THE CADOGAN HALL: Rebecca Stewart the brains behind the series of Free Concerts

Tony Andrews writes:

With Out To Lunch at Cadogan Hall 2017 thrilling the regulars earlier this year and hopefully lots of newcomers too, it seems appropriate to allow you all to meet Rebecca Stewart the brains behind the series of Free Concerts.

Rebecca, Thank you for taking the time out from your busy schedule to talk to us about your life and career in music. Where were you born and raised? Do you come from a musical family?

I was born in Salt Lake City Utah. My parents lived there for 3 years as my father, a Toxicologist, was doing a research project at the University of Utah. After returning to the UK when I was 8 months old, I lived and grew up in Congleton, surrounded by the beautiful Cheshire countryside. Singing has been in my father’s family and they have always had a love for music. My great grandfather was a Lay Vicar in Lincoln Cathedral Choir and my father booked artists for weekend gigs at Bradford University - some of these included Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd, Ravi Shankar and Duke Ellington. My parents gave me huge encouragement to follow my dream of a career in music and supported my many, MANY extra-curricular music commitments to help make it happen.

At what age did music become important in your life?

Pretty much since the beginning. I started off in recorder groups/choirs at primary school. My enjoyment of this led my parents to take me along to an open day at Quinta School in Congleton where I tried out lots of different instruments. From this, I decided to take up the clarinet and, from then on, classical music became a huge part of my life.

Did you enjoy your school days? Were there plenty of opportunities do develop musically?

There were a huge amount of opportunities during my school days. I got involved in the usual school productions and concerts but also being in the Girl Guides gave me the chance to perform in many local “Gang Shows” (including a solo singing performance with the addition of a pearly jacket and feather boa!). GSCE Music was not a popular subject in my school, and therefore was only available as an after-school elective subject; however this made it possible for me to take my GCSE exam a year early. I was delighted to be awarded a scholarship at King’s School Macclesfield, where I took my A-levels, and it was here where I began my love for Jazz – I starting learning to play the saxophone and joined the school Big Band.

Outside school life, I had private piano & clarinet tuition and was heavily involved in the Stockport Youth Orchestra. I appeared as soloist with the SYO performing Tartini’s Clarinet Concerto and Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Four Winds at Stockport Town Hall. I became one of the youngest members of the Congleton Choral Society which provided me with the chance of performing the incredible Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast along with many other wonderful choral works in local churches. I was also a member of the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain and attended many residential courses with them.

Were you allowed to go to musical concerts and if so, can you remember any which inspired you to realise how important music was in your life at this time?

Only of my earliest concert experiences was a school visit to London to see Les Miserables – coming to London was a big deal anyway and the show itself had a huge emotional impact on me. Also, Jack Brymer’s Recital at the Silk Centre, Macclesfield was a big inspiration. His recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet was a favourite of mine so to see him perform in a local, intimate setting was just incredible. My clarinet teacher, Richard Turner, was a huge influence on me and it was he who encouraged me to think & dream big. As he is abstract and surrealist painter as well as a clarinet and classical guitar teacher, we often discussed poetry, art & literature, and, on occasion, turned the music room into an art studio for an oil painting lesson. He encouraged me to audition for music colleges and even brought me to London for a lesson with Thea King, which was another great experience, preparing me for the huge step of moving to the capital and starting Music College.

I know from our many previous chats that after leaving school you studied music. Which University or Music College did you attend and which instrument did you study?

I attended the Royal Academy of Music, where I studied clarinet with the wonderful Keith Puddy. He was such a kind, patient and generous teacher. I was not the easiest of pupils and, as many others do, struggled with the challenges of being in such a high-level establishment, but he gave me huge confidence and helped me to develop to the absolute best of my ability. I also learned to play the classical clarinet, a period instrument on which Keith is a specialist, and the E-flat clarinet, with Richard Addison. It was a fantastic experience and although it was incredibly hard work, I loved my time there and am proud to have been a part of its history.

After graduating what direction did your career path follow? Do you feel your musical education helped direct you with your career?

