Interviews with Soloists

It is always a privilege to accompany the talented soloists who come to play with the orchestra, and as members of the orchestra we are always interested in finding out more about them.

Since 2012 we have collected questions from members of the orchestra which we have given many of our soloists to answer in a bid to discover what makes them tick.

With their permission, these are published on the website in the run up to the concert and then collected on this page.

Alex Postlethwaite, Violin
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto no 2 - Sat 24 Jun 2017

How old were you when you first picked up a violin?


If you weren’t a violinist what instrument would you most like to be able to play?

French horn - I think they're great instruments, and technically difficult to play well so it would be a challenge.

What’s the best concert venue you have played in?

Bishop Cotton school in Bangalore because the gig was great.

If you were a curry, what would you be and why?

I'd be a lamb dhansak...slightly sweet and a bit sour and a bit prickly hot.

What’s your favourite place to visit?

The pub or Paul's house because he feeds me

Brass or wind?


[ed: Alex has moved away from the area and will be standing down from his role as the orchestra’s leader] What made you decide to move?

It is where my car ran out of petrol after the last Dorking Phil concert

Is your new home (Shrewsbury) shroos-berry or shrose-berry?


What are your top tips for our new leader Sarah? And are there any warnings you would like to give her?

She's doing a great job so she doesn’t really need any tips...but she could shout more and stamp a lot

What will you miss most about the orchestra?

The questioning of speeds every five minutes

Which of your top tips from over the years do you really really REALLY hope the strings will never forget?

Stop only using the top inch of your bow or I'll come back and snap it!!!

Which has been your favourite solo performance with Dorking Phil?

I don't know - I'll have to see how this one goes...but the Szymanowsky was a fantastic piece and the orchestra sounded amazing

What concerto would entice you back?

I’d love to play the Beethoven Violin Concerto

And finally, which is the best section in the orchestra?

The second violins of course.

Tom Hardy, Bassoon
Weber: Bassoon Concerto - Sat 18th March 2017

When did you start playing the bassoon?

I was first introduced to the bassoon when I was a nipper at primary school. An oboist and bassoonist came to demonstrate and there was something about the “Hector’s House” theme… (if you remember this children’s TV show then you know how old I am!). But it wasn’t until I got to grammar school that I found an old Czech bassoon in a cupboard at the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe which was in need of a player. Although it was a strange dark yellow colour and had a curious aroma, I rose to the challenge.

How many bassoons do you own, and do you have a favourite (why?)?

I have one bassoon! As they cost more than the price of a small country it is unusual to find a bassoonist with lots of them! But I have owned many over the years. Four years ago I was lucky enough to have one built for me by the German bassoon maker Stephan Leitzinger which I love. When those magic lotto numbers come up trumps I will fill a small room with various bassoons of different vintages - maybe one for each day of the week? I do of course also have a contra bassoon that I use for making low rumbling noises in various orchestras and in my bassoon quartet I do have thousands of reeds though - I make them for hundreds of players around the world! And then there is a collection of “crooks” (the bent kind that go between reed and bassoon) - like Golf Clubs they all do slightly different things that nobody else can quite work out. Meanwhile, I do have a room full of guitars and never get tired of buying new ones despite my wife’s incredulity that you could actually need more than one.

Describe the bassoon in three words.

Glorious sea monster..

Though others might argue for:

Mono-dynamic farting bedpost

Who is your role model in terms of bassoonists?

I don’t have one player who is my role model as such but there are some truly inspirational players who have had a big influence on me. Often it is singers and other instrumentalists who inspire me to play my best and to make the bassoon “sing”.

What is the repertoire like for soloists.. Is new music bring written?

There is actually quite a lot of new music being written though to be honest much of it involves noises and fingerings I have yet to discover. However, what IS amazing is how much baroque and classical repertoire there is for the bassoon! Vivaldi wrote 39 bassoon concertos which are fabulous, and there are other contemporaries of his who also wrote similarly virtuosic works for solo bassoon. These days most performances of these are expected to be played on period instruments but there is still a great deal of pleasure to be had from playing these pieces on a modern bassoon.

