across composers, though I do love Britten. Mahler too – I would love to play Mahler’s 9th Symphony. Perhaps my most favourite is the violin concerto of Alban Berg.
You have already published two books. How did you get into writing?
In my last year at school, having passed A Levels in the sciences, I stayed on for a further year to do A Level English and to study Music (which included some composition.) I had an inspirational English teacher who stimulated my interest in Shakespeare and other Eng. Lit., and who gave me confidence in writing. He memorably told me “You will write your first book before you are 50”. He was out by a few years – it was hard to write much while I was working full time except whilst on holiday – and that was never long enough to finish anything. My first book Beyond the Silence was published in 2010 and the second Ikon in 2012. My third book The Leaving is about to be published and is set in a remote part of Scotland. Research in Scotland for this latest book has been a good experience.
Have you been on any writing courses?
Yes, two – in the South of France. Very convivial they were too!
What about your family?
While studying in London I produced Oklahoma and a friend recommended someone to be choreographer. It was Jill. We have four children now aged between 38 and 46, and 9 grandchildren aged between 4 and 22. The family is spread between Newcastle, Somerset, London, Estonia and New Zealand!
Any other hobbies or interests?
Walking. Jill and I did a marathon four-day hike – the Milford Track – when we were in New Zealand last year. It was a huge achievement for us especially as we were by far the oldest in the group.
As you hand over the reins of CSO Secretary how would you like to see the orchestra develop?
I feel that the CSO has established itself as THE symphony orchestra for Cheltenham and can only go from strength to strength, given the much greater involvement of so many talented and conscientious people. We need to build a bigger, regular audience and I would love to see the Town Hall completely full in December 2016 (which marks the conclusion of a three year campaign to build our audience). That would be a just reward for all the effort that has been put in by so many people.
Any final remarks?
I must say that I am profoundly grateful for the privilege of being able to play for so many years with the orchestra and to serve it in one way or another. It has meant a great deal to me.