In my fourth year, I decided that I didn’t want to become a performer so I took steps to find myself a position within in the music industry. I felt confident that, along with the skills the Academy had taught me, my attention to detail and organisational skills would be transferrable. Towards the end of my final year, I was lucky enough to receive a job offer to become PA to Georgina Ivor, a classical music agent who managed the careers of a number of major international artists. One of my main responsibilities was arranging all the artists’ schedules for their worldwide tours. It was a great job with a steep learning curve - a fantastic opportunity for me and a perfect way for me to learn this side of the business.

How did you end up at my favourite venue, Cadogan Hall and in what role and when?

After 4 years working for Georgina Ivor, I heard on the grapevine that a new Concert Hall in Sloane Square was opening up and, seeing that a position was available, I wanted to be a part of it. In 2005, I was initially brought into the team to set up systems in the administration and accounting departments as Administrator/Receptionist. It was “all-hands-on-deck” in those days - there was a very small number of people working here and it was fun to get experience in all aspects of the business. The hall, and my role, have evolved over the years and I am now the Concert Manager. I work alongside the General Manager to manage the diary in addition to programming the Out to Lunch and ‘Round About Two Thirty Foyer Jazz Series. I am very happy to say that I love my job. Cadogan Hall is a great place to work and I work alongside a great team of people in a beautiful venue.

What does the role entail? Give me a rundown of your daily routine when working on the main auditorium concerts.

To be honest, there is no routine - one of the best parts of the job is that no day is ever the same as the next and you never know who will be calling next. Building good relationships with our clients is very important part of my role. I liaise with a huge variety of people ranging from our resident Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to major corporate organisations, contemporary promoters, artists & agents; choral companies; theatrical agents; Serious (EFG London Jazz Festival); local schools & universities in addition to the BBC Proms. I finalise the contractual arrangements and ensure that they link with all the rest of the Cadogan Team to assist with planning their events.

Do you ever find the time to attend any of these concerts and if so, which stand out as totally memorable?

There really have been too many to mention and they have been memorable in so many different ways – I’m like a kid in a sweet shop! The Zurich International Orchestra Series is very special and there have been many of these which have been memorable for me. The Sixteen Concerts are always fabulous, Marillion, Kate Rusby and The Under the Apple Tree Festival event with Richard Thompson were all great evenings. I do have to say that the recent performance by Curtis Stigers with the Ronnie Scott’s Big Band will have to make that list as well – what a fantastic show!

How did you get involved with Out To Lunch and does in give you the same joy in creating this event that it obviously achieves with the audience? I can witness the pleasure I get from OTL.

Out to Lunch started as the idea of our General Manager Adam McGinlay – he wanted to make more use of the foyer, which is closed and quiet during most days, and to open the foyer doors during the summer months for some free events. I took this project on in 2011 and started off with a mix of different events to see what would work best ranging from author talks, school workshops and singer/songwriter performances to classical ensembles and even a salsa class. From the positive feedback we received & good attendance of the Jazz events, we tried a Jazz-only programme in 2012 and have not looked back.

Since then, the Out to Lunch Jazz Series has become so much more than we could have ever hoped. The audience has developed and, as you know, we have a core of loyal supporters who are key to getting the word round to new people. It has been successful in bringing more people into the hall and we see many of them attending concerts in main hall. The stories I hear about friendships that have been made and new artists that people have discovered through the series really does make it all worthwhile. Also, from a performer’s perspective, they love the attentiveness and warmth that they receive from the audience. It really is a great success.

We are delighted that the free foyer jazz events were added to the programme of the EFG London Jazz Festival last year and they will be featuring again Monday 13th – Friday 17th November 2017, as the ‘Round About Two Thirty Series. Please see our website for further information.

I am fully aware of your busy working schedule, but I know you do attend many musical events outside of Cadogan Hall. Do you have stories of magical musical moments, who are your favourite musicians?

One of the best events that I have attended was Ben Folds and Music at the Palladium last year (promoted by Serious). It was such an incredible collaboration and the performances of each artist were absolutely outstanding. Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life at BST Hyde Park was another knockout along with Prince at the O2. Fairport Convention’s Cropredy Festival has now become an annual musical pilgrimage for my family and holds such a dear place in my heart.

What is the next move in your career and life in general?

The only plan is for more fabulous events and projects at Cadogan Hall.