In Conversation With... Benjamin Cunningham, RPO Chair and Double Bassist

A photo of RPO Chair and Double Bassist Benn Cunngingham

Want to know more about life in lockdown for our players, artists and staff?

In this month’s instalment of our 'In Conversation With...' series, we are thrilled to be joined by RPO Chair and Double Bassist, Benjamin Cunningham (pictured above, right), for an exclusive insight into what lockdown living has looked like for him.

 

“Lockdown for me has been a mixture of highs and lows, activity and inactivity, both professionally and personally. When we were able to return to the Royal Albert Hall for a couple of dates before Christmas, although the audiences were small and socially-distanced, I remember standing to take our applause and feeling a real welling-up of emotion. Audiences have such a part to play in the magic of a concert, and that sharing of what we do, with open and attentive ears and hearts, is just so vital to letting music live on. I’m sure that when we get back to a full concert hall, it will be a hugely emotional experience."

 

"As RPO Chairman, there has been a lot of work to do. This has included not only dealing with the difficult decisions around how we get the organisation through this crisis and keep our wonderful art form alive, but also beginning the really exciting work of looking towards the future of the organisation and, to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, ensuring that we ‘build back better’ when the pandemic abates."

 

"I feel a huge responsibility to the members of the Orchestra, helping to ensure that they are as connected to the organisation and as financially secure as possible. I am very lucky to be the Chairman of such a superb Board of Directors, the members of which have all been pulling together in the same direction and working hard to ensure that we look after the resources of the Orchestra and its people, and that we continue to create opportunities for our players to connect with our audiences."

 

"When restrictions began last March, my husband and I (with whom I’m pictured, along with our festively dressed dog Reg) had just begun a renovation and extension project on our new house. After complete cessation of the building work due to the government restrictions, we decided with our builder that, once it was permitted, his son and I would join his team as labourers, thereby keeping our project as Covid-secure as possible. So, I spent most of last spring/early summer digging trenches and mixing concrete!"

 

"I have also done a lot of dog walking, brushed up on my French skills and, thanks to my husband taking the lockdown as a chance to qualify as a personal trainer and fitness instructor, I’ve actually managed to lose about two stone in weight! As I’m facing my 40th birthday next year, I think the healthy eating and exercise should probably continue (post-pandemic)... In fact, I expect that my husband will rather see to it that it does!"

 

"I think that, in our personal lives, all of us have felt the challenges of being cut off from our family, friends and social networks. My husband and I have young nieces and nephews, in both Ireland and in the North-West of England, and we have particularly missed a whole year’s worth of being able to visit; of playing with them, cuddling them and seeing them grow."

 

"As a musician, being cut off from the activity of making music with other musicians is hugely challenging. I always say to young musicians that they should get into an orchestra, a jazz band or some kind of group as soon as they are able to, because one of the great joys of music-making lies in the social act of sharing music with other musicians. Of course, as a professional musician, this inability to perform also brings with it financial concerns, and the reduced capacity of all musicians to earn a living right now has been a constant worry for myself and for so many of our colleagues around the world."

 

"I practise most days of the week, with a particular emphasis on my scales and studies! It’s been nice to have some more time to drill down into the fundamentals of my playing and, as Pinchas Zukerman always says, ‘PRACTISE YOUR SCALES!’ My husband is a violinist and we have done some duos to keep us occupied in the house and, when the first lockdown started to lift, we enlisted a couple of musician friends who live nearby to perform a concert on the green outside our house for our neighbours. It was such a joy to be performing to real, live people again, and it was so well-received by everyone."

 

"I really can’t wait to get going with the Orchestra’s plans to welcome Vasily Petrenko as our new Music Director. He is such a fantastic, dynamic musician, and the combination of his artistry and skill, along with the energy that he helps bring to our performances, is simply electric. I can’t wait."

 

"I can’t not also give a special mention to some of my colleagues who have arranged a number of RPO Zoom quizzes over the last nine months; one of which even featured a round presented by the great man himself, Mr. John Rutter, in the style of his annual Christmas quiz. Great fun."

 

"(Looking ahead to life post-pandemic) I suspect that, like many people, the heightened awareness of how important my personal relationships are will be an important thing for me to remember from this period. Sharing life with people that mean something to you is so vital, and I hope that when life does return to its crazy, busy ways, that I’ll take the time to remember that. And, to be honest, I’ve quite enjoyed wearing a face mask in winter; it really helps to keep my face warm!” 


 Benjamin Cunningham gratefully acknowledges the wonderful support of his Chair Partners, Naomi and Simon Venn.

Keep an eye out for more 'behind-the-scenes' player videos and content here at RPO at Home

 

RPO at Home

The RPO at Home section is aimed at keeping music alive in a variety of entertaining ways.   

Join the musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a selection of videos, podcasts, card games and more.

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