What wood is your bassoon made out of and why?

Mountain maple! It is light and springy and resonant. Harder woods like rosewood have been tried but they weigh too much and the sound ends up very dark.

Did you enjoy 42nd Street and have you played in any other musicals?

42nd Street was a fantastic experience. I loved the whole atmosphere of the West End. And Catherine Zita Jones was just a chorus girl back then! Luckily the part was just bassoon though more and more if you have a show you are expected to double on other instruments and it is unusual to find a bassoon part in lots of the musicals that are currently playing in London. I have played in lots of shows over the years but usually for short runs of a week or two. Doing 42nd Street for several years means that I still have the tunes going round my head if I am not careful...

Vindaloo, jalfrezi, or balti?

Jalfrezi, though Chicken Tikka Masala is my weekly dish!

What is your favourite orchestral piece to perform as a bassonist and why?

Mahler 4. The bassoon part is lovely but the whole experience is a delight and I never get tired of it. It was the first piece of classical music that inspired me to want to listen to everything else I could lay my hands on. Up until then I was listening to rock music all the time (and playing my guitar very loudly).

Which is the best section of Dorking Philharmonia?

I hope to tell you after Saturday!!! But meanwhile, THE SECOND VIOLINS of course…

Andrew Yiangou, Piano
Grieg: Piano Concerto in A minor - Sat 19th Nov 2016

When did you start learning the piano, and was it the first instrument you learned?

I started with keyboard lessons when I was 6 years old and then the piano when I was 8 years old.

What did you get in your grade 1?

I can't remember, either a merit or a distinction

How much practice do you do each day?

At least 3 - 4 hours

Do you come from a musical family?

Only my grandfather, he was a violinist in Cyprus

What does music do for you that nothing else can?

It is a form of communication that can connect with anybody

Why the piano?

I was moved by a performance of Grieg's Concerto when I was 16, this is what made me want to become a professional pianist. To be able to communicate with an audience, and move other people through music the same way I was moved.

How did you come to be playing with Dorking Phil?

As a prize for winning the Coulsdon and Purley Concerto Competition

What is your favourite part of the Grieg and why?

All of it is my favourite part, but perhaps the most beautiful parts are in the second movement, and the slow section of the third movement.

Where is the most extreme place you have played?

In the Edvard Grieg International Piano Competition in Bergen, Norway in September

Do you have any other superpowers?


What do you do in your free time?

Socialise, cook, exercise, travel, watch football, series and movies

Do you watch Strictly and if yes who do you want to win?

I don't watch Strictly

What's the best tie you own?

Musical tie

Woodwind or brass?


What would you like to receive from Father Christmas this year?

Maybe an iPad Pro?

What in your life have you been most proud of?

Moving people through music

If you had a pet iguana, what would you call it?


What are you playing for your encore?

An encore is always a surprise :)

Which is the best section in Dorking Phil?

The second violins of course!

Richard Knights, Trumpet
Haydn: Concerto for Trumpet in Eb - Sat 11 Jun 2016

When did you start playing the trumpet?

When I was 10.

Why the trumpet?

I think it was Star Wars that really inspired me to choose the trumpet - John Williams' soundtrack and the LSO playing was the perfect combination, especially Maurice Murphy leading a brass section in their pomp!

How often do you practise?

It depends on how busy the diary is, what I have coming up to play and I like to prepare as early as possible. I can be playing anything from Gabrieli and Bach to Pharell Williams and most music in between..

How much did Alex and Paul have to pay you to persuade you to play with Dorking Philharmonia?

No comment other than not enough (it never is!)

What drink would you like in the pub after the concert?

A pint of ale please....Dark Star's Hophead for preference!

What is the highest note that you can play on the trumpet?

In the practice room, the C 3 octaves above middle C - sometimes known as Super C. In concert, the G 2 and a half octaves above middle C, in Bach's B Minor Mass.

Are your family musical?

