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March 5, 2021

Spotlight on NRSO musician Richard Williams – Timpanist

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Richard Williams in action

Talking Timpanist

NRSO concert Pastoral Interlude | Sunday | 2.30pm | Tweed Heads Civic Centre | $20–$45/45 

Richard Williams is one of the core musicians in the Northern Rivers Symphony Orchestra. He has been performing in their percussion section for over a decade. The veteran timpanist is also a committee member and stage manager – he is always there to perform the arduous task of setting up the stage before every concert and packing up afterwards.

How did you decide to become a timpani player?

At age 13 my mother took me to an orchestral concert of the St Louis Symphony Orchestra. I was immediately fascinated with the percussion players, especially the timpani player. The timpanist was considered the solo position in the orchestra and I soon found out why. The timpanist plays similar notes to the trumpet and string bass players, and is very dominant in a lot of classical pieces of music by all the great composers. I got private lessons from the late great Rholand Koloff, who was the solo timpanist for the New York Philharmonic for over 30 years. I still watch him on YouTube playing in Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copeland with the New York Philharmonic conducted by James Levine. It is well worth the watching as he was considered one of the greatest.

When did you arrive in the Tweed region and how did you find the NRSO?

I had been performing with Queensland Pops Orchestra in Brisbane for 23 years as their principal timpanist under the late conductor Colin Harper, until his death in 2004. I moved to Tweed Heads and was invited to play solo timpani for the Northern Rivers Symphony Orchestra under its founder Barry Singh in a rehearsal for a gala concert. Barry was happy with my playing and offered me the position as solo timpanist for the NRSO. I have been playing in the NRSO for some 15 years now and still am enjoying doing so even at my age of 72. Music keeps me young!

Tell us about one of your favourite classical pieces that you like to perform and why is it special?

My favourite classical pieces are the symphonies of Gustav Mahler as they use a lot of percussion, especially the timpani with all of its potential nuances. The first piece of music I ever performed as principal timpanist was with the California Youth Symphony Orchestra, playing Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique at the War Memorial Opera House of San Francisco when I was just 16 years of age. The interesting thing is that Berlioz used the timpani to portray the sounds of thunder for the storm scene in his symphony. The same sounds are required for the upcoming NRSO concert in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony, in which I will play the timpani thunder sounds during a storm scene in the third movement.

The upcoming NRSO concert Pastoral Interlude will be performed on Sunday at 2.30pm at the Tweed Heads Civic Centre, conducted by Dr Warwick Potter. Tix are adults $40/45 or students $20 at nrso.com.au or at the Tweed Heads Civic Centre Box Office 10am–3pm.

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