Meet our players – Malcolm Webb, flute

Player profile: Malcolm Webb, flute and piccolo player and conductor of the SSO

The second player featured in our spring concert programme was Malcolm Webb – flute and piccolo player and also conductor of the Swindon Symphony Orchestra. He has been with the NWSO since 1976.

What made you choose the flute as your instrument? I was fortunate to go to a school with a very strong music bias.  Indeed, the NWSO principal oboe at the time, Adrian Knott, was head of music.  The school had a vast range of instruments which students could borrow to get started.  I happened to see a flute having heard one during a music lesson and said “I’d like to give that a go!”

You’re also conductor of the Swindon Symphony Orchestra. Which do you enjoy more – conducting or playing flute? I’m extremely lucky to be able to experience music from both a player and a conductor’s perspective and enjoy both as equals.  Being a regular player also helps me to understand what the players are experiencing when I ask them to do things as a conductor and to appreciate the technical difficulties and emotions they go through when performing various works.

What has been your favourite concert over the years? My favourite moment was when I had the honour of performing the Ibert Flute Concerto with NWSO.

Has there ever been a ‘catastrophic’ concert? Live music brings its fair share of unexpected events, such as the time I was touring the UK with the British Police Symphony Orchestra and whilst standing to take applause at the end of a concert, the wind section fell off the back of the stage (long story – not much room).  Fortunately, neither players nor instruments were hurt.  Also, when I was playing the obligato flute part with just a solo singer and cellist in Bach’s B Minor Mass, I looked up at the conductor, looked down again and thought, “where am I?”  I spent the rest of this section of the music improvising.  I remember seeing a lady in the front row of the audience who’d been following the music with a score rapidly turning her pages back and forth.  I like to think that she thought she’d lost her place.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the orchestra? The passion the players put into music to create exciting performances and the wide range of repertoire we play.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? It would have to be a string instrument, probably violin, as it doesn’t weigh very much and you don’t have the same portability problems associated with the cello or double bass.  In addition, there are always vacancies for string players in orchestras, unlike woodwind.

What music do you like to listen to – apart from classical? I have an eclectic taste in music and listen to lots of different styles.  Outside of the vast amount of classical music I listen to, my other loves are musical theatre and symphonic wind band; there is a massive array of quality and exciting symphonic wind band music that should be better known outside of wind band circles.

Who has been the most influential person in your musical journey? I’m lucky to have met and played with many influential people over the years and used those opportunities to broaden my experience.  However, the person that laid the foundations for my music making and taught me how to enjoy it was my old flute teacher, Wilfred Smith.  He was truly inspirational.

Any top tips for aspiring musicians (in particular flute players…)? Initially, lots and lots of focussed, patient, practice.  Don’t try and practise lots of things at once.  Focus on getting one thing right at a time.  Then, find yourself a group and go out and play as much as possible.  Experience the pleasure of playing in public; you won’t need any further motivation to go and practise some more.

Favourite piece of music? I’d be no good on Desert Island Discs; I have too many favourites.  I love Shostakovich and Richard Strauss and the French orchestral works of Ravel and Debussy for their orchestral “colour” and the big flute solos!

Most disliked instrument? Any instrument played out of tune!

Favourite dessert? Tarte au citron

Famous person you’d most like to meet? Sir Simon Rattle