Interview - Freddie Tapner (London Musical Theatre Orchestra's Principal Conductor and Founder)

On Sunday 6th November the London Musical Theatre Orchestra will be performing Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical State Fair at London's Cadogan Hall. The performance will be the first professional production of the musical in London, and also the orchestra's first ever full scale production, after it's inaugural gala in June of this year. The performance will be conducted by Freddie Tapner, the London Musical Theatre Orchestra's founder and principal conductor. As the production enters its final week of rehearsals, Freddie Tapner took some time out to answer a few questions about the how the London Musical Theatre Orchestra was formed, why State Fair was chosen as the first ever production, and what audience members can look out for in the future...


Photo credit - Nick Rutter
Hi Freddie, thanks for taking the time to take part in this interview. As the conductor of State Fair you must be very busy. It's interesting that you chose to study engineering at university, and yet now you work in the arts. Did you always have an interest in musical theatre? 
I was brought up around the theatre, around musicals particularly. I specifically remember, when I was about 5 years old, in long car journeys we'd always be listening to Phantom of the Opera, or Chess, or some of the other great musicals. I was also very lucky at school, I was on stage a lot in plays and musicals, and then when I got to university I found that I identified a lot more with the music team, because really that's what I love about musicals. The dancing is amazing, the acting is amazing, but for me it's all about the music and the lyrics. 

What made you want to pursue a career in music?
When I left Cambridge I knew that it was what I wanted to pursue, and because it's an inherently unstable career path to go down, I thought that if there was any time to attempt it, the time would be straight after university. I suppose I had the lowest height to fall from! 

When you started the London Musical Theatre Orchestra did you expect that a lot of people would be interested in the idea, and willing to take part? 
Well if I'm completely honest I really didn't think that many people would be interested in it. When I started it it was much more of a passion project, and one which I always hoped that people would like, but I didn't set out imagining it would become a success. I set out to do it because I thought it would be fun for a group of people who love musicals to get together and play through a show. The thing which sort of showed me that there was a real desire to play musicals was when I posted a facebook post asking if anyone wanted to come and play through a musical just for fun, and in 24 hours I had 250 replies. At that point I realised that my idea did have some legs!

So originally it was formed as a way to bring together musicians who loved and wanted to play musical theatre for fun. How was it decided that the professional orchestra would be created, and that the concerts would be open to the public? 
As the play-throughs began to grow in popularity and quality, we realised that all of that talent was behind closed doors and it was a waste. We wanted to invite people in. Of course, at that stage you have to step up a gear in terms of your aspirations for the quality of what you're doing, and so the LMTO is packed with the very best players that we can find in London, and importantly, within those very top players at least 25% are developing musicians. Very highly trained, highly skilled musicians who have just graduated and are in need of their big break. 

It sounds like an excellent opportunity...
We're aiming to provide musicians with their first big professional credit, and on top of that the experience of sitting next to the very best players in London. We're incredibly lucky with the orchestra we have. For example, we have Pablo Mendelssohn who played trumpet on Legally Blonde, The Book of Mormon and Groundhog Day, and now he's lead trumpet on Dreamgirls, so for a recent graduate trumpet played to sit next to him and watch him at work, that's a really unique experience which I am pleased to say that all of the developing players have grasped with both hands and really relished. 

State Fair is the London Musical Theatre Orchestra's first concert musical. It's such a wonderful musical with a beautiful score. How was it selected? 
James Yeoburn (executive director), Stuart Matthew Price (artistic director) and I sat down and sifted through catalogues looking for something which we could bring something to. Something which hadn't been done to death, but had been written by someone with a great number of musical theatre scores behind them. When came across State Fair we each knew one of two songs from it but we went away and listened to the album and we were just blown away by how astonishing and just enormously groovy the score was! Half of the show is a big band show with these huge swing numbers, which Emma Hatton is singing with a six piece brass section (four saxophones, two French horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones and a tuba). The sound that they create is astonishing, absolutely astonishing. 

It sounds like it's going to be amazing! it's interesting that you bring up Emma Hatton... the well known musical theatre names attached to this production are no doubt going to be an exciting draw for musical theatre fans (soloists include Wendi Peters, Oliver Saville, Richard Fleeshman, Celinde Schoenmaker as well as the aforementioned Emma Hatton). Were the soloists already attached to the orchestra or did come on board especially for this project? 
They're new to us for this concert, but we love building relationships with all singers and so it's very much hoped that there will be a continued relationship. We're having such a ball rehearsing because there is just so much to get your teeth into and I'm thrilled with all of the soloists and all of the chorus. 

Are there any musicals which you'd personally love the London Musical Theatre Orchestra to perform at some point in the future?
Oh my goodness, there's a list as long as my arm! But one which we are particularly keen to do is Candide, which I think would be an enormous privilege to work on, and to give it full orchestral works, because it's got such an orchestral score. I think The Fully Monty is another where the music is just virtuosic in what it sets out to achieve and then does achieve, and I'd love at one point to do something really new that's just come from Broadway or just come from the West End. Something like a Jason Robert Brown show with a full orchestra would be so exciting, or to take a Stiles and Drewe show and do that in concert, or take a Brunger and Cleary show and give it the full orchestral works. 

It certainly sounds like there is lots to potentially look forward to! Thank you to Freddie Tapner for taking the time to answer these questions. Be sure to book your tickets for Rodgers and Hammerstein's State Fair at Cadogan Hall on Sunday 6th November.