My parents met singing Gilbert and Sullivan and my uncle used to play this trumpet as a child. If that qualifies as musical, then yes!

State or private?

State for everyone, private for those who choose to get more.

What do you do in your free time?

Practise! More seriously, reading, rugby and occasionally running (I'm a keen fan of Parkrun!)

Vindaloo or passanda?

Vindaloo - particularly the amazing ones I've had on tour in India!

"What goes on tour, stays on tour". Discuss.

This is a golden rule and must be obeyed. Unless the story is really amazing in which case anonymity must be used at all times - to protect the innocent and maybe the guilty!

Do you have any nicknames?

None that are for public consumption!

What's the best thing about Balham?

Hmm.. So many things - transport links, 3 large commons nearby (Wandsworth, Tooting, Clapham), great coffee houses. However possibly the best thing is a fab stall by the tube station at the weekend that sells BLT chappattis - these have revived me many times on a Saturday morning.

What piece would you most love to play and why?

So many to choose from! At the moment, Stravinsky's Petrushka is definitely up there - an amazing trumpet part and fabulous music all around, though there's plenty of others that I couldn't list here.

Do you have any questions for the orchestra?

Which trumpet concerto is next?

Imogen Painter, Piano
Beethoven Piano Conc. no 3 in C Min - Sat 21 Nov 2015

How long have you been rehearsing the Beethoven for and how much practice have you had to do?

It feels like ages, though for a long time it was just lurking nebulously in the background. More than I care to admit.

How do you find time to practise violin AND piano? And which is your favourite?

The piano comes first! I find it much easier. The Clavinova has headphones so I don't ostracise my neighbours too much during antisocial hours, whereas the violin feels very exposed and I don't have the patience to work on it by myself. I joined the orchestra so I could keep playing that way.

Do you still have lessons?

Not for about 10 years, except a How To Play a Concerto Masterclass from Alex (gratefully received).

What is your favourite bit in the Beethoven & why?

It changes every time, especially at the moment.

What piece would you most like to play?

Currently, I'll settle for Beethoven's 3rd Piano Concerto. Then I need to think of a new project.

What's the best section in Dorking Phil?

Having done my market research and played in both - it's the Second Violins!

How does it feel to play with your usual orchestra as a soloist instead of within the orchestra?

The first rehearsal was nerve-wracking! - but I've really enjoyed playing with people I know because everyone's been so supportive.

Is the rest of your family musical?

Fairly; one of us was always hacking away at something. We were lucky because my father plays the piano so there has always been someone to play with for fun rather than just "music practice".

What do you do in your free time if you aren't practising? (assuming there is any!)

I'm a creature of habit, so I like to run, play the piano and complete approximately two-thirds of a crossword. I've a big pile of books that might get a look-in after the 21st.

What would you most like to possess that you don't currently?

Room for a baby grand. And a baby grand. And warm hands.

Julia Weatherley, Voice
Brahms - Wesendonck Lieder for Female Voice & Orchestra - Sat 14th March 2015

What role do you most want to sing one day?

Either Violetta in La Traviata, or Norma.

Do you ever do karaoke and if so what's your favourite number?

I had a karaoke party for my 18th and everyone was shocked how terrible I was, so haven't done it since!

Are there any foods you avoid &/or other activities you do to help take care of your voice?

No! I love my food too much! I especially love cheese (with port) which many singers avoid, but I don't notice a difference. I'll just avoid the port the night before a performance.

What was the most important piece of technical advice you have been given? (about singing, not cars etc ;-)

Not to communicate emotions. Communicate the text and that will enable people feel the emotions.

"Everything is Awesome" from the Lego Movie or "Let it Go" from Frozen?

I'm desperate to see both these films, but having no children and a husband who has watched 'Enchanted' too many times for his liking, it's hard to convince him! I do know 'Let it go' so that has to win.

Who is the person who has influenced/inspired you the most?

This is too tricky. Every person I come across either teaches me something new or gives me a different insight to something. The great thing about music is that we are constantly learning.

How old were you when you gave your first public performance and what did you sing?

