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MUSOs of the ASO: Andrew Penrose, Principal Timpani

18 Aug 2020
  • Musician Spotlight
by Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
MUSOs of the ASO: Andrew Penrose, Principal Timpani

Classical auditions rank amongst the world’s toughest job interviews. Each applicant has only 10 minutes to play in a compelling way that makes them stand out from all other candidates. At the ASO, all auditions are “blind”, meaning that the candidate and the panellists don’t know who is on the other side of the screen. Having prepared for the performance of their life, it can be particularly nerve-wracking when a player’s entire career prospects come down to nailing that audition.

One of the ASO’s newest recruits is Andrew Penrose who is currently on trial for the role of Principal Timpani, although he’s not an unfamiliar face having played as a casual musician with the orchestra since 2011.

Andrew recounts his personal audition story and says “it’s an honour to be given a full-time role from the musicians I’ve learned from and respect so much”.

You’ve just secured a role with the Orchestra – describe your personal audition story?
My audition story has more to do with what I did before the audition. It was a lot of practice and hard work to make every piece as musical and stylistically appropriate as possible. On the day, I just had to execute what I’d practiced and not play it safe.

I was very lucky to have held the role on contract for the previous 12 months, so I was familiar with the drums and the Grainger Studio acoustic. It allowed me to be much more involved in the music and not worry about the intricacies of an unfamiliar set of timpani.

To add an extra layer of depth to my preparation, my wife gave birth to our second child one week before the audition.

How many auditions have you had to do before you secured the role with the orchestra? 
One. I auditioned for the Principal Timpani role in the Sydney Symphony about a year earlier. I didn’t get past the first round, and no one was appointed to the position at the time.

How do you prepare for an audition?
I listened to as much music as possible.  Immersing myself to know the pieces and know what’s happening around my part. I then recorded myself and listened critically to rhythm, articulation, intonation, style, and sound. I tried to practice 3 to 4 hours per day. With kids and work that wasn’t always possible, so I had to make the absolute best and most efficient use of the time that I did have each day.

Do you have any methods of overcoming nerves on audition days?
My philosophy is to ride the wave of adrenaline to put something extra into your performance. Use the adrenaline, don’t fight it.

Describe how you felt when you learned you had won the role with the ASO?
Immense relief and excitement! I loved telling my wife.

Renmark, then Victor Harbor

I spent my schooling at Victor Harbor High School and Hamilton Secondary College, followed by the Elder Conservatorium completing a Bachelor of Music with Honours, Classical Performance.

I knew I’d make a career in music when:
I attended The Big Rehearsal with the ASO as a year 10 student from Victor Harbor High School.

If you weren’t a professional musician you’d be:
I’ve never seriously entertained an alternative. More than likely a struggling History graduate.

How did you choose the timpani?
Drums were the coolest thing in the world to a 10-year-old. It wasn’t until I was 13 that mum let me take lessons. I played in the concert band at Victor Harbor High School and fell in love with the drama and emotional punctuation of orchestral percussion.

Is there anything special about your actual instrument/does it have a name/any quirks?
The timpani I’m playing is the new Hardtke Berlin Classic drums, purchased by the orchestra in 2017. Every individual drum has its quirks and intricacies.

Describe the best thing about being a musician:
You get to be within the sound for some of humanity’s greatest artistic achievements.

Music to you is… outrageously fun.

Who has influenced you most as a musician?
The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as a young casual musician, and my teacher, Amanda Grigg when I was a student.

If you could play a different instrument, which would you choose?
Trumpet. I get trumpet envy. It gets some of the most dramatic, fun, and emotionally satisfying moments in the repertoire – Mahler 5, Tchaikovsky 4, Shostakovich 8 to name a few of many examples.

Which solo or moment in the timpani orchestral repertoire is your favourite?
The transition from the 3rd movement to the finale in Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, or the ending of the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th symphony.

Your most memorable performance/s with the ASO:
Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Elgar’s Enigma Variations in Shanghai Symphony Hall.

Your first orchestral concert memory?
The Elder Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra playing Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. It was memorable because I had never been part of a permanent orchestra with strings, as I had only played in concert bands before.

COVID-19 has put a hold over ASO concerts; what do you miss the most about not being able to perform?
Playing with and for friends. I miss not being able to perform Mahler’s 5th symphony or the giant Carmina Burana.

Despite not being able to perform in concerts you still have to remain fit to play for when concerts resume.  How much are you practising, and what repertoire are you selecting?
It has been a challenge to find the appropriate practice time with a two-year-old and a two-month-old in the house. I have primarily been working on extremely basic upstroke and downstroke movements to revisit the most basic of technique. It is always useful to diagnose exactly what is happening every time I lift a mallet, and how that relates to the sound I create. I have also been working on fluidity and roundness of my rolls, from pianissimo to fortissimo. If I have time left I am familiarising myself with all the Beethoven and Brahms timpani repertoire.

When you’re not performing or practicing, what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Playing with my two children, Erin and Hamish.

When you’re not listening to classical music what do you listen to?
The Wiggles, mostly.

What has been your most memorable musical experience as an audience member?
Rage Against the Machine at Big Day Out in 2008

Do you come from a musical family?
Music was always part of my childhood, my sisters and I all played instruments, but no one else continued past high school. My grandpa passed his love of music to all of his children and grandchildren.

Name three things people may not know about you?

  1. I love watching cricket and American Football
  2. I do a pretty good impression of Peppa Pig
  3. I had to repeat year 12 because I played too many video games

What’s your idea of a perfect day in Adelaide?
Anything that involves a Barossa Valley cellar door.

If you could ask one composer one question what would it be?
Elgar – in Enigma variations no.13 – what did you have in mind when you wanted the timpanist to roll with snare drum sticks, crescendo to the end of the bar, and then play immediately with normal sticks on the downbeat of the next bar? It is a famous timpani mystery.

What piece of music never fails to move you?
The Bach Chaconne. It is perfect and stands alone.

What’s your favourite type of food?
The next one. With wine.

What’s the weirdest thing in your fridge/pantry?
Nappies. But that’s for storage purposes.

What books are on your nightstand?
The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan and Surprise, Kill, Vanish by Annie Jacobsen.

Do you speak any other languages?
I’m trying to learn German so I don’t have to translate the written instructions on every Mahler part.

Do you have any hobbies?
Gardening, indoor cricket, and occasional strategy computer games like the Civilisation series.

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