Comedy / Classical Music

Interview: Kieran Hodgson on ‘Maestro’

By steve wright, Thursday May 18, 2017

Stand-up Kieran Hodgson brings his hit comedy Maestro to Bristol next week. Following on from his Foster’s Comedy Award-nominated Lance, charting the rise and fall of the cycling icon, Maestro traces Kieran’s musical roots as he attempts to conduct a symphony.

In 2003 Kieran heard the music of Gustav Mahler and decided to write a symphony. Fast forward 14 years, and he is taking to the stage with a story about falling in love and attempting something far beyond your abilities.

Said reviews site Chortle: “This show is no less than a comedy symphony: sophisticated and wide in scope, with its movements, recurring themes, emotional highs and lows and uplifting climax.”

Why was it the music of Mahler, in particular, that caused this epiphany?
I think that with any style of music that you love you go through a series of epiphanies as you reach towards, or build up, the music that suits you best. I remember hearing ‘Jupiter’ from The Planets when I was seven and being blown away, then Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony when I was 12 and being blown away, and so on, each time having my metaphorical eyes (and physical ears) opened to further possibilities. With Mahler, he hit me at just the right time: when I’d learned enough about how music works to admire the craftsmanship, whilst also being sufficiently angsty and sincere to be swept away by its emotional intensity. I guess the difference is that Mahler’s music has survived my ‘phases’ – I just find more to enjoy as the years go by.

Geeky question – which Mahler symphony so affected you? I have soft spots for 1, 3, 5 and 7…
I guess I see them as family members whom I go round visiting. I don’t have a fixed favourite but will have, say, a week with the Fourth where we catch up and remember how nice it is to spend time together. But then the time will come to leave and it then will be the Seventh’s turn, and so on. If pushed, I’d say the First got me in, the Third got me hooked, and the Ninth is the most astonishing.

“Trying to write a symphony”: how has that gone?
The real-life evolution of my symphony has been of far less dramatic interest than I describe in my show, sadly. It all began when I got a bit ahead of myself with my A-level composition assignment (a rather funereal setting of a Sassoon poem for orchestra and countertenor), and I decided that it would make a passable third movement of an eventual symphony. Before leaving sixth form I had written a second movement, a Scherzo that was never played by anyone other than the computer, probably with good reason.
After that came a nine-year hiatus until I decided to start again from scratch. I then wrote a first movement, which took nine months, and a new second movement, which took six months, then I thought it be a good idea to write a comedy show about all this and so stopped composing altogether.
If you add it all up I do have four full movements, but to put them together and play them would be a crime against music. I’m up against it, really, what with having no musical training beyond A-level (which is now 11 years ago), no understanding of structure or harmony, and rapidly-diminishing skill at the piano.
As such, the symphony sounds, as a composition teacher friend described it, ‘like you’re trying to be Mahler but with none of the tools’. It is grandiose, emotional, messy and simplistic. If I ever finish it I will have to pay an orchestra to play it and an audience to listen, but it will all be worth it. I encourage your readers to give it a go themselves!

Which has been more successful: the quest for love or the writing of a symphony?
Without doubt the former, though progress was even slower on the quest for love front for a long time as at least you can write a symphony on your own. Indeed, telling prospective partners that I was in the middle of writing an amateur symphony which I aimed to complete within a decade or so most likely hindered my romantic development by making people think I was nuts.

“No comic has mapped the landscape of swotty, nerdy teendom like Kieran Hodgson,” said one review. Fair comment?
Well it’s not the role of comedians to second-guess their critics, of course. All I would say is that, for a long time I classed myself as a ‘character comedian’, but in recent years I’ve discovered by far my most successful character and his name is ‘Teenage Kieran Hodgson’. TKH is indeed swotty and nerdy, overachieving academically while failing miserably at human interactions, a means for me to show the world that I am now aware how loathsome I was between circa 1997 and 2009. Whether he’s a ‘map’ to anything is another matter. If he is, that map would read simply: ‘Don’t Go Here’.

Would you secretly rather throw in this stand-up lark and be a renowned composer, soloist or conductor?
Oh, it’s always fun to imagine but let’s be honest, the world of composing and conducting is far, far harder than the silly one that I occupy as a ‘comedian’. Plus, to make it work I would have to have a big talent transplant in order to furnish me with some actual musical talent, so it’s probably best for me just to accept how green the grass is here on my side. And it is pretty green.
Maybe one day they’ll bring back that Maestro celebrity conducting competition and I can sneakily have a go then. Watch out, Sue Perkins!

Kieran Hodgson performs Maestro at the Cube cinema on Friday, May 26. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.cubecinema.com/programme/event/kieran-hodgson-maestro,9135.
He’s then at the Wells Comedy Festival on Sunday, May 28. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.wellscomfest.com

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