The Golden Age of Broadway: Conductor and Sawbridgeworth resident Richard Balcombe makes his Proms debut at Royal Albert Hall at the golden age of 65
Conductor Richard Balcombe kept himself busy during the coronavirus lockdowns – but performing to a live audience at the Royal Albert Hall when restrictions were finally lifted proved an emotional experience.
After a career spent conducting orchestras across the UK and the world and directing West End musicals, including Phantom of the Opera and Aspects of Love, Richard made his debut in the BBC Proms.
He conducted the BBC Concert Orchestra in "The Golden Age of Broadway" on July 31, with a programme which included performances of musical numbers by Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter.
"It was such an amazing event," said Richard, who lives in Sawbridgeworth with wife Lin. "To get back to performing before a live audience was really emotional."
He added that it was an "absolute privilege" and "always a joy" to work with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
The show was broadcast on BBC Two on August 7 and was described by one national newspaper as a "jubilant Broadway bonanza".
The Covid lockdowns saw Richard producing orchestral versions of contemporary artists' songs for Ken Bruce's BBC Radio 2 "House Music" slot. Among artists he worked with were Jason Mraz, Gregory Porter and John Legend, and he also produced a Beatles medley for Bruce's 70th birthday with the BBC Concert Orchestra.
Richard – who has two grown-up children, Matthew, 36, and Katie, 34, and two grandchildren, George, 10, and Phoebe, 9 – is fully aware of the issues younger members of the musical fraternity faced during the pandemic.
"I feel so terribly worried for younger people," he said. "I knew a lot of people who were driving for Amazon or working on building sites to get by."
It's been a long road to a debut at the Royal Albert Hall for Richard, who celebrated his 66th birthday last Wednesday (Sept 8).
His musical talents were picked up early as the schools he attended in his home town of Eastbourne, East Sussex, had very strong music and drama departments.
After getting a place at London's Guildhall School of Music and Drama, to study violin and piano, he began carving a niche as an accompanist. He played with Harlow Chorus and worked with Bishop's Stortford Amateur Operatic Society, and then made his mark in the West End.
Conducting took over in the mid-1990s and he began working with the BBC. He has been a regular on Radio 2 show Friday Night is Music Night and has conducted at "The Proms in the Park".
Now that live performances are possible Richard is busy getting back in the swing of things and has devised and will be conducting Your Song... A Tribute To Elton John at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, on October 22 and at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, on October 30.
A big Elton fan, whose firm favourite is Your Song, Richard was excited to bring the concert to the public. Among the numbers receiving his sympathetic reconstruction treatment will be the title track, along with Rocket Man, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Candle in the Wind and Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word.