RPO's Benn Cunningham on tuning your musical antennae


The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is returning to The Hexagon, Reading on Thursday 13 June with a feast of orchestral favourites, including Borodin’s exotic Polovtsian Dances and Tchaikovsky’s intense Francesca da Rimini.

We sat down with RPO's double bassist Benn Cunningham to find out more!

Hi Benn, the upcoming concert at The Hexagon has a really interesting program, rich in stories and drama. Are they any pieces that stand out to you at a personal favourite?
They are all real power horses of the repertoire; especially the Tchaikovsky piece which all orchestral musicians grow up with and sits at the very centre of orchestral playing and technique. I think it really suits the RPO, it’s virtuosity and youthful energy really plays to the orchestra’s strengths.

How have rehearsals generally gone? Have there been many difficulties to overcome, or has it been relatively smooth?
The rehearsal process is usually pretty smooth as the musicians at the RPO are a pretty easy-going, collaborative bunch and we’ve enjoyed working with the conductor Alpesh Chauhan before. His musical ideas and the way he shapes the pieces seem to fit neatly with those of the orchestra.

Typically, how long does it take for everyone to prepare for a concert like this? Does the venue or type of piece make any particularly discernable difference?
All of these pieces are what we call core repertoire so the musicians playing them will have spent their lives learning and performing them. We will all have learned the tricky passages and have our plans of attack worked out so when we come to perform them again, it’s a matter of revision and dusting off a few fingering patterns. We will often only come together for a three-hour rehearsal before we play pieces we know so well which means you have to come ready to play (ie personally prepared) and ready to listen to your colleagues and the way in which they play. You can rehearse for days but it’s useless if you don’t have your musical antennae out and your ears open.

Have there been any funny or euphoric moments during rehearsals?
Afraid not.

For those who have not attended an orchestral concert before, what would you like them to know?
I always try to remind people who are fresh to classical music just how much there is out there to discover and that they will find something which makes the hairs stand up on their neck. I sometimes compare it to people going to the cinema. There will be some films you like, some you don’t, some which start slow and get better half way through and some that keep you gripped all the way till the end. It’s okay to have these kinds of reactions to classical music and to find out what it is that excites you. I’m always astounded myself by the power of this large group of musicians on stage, moving and breathing together and the epic sounds they create. I’m also always amazed by the idea that these composers started each morning with a cup of coffee, a sheet of blank paper and a pencil. From there, they conjured worlds of magic. I think that’s pretty special.

Do you have any final words of wisdom?
Practise your scales. I mean it...

Latest News

  • Tuesday 14 May 2019
    June concerts with Menuhin Competition winner Diana Adamyan
  • Monday 13 May 2019
    An Interview with Chloé van Soeterstède
  • Friday 3 May 2019
    Young people driving vinyl renaissance says RPO YouGov report

Latest Press

  • Monday 13 May 2019
    An Interview with Chloé van Soeterstède
  • Monday 1 April 2019
    Francesca Dego "performing with the RPO? It's like driving a Ferrari"
  • Wednesday 23 January 2019
    Strokestra Features in The Washington Post