David Hill, musical director of the Leeds Philharmonic Society for the last 12 years, is one of the top conductors in Europe. The choir, which performs at the city’s Town Hall, celebrates its 150th birthday in 2020.
What is your first Yorkshire memory? I’m incredibly proud of my Yorkshire roots and celebrate them. I’m half Yorkshire. My mother spent a lot of her early life in Crayke, near Easingwold, and my grandmother was born in Hemsworth. My great-grandfather was a professional singer in Leeds in the late 1800s and was a member of the Leeds Philharmonic Society. So there’s this curious link which goes back a long time. I can remember family holidays in Yorkshire and we were often in Scarborough, Filey or Robin Hood’s Bay. We spent many wonderful times over there playing cricket on the beach, eating fish and chips and going to see interesting historical sites.
What is your favourite part of Yorkshire and why? I would say we had some of our best holidays in the Dales and I love Swaledale. I was the sub-organist at Durham Cathedral early in my career and on my days off I would drive into the Dales and occasionally to York, which is one of my favourite cities. York is magnificent and has everything. The Minster has to be one of the buildings I love the most and I admire the way it has been looked after recently. Great music happens day in day out at York Minster. The arts scene is active, York’s a university city and its historical roots make it an important city in the UK.
What gives Yorkshire its unique identity? It’s the biggest county in England and I would also say the directness, the robustness and, dare I say, the stubbornness of the people. Yorkshire people tell it like it is, and I don’t say that in a derogatory sense. Directness is a good thing. I always wondered why I had a direct approach in dealing with people and it comes from my Yorkshire background.
What is your favourite walk in Yorkshire? The headland in Scarborough. It’s a walkers’ paradise. Holidays in Scarborough and holidays on the Yorkshire coast were part of my upbringing.
What is your favourite restaurant? It’s the Thai Edge on Calverley Street in Leeds. It’s very convenient because it’s close to the Town Hall and you can nip out before or after a concert. The food’s tasty and the service is excellent.
How has Yorkshire influenced your work? We perform at the Town Hall, which is a wonderful building and a great statement of its time. It’s really special as an auditorium. The Town Hall makes a great sound and the quality of the concerts taking place there is exceptional. The Leeds international concert series run by the city is the paragon of how it should be done in all cities. You have great orchestras, great choirs, soloists and conductors from all over the world. The quality is extraordinary and furthermore in Leeds, there is Opera North, the most brilliant of opera companies. I love making music at the Town Hall and you get an optimistic feeling when you conduct there.
How do you think Yorkshire has changed in the time that you have known it? You get the sense that Leeds is proud of itself. There’s an increasing vibrancy around the city and adding culture to the good shopping and restaurant scene is very important. I do love walking around Leeds and observing the people.
Yorkshire has a strong music tradition. How hopeful are you that this will continue? The Roman Catholic diocese in Leeds is doing a lot of wonderful work with children’s choirs, so the activities of the youngsters are going to bring us the next generation of concert-goers. This is important because music has dropped out of the curriculum in many schools. So I am hopeful, and the concerts in Leeds have a strong and loyal following. Leeds has something very special in total in terms of what it is offering. Just to emphasise: the real jewel in the crown alongside the international concerts is Opera North. It’s massively regarded and I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t appreciate it.
Do you follow sport in Yorkshire? I love cricket. Joe Root is good stuff, isn’t he? I watch what goes on at Yorkshire. I’ve always liked Geoff Boycott who’s a remarkable man. Again, he says it as it is. I think sometimes Geoff can sound a bit curmudgeonly because he’s a perfectionist, but I like that. Anyone who is seeking things to be better, like Geoff, suits a musician.
Do you have a favourite Yorkshire actor or actress that you would like to take out to dinner? Dame Judi Dench. That’s all that needs to be said.
If a stranger came to Yorkshire and had time to visit one place only, where would that be? I would say the Dales, but as far as buildings are concerned, you have a choice between the minsters in York and Beverley. The latter is one of the most beautiful of buildings. It’s incredible and not known by many people. Beverley is relatively isolated geographically and it’s not as easy to get to as York. You don’t have to be massively religious to go into these buildings to appreciate them and to understand what mankind has passed on to different generations.
For the full programme of forthcoming Leeds Philharmonic Society events go to the society’s website, leedsphil.com