About the age of 7 I had my first solo at school, 'I can sing a rainbow' but I learnt the colours in the wrong order and still to this day know them as my 7 year old self. There's a funny story here about left behind grandparents too..

Do you like acting and singing equally or do you prefer one?

What I love is communicating a score. I am so lucky: I have the most fantastic composers and librettists/poets to help me. Acting and singing come together as you tell the story.

Do you have, or would you ever get a tattoo? If so what?

No. Never. Ever.

What's your favourite note?

E flat ( I'd like to add that auto correct corrected that to 'E I'm flat')

What's your highest note?

G above the Queens F, but not in public..!

What's the best section in Dorking Philharmonia?

The second violins!

Alex Postlethwaite, Violin
Szymanowski - Violin Conc. No 2 - Sat 29 Nov 2014

Why the Szymanowski?

I heard this many years ago and was captured by the incredibly dense but magical soundworld

What's your favourite part of the concerto?

The opening, it's eerie.

Are there any parts of it that you are apprehensive about? (apart from the orchestral accompaniment)

The opening. If I'm not happy with the way I play it then it will bug me for the rest of the piece and my concentration, which is not the best anyway when I'm playing(!), will get interrupted!

What is your favourite concerto and why?

That's too hard to answer. It depends. Possibly the Berg violin concerto. But it might change if you asked me tomorrow!

Do you ever have violin lessons?

No. I probably should!

Which word best describes your children's opinion of your violin playing? - cool / boring / amazing / embarrassing / other (please specify)

Other. Noisy

What do you & Jane do with the children when you both come to rehearsals?

Lock them in the car.

What's the worst gig you ever played & why?

Opera 'Die Fledermaus', where the MD used a synthesizer which was pre-programmed with the entire orchestral score at the same time as trying to conduct his 30 piece orchestra. Many of us walked out on him during the dress rehearsal.

Brandy or port?

Both. But not together like the other night!

Tikka masala or vindaloo?

Depends what day. Both are great!

Which of the Frozen characters do you like best?

Er. The reindeer thing?

What is the longest you have ever gone without playing the violin?

7 weeks, just two months ago when I sprained my left wrist!

Which is the best section in Dorking Phil?

As always, the 2nd violins.

Nick Byrne, Cello
Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations - 21st June 2014

Why did you choose the cello? How old were you when you started playing it?

Nick: I chose the cello accidentally. As a seven year old, I heard "The Elephant" (C.Saint-Saens) on the Radio and decided I wanted to play whatever instrument was creating that sound. Shortly afterwards I was walking with my Dad down the street, saw someone carrying a cello, pointed at it, and said "I want to play that!" (thinking that the cello was a double bass). I'm now glad that I was so unworldly, as I understand now why the cello is known as "The King of all Instruments"

What's your favourite cello concerto?

This is a difficult question as there are a number of great pieces written for cello and orchestra. Dvorak has to be up there as it is so complete as a symphonic work and there is as much for the orchestra to do as the solo cello. Shostakovich No.1 and Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations (obviously!) are also fantastic. I sometimes wonder what Beethoven's Cello Concerto would have sounded like if Bernard Romberg hadn't rejected his offer to write a cello concerto for him (Romberg said that he mainly only performed his own compositions!)

What's your favourite bit in the Rococo Variations?

The whole piece is just amazing, but possibly the intensely soulful Variation 6, which creates an extreme contrast with the super high energy Variation 7, is one of the highlights for me.

How long do you practise for each week?

I would typically rehearse for 6 hours per day with whatever ensemble I am playing with at the time, but on top of that, I do individual practice of up to 21 hours per week.

What do you do in your free time when you aren't playing the cello?

I enjoy cycling, running, playing badminton, drinking ale and singing sea shanties.

How old were you when you first performed a solo of any kind, and what was it?

