32 of 50

2019 is our 50th anniversary and we are championing some of the people who help make Scottish Ballet a great place to work. Each week we will introduce you to a different career at Scottish Ballet and the person behind it.

For over 33 years, Richard Honner has conducted many performances for Scottish Ballet. In his role as Head of Music, he also works on arrangements, interprets the work of composers for productions, directs the recording of performances if needed, and auditions performers for the Scottish Ballet Orchestra. On top of this, Richard has been a guest conductor for San Francisco Ballet and Opera Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, and is a longstanding guest conductor for Hong Kong Ballet. 

Richard isn't shy of a challenge, and his final major project with Scottish Ballet will be to arrange the music for Christopher Hampson's The Snow Queen. As we bid him a fond farewell and wish him all the best in retirement, we caught up with him to hear more about his journey with the company.

Tell us about your journey with the company

Out of the blue I was asked to conduct some Nutcracker performances during the winter season 1985/6. I was invited back for the following Spring season and then to join the Company in August 1986. I did not expect to stay for more than a few years but gradually the responsibilities increased and with them the enjoyment (especially foreign touring) and before I knew it 33 years had flown past.

What was it like working on the arrangement for The Snow Queen?

The challenge was greater than arranging Hansel & Gretel because the scenario was new and finding suitable music largely from the operas of Rimsky-Korsakov meant a lot of research. Having found music that Chris Hampson felt was appropriate to his choreographic needs it had to be edited and arranged to make a satisfying score both from a musical and a dramatic point of view.

What was your instrument before you took up conducting?

At The Royal College of Music my first study was the bassoon. However I was also a competent pianist and gradually becoming more interested in opera I was engaged as a repetiteur and later a staff conductor working for several opera companies, the last of which was Scottish Opera – hence being a resident of Glasgow.

Is there a style of music you prefers most to direct? Is it different to the style of music you like to listen to?

Generally my listening is anything written up to the mid 20th century but in the course of my time with Scottish Ballet I have been challenged to work on scores written after that – I can’t say that I have always enjoyed that challenge but it’s been good for the soul!

What is your most memorable Scottish Ballet production or tour?

If I had to live with one ballet production it would be Romeo and Juliet. In my career, I have conducted this piece over 300 times in five different productions, three of which have been for Scottish Ballet. 

Who have been some of your favourite composers / musicians to work with at Scottish

Without a doubt Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Mahler. In arranging the scores for Hansel & Gretel and The Snow Queen I have had the opportunity to delve into the music of Humperdinck and Rimsky-Korsakov and I am at a loss as to why we don’t hear much of their music in this country. It was a real highlight to work with Karen Cargill, Scottish Operatic soprano, who sang for the Company’s performances of Mahler’s Five Ruckert Songs (2004) and The Song of the Earth (2011).

What has been your favourite thing about working at Scottish Ballet?

When I joined Scottish Ballet there was something of a gulf between the Music Department and the dancers. I would like to think that in my time with the Company that gulf has been diminished and as a result of this greater collaboration the Company’s performances have given increasing satisfaction to audiences. In no other company in which I have worked has there been more feeling of 'family'. 

What's your 'get up and go' song?

There can be few people in the world whose singing is worse than mine. I tend to hum tunelessly phrases from whatever music is on my mind at the time. I know what it is, but I doubt anyone else would recognise it. For instance while driving into Glasgow this morning I heard “My love is like a red, red rose” and “Jerusalem” – so humming whilst walking from where I parked to Tramway I hummed for my pleasure, and no one else’s, these melodies. I know that’s avoiding the question……