Professional ensemble Reed & Ivory – Helen Goldsmith (clarinettist) and Ben Cockburn (pianist) – are coming to Bradford Cathedral on Tuesday 10th December to play as part of our next coffee Concert. Based in the north of England, Helen and Ben graduated from the Leeds College of Music in 2016. We spoke to Helen ahead of their concert to find out more about them, their musical interests and what to expect from them when they play in Bradford.
Could you give us an introduction to Reed and Ivory?
Ben and I have been working together for five years now. We met at College and we just liked our combination of instruments together, and I would just annoy him all the time on a Sunday morning, giving him music, and saying ‘oh can we learn this?’! He would then learn the music and we’d get into a routine of playing together, then looking for any opportunity we could find to perform.
You play clarinet, flute and saxophone?
That’s correct, but with Reed & Ivory it’s generally the clarinet that I play. We do mostly crossover music. We play a lot of classical, obviously, but most of the music we do today is classical crossover music, which is a more contemporary material.
Is that something which you enjoy playing?
Yes. We were both perhaps reluctant to delve into that area of music when we were at college. We were encouraged by one of our lecturers to join a collective and play more avant-garde music. We were, as I say, quite reluctant as we were classical through-and-through. But we found a real love for it and the challenge it presented for our instruments, but also musically for ourselves as well. We were thinking outside of the box, exploring music played in a different way.
You’ve received many awards and recognitions during your time together – which ones have you been most proud of?
For myself and Ben it’s when people want to write for us. The idea behind our 2014 tour, playing music by living composers, was very exciting for us. To be able to take that music on the road across the UK and show that the clarinet and piano aren’t just classical musical instruments was exciting. We could demonstrate the range they can play, so for us it’s when people approach us about wanting to collaborate and write for us as well. It’s such a good feeling when people want to write music: that helps keep it current, so it doesn’t stagnate.
You’ve toured around Yorkshire; what would you say is the most interesting place you’ve played?
I think for us it’s whenever we do community work, such as memory cafes or care homes, places like that. You’ll never know what kind of response you’re going to get from the audience. You’ve got to be quite quick on your feet, so if a programme, or the style of music you’ve tried for that event, isn’t working well you’ve got to quickly adjust. Community work provides an interesting challenge and it’s always great to get different feedback from people.
What can we expect from your coffee concert in December?
You can expect to hear the clarinet and piano through the ages, ranging from really classical music that you’d expect at a coffee concert, to maybe music that’s more upbeat and listener friendly. Music should be something that the listener recognises and can relate to. We like to talk a lot during our concerts so that the audience get to know us, and we try and make it as informal as we can so people don’t feel like the performer and audience are separate. We like to bring a sense of community. They should expect a really good morning of music and good performance!
How did you pick the pieces you’re playing?
They’re a mixture. Myself and Ben thought about the time of day of the concert, the location and the acoustic of the cathedral, from when we last played in Bradford. We often sit down and plan the music between recitals, rehearsing and practicing for fun and we see what we have going on and programme that way.
We’ll often programme a big piece – maybe a suite or a sonata – and then surround that with smaller pieces, perhaps something that’s been newly composed or a piece from a musical, or maybe something you’d expect to hear on Classic FM. Because it’s a coffee concert, and in the morning, we don’t want to play anything too intense or bombastic. We want something easy listening and something that people can sit and listen to and be whisked away to their happy place, and just enjoy it. It should be something that’s not too intrusive and a piece they don’t have to focus too much on.
On FB you have lots of musical interests but also swimming, sewing and nature compared to Ben’s eating and video games. Do you look at sharing any of those interests whilst working together?
I can not see Ben sewing! Though, if he practiced, I’m sure he’d be very good. He’s not much of a swimmer either. He has got me into video games during our time as friends and when we lived together for a number of years. It’s important to show an interest in your friends’ interests but I can say hand-on-heart I’m not very good at video games!
Finally, what are your plans for 2020?
We’re in collaboration with two composers at the moment. Composer Peter Byrom-Smith, who we’ve worked with before when they wrote a piece for our 2014 tour, is writing a play and performing the work with his wife Gillian who is a poet. The piece is designed to be like a fairy-tale with an environmentally friendly twist to it which we’re hoping to take across schools across Yorkshire, Merseyside and hopefully Lancashire as well.
We’ve then got another project that we’re working on with the composer Andrew Wilson who has written a suite for us on clarinet, cello and piano which we’re going to take across southern England. That’s really exciting, and in memory of Grinling Gibbons as it’s almost 300 years since they died. That piece is being written in inspiration of him, to mark what he did in his life, and we’re going to take it around and showcase it!
You can hear Reed & Ivory play in Bradford Cathedral on Tuesday 10th December at 11am, with cake and refreshments available from 10:30am. You can turn up on the day or express your interest ahead of the concert at reed-and-ivory.eventbrite.co.uk