I remember very clearly performing "The Swan" by C. Saint Saens aged 11, which was a complete disaster. Just before I went up on stage, my Dad said "Why don't you try playing it from memory?" I didn't see anything wrong with this suggestion at the time, and it didn't occur to me that I would have to memorize something before playing from memory. After the first 3 notes I completely forgot what came next.... Fortunately my Dad had recorded the performance and we repeatedly relived the moment that it fell apart in the car on the way home, accompanied by raucous laughter from my siblings.

What do you dream of achieving in life?

World domination

Which is the best section in the orchestra?

Well, the bass section have the most fun, the brass section drink the most beer, the violins have the most notes, the woodwind section get the best melodies, the horns have the most stress and the viola section get the most jokes made about them. It would have to be the cello section, as they get to play the best instrument.

Why did you call your cello Colin?

I'm the cellist of The Liverpool String Quartet and we often perform and give interviews on BBC Radio Merseyside. My cello gets a lot of attention wherever it goes, and one particular time, a member of the Under the Duvet Club (Listeners' club) suggested the name "Colin" for the cello. Now, in concerts at the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool, where we are quartet in residence, Colin always gets his own introduction. I think this name suits the instrument well, as he is obviously male and very old (1705). If it were to wear a hat, it would be a flat cap.

Who comes first in your life, Colin or your fiancée?

It's a very close call, but Colin wins hands down, no question.

What is your most amusing anecdote about Paul? (our conductor)

I have many amusing anecdotes about Paul "no fear" Newbold.

I remember one particularly brutal Lake District mountain biking incident in which we were descending a slippery track, in the rain, at high speed.

Paul was ahead of me and he lost control of his back wheel, then went into a dramatic spin & roll. He ended up sitting in a stream, miraculously unscathed, but with a strangely inquisitive expression on his face, (a little like a new born baby) as if he was reading my reaction in order to gauge how badly he was injured. When he realised that he was still alive, he started laughing and said "What an awesome wipe-out!"

Alex Postlethwaite (violin), Dan James (cello) Tom Taylor (piano)
Beethoven Concerto for Violin, Cello & Piano (Triple) (op. 56 C major) - 16th March 2013

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Alex: I want to be a violinist.

Tom: When I grow up I want to be able to play the Beethoven triple.

Dan: I wanted to play cricket for England, but since I've never grown up there may still be time...

How much practice do you do?

Alex: Not enough. Maybe half an hour a month. If I have a show or concert on then I tend to spend more time bowing music.

Tom: I practice as much as my pupils allow me to by not turning up to their lessons.

Dan: Depends on what I have in the diary or if I'm trying to get out of doing the hoovering!

Who wears the trousers in the trio?

Alex: I wear the trousers, Dan wears the sandals and Tom normally wears a sari.

Tom: Alex thinks he wears the trousers in the trio but is actually definitely me.

Dan: Alex likes to behave like he wears the trousers by acting like a cross between a conductor and a member of the mafia but everyone in the trio knows the power really lies with Dan because he's a Scouser and therefore likely to steal our tracksuits.

Which is the sexiest instrument?

Alex: Sexiest instrument is my violin, she is called Kylie. My other one is called Dannii.

Tom: Double bass is the sexiest instrument. But not when Dan plays it.

Dan: Clearly the cello since it's shaped like Jennifer Lopez and rests in my crotch.

Which is your favourite brass instrument?

Alex: No brass instrument is pleasant, but the horn is probably the only one that I respect.

Tom: My favorite brass instrument is the trombone. I wish I could slide.

Dan: I love the French Horn, it's the cultured member of the brass section that oozes class and dignity, much like myself...

What is your favourite moment in the triple (concerto)?

Alex: The middle movement is beautiful. But the best part is the last bar, assuming we get there in one piece.

Tom: Favorite moment in the triple is the only time I get the tune near the end.

Dan: Probably the second movement because I get a nice juicy tune and have time to count!

What do you do in your free time?

Alex: In my free time I eat or sleep, there's not much free time really.

Tom: In my free time I have Dan tell me stories about all of his greatest cricketing achievements.

Dan: Cook, eat, play cricket, cycle my bike, go for a few gins and try to catch up with the inevitable paperwork I put off.

