“thrillingly incisive timpani” – Early Music Today
“crisp and perfectly tuned opening timpani strokes” – Early Music Review
“fearsome timpani strikes are like Exocets” – The Scotsman
“There is a wonderful tactile quality to Alan Emslie’s timpani” – Musicweb International
Alan Emslie fell in love with timpani as a boy and since then has performed and recorded timpani, baroque timpani & percussion with many well known orchestras and ensembles including:
Le Concert d’Astree (principal 2007-2014)
The Academy of Ancient Music
Freiburger Barockorchester (Freiburg Baroque Orchestra)
Arcangelo (principal 2010-2020)
The Nordic Brass Ensemble
Nederlandse Bachvereniging (Netherlands Bach Society)
The English Concert
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (co-principal 1998-2005)
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Hanover Band
Anima Eterna Symphony Orchestra (principal 1994-1999)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
The Dunedin Consort (principal 1999-2019)
*To be serious for a moment*
I thought long and hard about whether or not to include this here on my website.
Some said that perhaps it would come across as too negative.
I felt it was too important to not include.
Please read on only if you dare! lol
I love performing timpani and I love the music I have played over the years.
I have had the privilege of travelling the globe, working with some really special musicians and have had a lot of fun in the process.
I am extremely lucky and I am grateful to many for helping me along the way.
Over the years I’ve noticed an increasing negative presence in music which has led to a great deal of unhappiness and I want to address it here.
To be more specific, management and musicians giving into them.
A major orchestra (who will remain nameless) used to only have 2 people to run everything. One person running the business side of things and one person who booked and paid the musicians (who also played in the orchestra…so technically, maybe it was only one management member).
Nowadays, there are less musicians onstage than in the office and where does the majority of investment go?
If a musician needs something the answer is invariably “there is no money”.
However, the following week there seems to be yet another job created in the office.
Sadly, many musicians have collaborated with these managements thinking that this would secure their own positions and have found themselves severely out of their depth and becoming the managements puppets.
It’s not simply the number of management that is the problem.
The utter contempt that the majority of management have for musicians is truly astonishing.
Now, I’m pretty sure I will make myself extremely unpopular by writing this, and of course there are always exceptions, but since my time of working with these managements is over, my thoughts turn only to the young musicians coming along after me.
I am not alone in my feelings, but musicians are so desperate not to lose work that they keep their mouths firmly shut.
It is very sad.
With Covid 19 and musicians left without income for 8 months (at the time of writing this), the situation is worryingly not going to improve in the near future.
In 2013, I came across this letter by David Herbert. David had just announced that he was leaving his position of principal timpanist in the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra to take up the principal timpani chair in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He explains why.
“For eighteen years I have had the incredible opportunity and privilege to serve as Principal Timpani of the San Francisco Symphony. These years have been the best years of my musical life. As a member of this world class orchestra I have shared with my colleagues the honor of winning multiple Grammy Awards. We have benefited from daring and visionary projects brought to life under the leadership of our Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, and we have had the enduring support of our great audience, a strong donor base, and a generous and enthusiastic Board of Governors.
Unfortunately there has grown, over time, a cultural disconnect between the San Francisco Symphony Management and the musicians of the orchestra who make the music come to life. The increased divide between my colleagues’ service to the music and the failure of the San Francisco Symphony Management to recognize such commitment has been disheartening.
In contrast, the Management of the Chicago Symphony has worked and committed resources to growing a culture and philosophy that puts the music and the musician first. They are making that fact very clear by their commitment to me economically and artistically. As a result, my ongoing pursuit of excellence as Principal Timpani of that great orchestra will be allowed to flourish.
The work ethic required from every member of the orchestra is enormous and our practice away from the stage is integral to that excellence. Every musician in the San Francisco Symphony spends at least as much time in our personal practice and preparation as we spend with our colleagues in rehearsal and concerts. As Principal Tympani, the arrangements, organization and support needed to arrange on site access to instruments and space in which to practice is a necessity. The management of the Chicago Symphony has recognized this as a given and have done nothing to impede my abilities to perform at the absolute highest level by offering ease and unrestricted access to instruments and consistently reliable space in which to practice at Orchestra Hall.
Again, in sad contrast this has not been the case with the Management of the San Francisco Symphony. While I have had support and as much encouragement from our stage technicians as they could provide under difficult conditions, I have had no cooperation from our management and instead have encountered only a negative attitude with little or no attempts at problem solving. This has exacerbated an already impossibly challenging and unmanageable workplace. I was eventually forced to rent, at my own expense, practice space at another location and to purchase additional instruments.
I will always admire and respect the musicians of the San Francisco Symphony and our Music Director, Michael Tilson Thomas, but as an artist and as an employee I want to be in a workplace where I am valued and supported by management, and where I am considered an asset rather than an inconvenience.”
This letter hit me like a bolt of lightning. He explains it much better than I ever could. The last sentence in particular resonated with me and I am very grateful to David Herbert for being so honest and outspoken which could not have been easy.
Years later, things have not changed. If anything, they’ve gotten worse.
Many experienced musicians have seen the writing on the wall and gotten out.
With Covid 19 many more will leave the music profession altogether. Young and old.
Only last night, a colleague messaged me to tell me that on the evening before a project, an orchestra management had sent an email saying that the fee was cut by 20%. Reason? Management error. It made me wonder, do these orchestral managements expect my colleagues children to eat 20% less food to help out the orchestra’s bad management? Answer, probably.
I could list hundreds of examples, but I think you get the idea.
I do not have the answers, but I would urge young musicians to think about these matters (to be prepared in advance) and to ask experienced musicians that they trust for advice on how to resolve these kind of situations in a positive way.
If it’s not possible to resolve things in a way where you feel valued and appreciated and where you can move forward in a positive way, then you need to find the strength to walk away and create your own opportunities as I have done.
Nothing is impossible and despite all these rather negative words, being a musician is incredibly rewarding and I believe that the future is largely what you make it.
To illustrate this point, I’m off now to open a good bottle of wine and make a risotto!
Cheers and good luck! 🙂
copyright Alan Emslie 2021