Q & A with Joanna Patton

Q & A with Joanna Patton
By Bethany Tillerson (photo credit: © Andrew Fox)

CBSO season finale: Mahler.

On tonight’s ‘Monday Night at the Symphony’ we will feature the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, an orchestra based in Symphony Hall in Birmingham, England. The orchestra was founded in 1920, and since then has been dedicated to performing the best music for Birmingham residents. From among its 75 members, Principal Second Clarinet Joanna Patton spoke about her 16 years in the orchestra, and what sets the CBSO apart from other orchestras in England.

  1. How much do you think a conductor contributes to the group environment as an orchestra?

PATTON: A great conductor is essentially a great storyteller but so are the individual musicians on the stage! Getting the balance right between allowing their musicians to all contribute individually, enjoying the spontaneity of a moment or phrase, and having a clear but fluid idea of how they want to tell their story is what makes the power of the collective. It takes an extraordinary conductor to understand that, to have total control, and to be totally flexible. It is an incredible thing when 100 individual musicians at a concert are connected by some kind of electrical current that unites us through the same goals: to create a performance that is powerful in some way, a performance that truly connects us to our audience.

  1. Do you have any fun stories about your time in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra?

PATTON: There are so many funny stories about life in an orchestra, but for some of them touring rules apply: what happens on tour stays on tour!!

One of my favourite moments was when our old second flute was retiring after an incredible 42 years in the orchestra. He decided to leave at the end of the season where we played a film music night to a full audience in Symphony Hall in Birmingham. It was an incredible atmosphere and the whole orchestra wanted to ensure Colin had the best possible send-off. As we began the encore–none other than John Williams’ Superman–Colin surprised us all by standing up during the pulsating rhythm of the opening few bars before ripping his shirt off to reveal a “Super Col” blue Superman T-shirt below, just at that Superman moment! How the rest of us carried on playing, I will never know. We were in tears of laughter! What an amazing way to retire!

  1. Is there a composer that you believe best suits your orchestra as a whole?

PATTON: The CBSO is super versatile. We play all types of music. We love a concert where we can dress up, perhaps for a Queen tribute concert or a Disco night. We were the first orchestra in the UK to really explore Bollywood music, which was also exciting. Ultimately though, I think the CBSO loves playing those big romantic works by Richard Strauss or symphonies by Shostakovich or Mahler. We’re at our best when the full forces of the orchestra deliver a truly committed, memorable, emotionally connective performance!

Join The Classical Station for Monday Night at the Symphony every week at 8 p.m. eastern. You can listen online at, on 89.7 FM, or on the App.