When did you start learning your instrument?

Alex: I started playing violin at 8, still plugging away...

Tom: Started learning my instrument when I was 6. Peaked at 10. It's been downhill since then.

Dan: When I was 7 years old, I got a cello for Christmas.

Is anyone else in your family musical?

Alex: My mother plays the recorder and sings a little, my brothers all had a go at playing instruments and my aunt is a pianist.

Tom: No, my sister used to play a bit but essentially no.

Dan: Nope, I'm a one off, you could say a diamond in the rough but then that's probably a lie.

Do you have a girl/boyfriend?

Alex: I have a wife. Does that count?

Tom: I do have a girlfriend and she's much better than me at the piano. I have also been propositioned in a less than romantic way by Alex and have shared a bed on three different continents with Dan. He's warm.

Dan: I had a girlfriend but because I like her and she wasn't able to escape I've managed to make her my fiancee. No you can't go on a date with her...

Does Alex cry when you tell him off?

Alex: I do the telling off and then I cry.

Tom: Alex cries when I tell him off, he cries when I don't tell him off. He just cries. All the time.

Dan: Alex cries all the time, it's part of his diva mentality.

What would you like to possess that you currently don't?

Alex: I would like to own an RCA theremin and a house. And also a solar telescope. And an E-type Jag. And a man servant. Possibly also a maid, a cleaner and an au-pair. I might not be able to own these last people, but it would feel like I did.

Tom: The ability to trill.

Dan: I would like to possess a house, a car, a cat or a dog, so in short basically the things that people who have real jobs in the real world can afford.

What are your greatest achievements to date, or what are you most proud of?

Alex: Bowling Dan out twice in a row in a game of cricket in Kenya.

Tom: My greatest achievement is bowling Dan out in the nets.

Dan: I scored my first ever century for my cricket club at the end of last season and that was one of my proudest moments. I've framed the score card and put it in the bathroom for guests to admire whilst on the loo.

What sport is your favourite & what team do you support?

Alex: I like Cricket and Football and Gymnastics.

Tom: Cricket. Just England really.

Dan: Unsurprisingly I love cricket but when it comes to kickball I follow the mighty Seagulls, we'll be in the Premier League.

Did you go to state or private school, and where?

Alex: Reigate Grammar School.

Tom: State school. Up north on the Wirral, Mosslands school. Very very unglamorous.

Dan: I went to a state school in Haywards Heath. The year I finished they knocked it down. I still struggle to spell my name even to this day, hence I'm Dan and not Daniel...

Which is the best section in Dorking Phil?

Alex: The second violins are by far the best section well done all can I have my fiver now please?

Tom: Best section of the Dorking Phil is definitely the second violins (I was told to say that!)

Dan: Clearly the best section is the second violins, they're like the amazing biscuit base in a really good cheesecake. Not always on top and on show but without them it would be a bottomless mess...

Andrew Samarasekara, aged 15 (violin)
Mendelssohn - Concerto for Violin in E minor - 1st Dec 2012

What made you decide to take up the violin rather than another instrument and what age were you?

When I was younger my parents would take me to see various different concerts and soloists playing. When I heard the violin for the first time I absolutely loved the beautiful sound and amazing colours it produced, which is what drove my passion to take up the violin. I took up the violin at the age of 5 years old.

How much practice do you need to do each week?

Each day I try and get in at least 4 hours a day, and on the weekends 5 hours.

Do you have a favourite composer?

At the moment my favourite composer is Benjamin Britten. I love his amazing melodies and virtuosic technique he writes, especially in his violin concerto.

Do you have a girlfriend?


How do you fit in homework and practice?

It’s obviously hard to fit in both time-consuming things, especially with GCSEs coming up and many pieces of homework. I just try and practice in any free time I have. I practice before school, during lunch and in the afternoon, but really it’s a balance to keep both demanding things positive.

What are your hobbies?

I love many sports such as tennis, squash and rugby and I try and balance my fitness with my academic and musical studies. I also like reading and listening to a lot of music.