40 years on: an interview with Jennifer Brown

Long-standing LSO cellist Jennifer Brown tells us about her career in music and how orchestral life has changed since the 1980s.


I was a cellist at the Royal Opera House for five years. I was still at college and it was a fantastic job to start with – and then I joined the LSO. When the job came up, I was offered a trial, but I couldn’t take much time off from the Opera House. I remember thinking 'Well, I’m not going to get the job, so I might as well enjoy myself.' And I did enjoy myself – and I got the job! It was an amazing surprise.

My dad was in the Orchestra when I joined. He was in the horn section and joined a few years before me. My brother and sister, who aren’t musicians, were always terribly envious that I worked with him before he died in 1992. I joined in 1982 so we had ten years together.

My mum was a musician too, and a member of the Royal Opera House Orchestra when she was 21. When she got married to my dad she had to leave, because married women weren’t allowed to be members during that era. Once she had me and my siblings, she became a freelance musician, which really inspired me. When the babysitter came to look after us, she’d come downstairs in a long black dress – she was very glamorous.

When I joined the LSO, there were only about eight women, but more were joining one by one as jobs became available. I remember recording music for a film at Abbey Road studios. The film was being projected onto a screen during the recording; there were Amazonian women defeating the men, so I shouted, ‘Come on girls!’ Fortunately all of the men laughed! Now we have a book club, and swap recommendations. Sometimes when we’re on tour and the concert finishes late, there might not be anywhere open for a meal and drink, so we have a book club night. There are now really good women conductors who we work with at the LSO, and there will be more, which is amazing.

The audition process has changed completely during the time I’ve been in the Orchestra. We hold blind auditions now, so we don’t know who the players are at all – although I’m always curious about who is playing. It works both ways, because if the musician auditioning has a bad day, they can come back to re-audition another time.

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One of my favourite memories involves Robert Bourton, an old friend of mine and a retired Member of the Orchestra. He was friendly with André Previn, and one day, when we were on tour in New York, Bob suggested that we invite Previn to dinner after the concert. At dinner, the topic turned to conductors. Previn asked me which conductors I most enjoyed working with, and without a moment’s hesitation I replied with ‘Carlos Kleiber’. Then I realised who I was speaking to! I quickly followed up with, ‘And you of course!’ and he said, jokingly, ‘Too late!’ We laughed a lot.

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