Charles Hazlewood

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Charles Matthew Egerton Hazlewood (born 14 November 1966) is a British conductor and advocate for broadening access to orchestral music.[1] Renowned for his widespread presence across the BBC, he conducts orchestras around the world, making his debut with the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in London. Hazlewood lives on a farm in Somerset from where he hosts his own music festival "Orchestra in a Field".[2]

Education and early career[edit]

Hazlewood attended Christ's Hospital school in West Sussex where he was a chorister and organist. He later gained an organ scholarship to Keble College, Oxford in 1986, graduating in 1989. He made his London debut with his own chamber orchestra, EOS, in January 1991. Hazlewood's follow-up concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and its controversial[clarification needed] presentation caused The Times reviewer to leave during the interval, exclaiming "I could take no more." Hazlewood has persisted in exposing orchestral music to a wider audience and continued to cause some controversy in the British press.[citation needed]

He was nominated by the BBC in 1995 as the UK's sole representative in the European Broadcasting Union conducting competition in Lisbon, where he won first prize.


Hazlewood performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time in 2003, conducting the Orchestra of St. Luke's.[3] In 2009 he made his debut with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in London and the Malmo Symphony Orchestra in Sweden.

From 2005 to 2009 Hazlewood was Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra with whom he has appeared several times at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London; in August 2006, he simultaneously presented live from the stage for TV.[4]

Hazlewood is music director of the contemporary music ensemble Excellent Device! (formerly EOS), formed in 1991, and its period instrument sister orchestra, Army of Generals.[5] The latter was formed by Hazlewood to record with him all the music for his BBC films.

Described by the BBC as "passionate about new work", in the past six years he has conducted over 50 world premieres.[6] Known for his eclecticism, he has also initiated several projects that explore common ground between different musical disciplines, such as Urban Classic, which created a new hybrid drawing together 5 Grime MC's and the BBC Concert Orchestra.[7] As well as his Orchestra in a Field festival which showcases orchestral music with a contemporary twist,[2] his interest in a wide variety of musical genres led to The Charles Hazlewood Show on BBC Radio 2 and a place on the judging panel of the popular music industry's creativity awards, the Mercury Music prize.[8]

Music director[edit]

Between 1995 and 2003 Hazlewood was Music Director of Broomhill Opera and Wilton's Music Hall in London; for whom he conducted, amongst others, Britten's The Turn of the Screw (director Elijah Moshinsky), Puccini's Il Trittico (director Simon Callow) and Kurt Weill's The Silverlake in a new translation by Rory Bremner.

In 1999, Hazlewood and his collaborator, Mark Dornford-May, were invited to create a new opera company in Cape Town. After auditioning in the townships and villages of South Africa, the mostly black lyric-theatre company DDK (Dimpho Di Kopane – Sotho for "combined talents") was formed. Of the 40 members, only three had professional training. In January 2001, the company's debut of Bizet's Carmen opened to damning South African reviews, with one newspaper claiming it was preposterous for black South Africans to perform western opera. The Mysteries, for which Hazlewood devised the score, opened in London in 2003 to critical acclaim.[9] Hazlewood was music director and conductor for the company's film version of Carmen set in a township in South Africa (U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha) which won the Golden Bear award for Best Film at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. Their subsequent film, Son of Man, featured a score created by Hazlewood in collaboration with the company.

Hazlewood was Music Director of DDK from 2000 to 2007. With the company he also conceived the music for the shows Ibali Loo Tsotsi (The Beggar's Opera);[10] and The Snow Queen, which premiered in New York in 2004.[11]

In 2009, Hazlewood conducted Kurt Weill's musical drama Lost in the Stars, set in apartheid South Africa, at the South Bank Centre.[12] In December 2009 he also appeared as himself in Sandi Toksvig's Christmas Cracker alongside comedian Ronnie Corbett.


Hazlewood's style as a communicator, described as engaging and enthusiastic, has made him a regular face on British television.[3][13] He has authored and conducted the music in landmark BBC films on Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and most recently a series exploring the birth of British music. He also appeared on the judging panel for the reality show Classical Star (BBC2 2007)[14] and has anchored the BBC Proms TV coverage since 2001.[15]

He authored and presented How Pop Songs Work (BBC Four, 2008) and a film with Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) entitled Stripping Pop (BBC Three, 2003). [16]

His first TV appearance was as music director on Jonathan Miller's Opera Works (1996).


Hazlewood formerly performed and delivered musical analyses with the BBC orchestras for Radio 3's Discovering Music.

Hazlewood's eclectic radio show, The Charles Hazlewood Show on Radio 2, has won three Sony Radio Academy Awards. The musical selections are "linked together in surprising and productive new ways, with Mozart, for example, followed by Ivor Cutler, then the Streets, then Handel".[17] Hazlewood has improvised music on the show with guests as diverse as Super Furry Animals, Scritti Politti, Billy Bragg, pianist Joanna MacGregor and the Guillemots.

Music in Somerset[edit]

After adopting Somerset as his home, Hazlewood has been critical at the lack of professional orchestral performance in the county. He regularly involves local schoolchildren in his projects, holds regular workshops, advises young musicians, conducts amateur orchestras in the county, plays the organ in local churches and recently conducted at the re-opening of Bristol's Colston Hall.

Hazlewood's flagship project is the music festival "Orchestra in a Field" (formerly "Play the Field") held at his farm near Glastonbury and launched in 2009. The festival, backed by TV Dragon Deborah Meaden takes place over the August Bank holiday weekend. The 2009 programme included a version of Holst's The Planets where members of Hazlewood's All Star band, featuring Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), Adrian Utley (Portishead), saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Jason Yarde, drummer Tony Orrell, keyboardist Graham Fitkin and harpist Ruth Wall improvised electronic responses to each orchestral planet from a separate stage across the parkland.[18] A recording of this concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 11 September 2009. [19]

Hazlewood conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival, making history in performing the first ever symphony concert on the world-famous Pyramid Stage. The Charles Hazlewood All Stars, an ensemble dedicated to improvisation, was launched at Glastonbury Festival 2008.

Current projects[edit]

In 2010 Hazlewood, members of his All Star band and period instrument orchestra, Army of Generals, launched a project based on music from The Beggar's Opera, first heard at The Roundhouse in London and modernising many of the satirical songs of the original ballad opera of 1728, written by John Gay.[20] Following 2009's Play the Field, Hazlewood created a similar event, Orchestra in a Field, which took place 30 June – 1 July 2012 in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey. The programme included Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition with improvised responses as before from Hazlewood's All Star Collective, Bizet's Carmen, as well as Tchaikovsky's 1812 performed by the Scrapheap Orchestra (the subject of a BBC4 documentary in 2011). The festival also provided a platform for The British Paraorchestra, the UK's first ever national orchestra for musicians with disability. This is a major new initiative for Hazlewood, a parent of a disabled child. Harnessing the social and cultural impact of the Paralympics, both in the creation of opportunities for disabled athletes and on the perspectives of the able-bodied world, Hazlewood is seeking to level the playing field for disabled musicians worldwide. Hazlewood is setting up a new opera company in Johannesburg which plans to stage Soweto Messiah in the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, featuring 20,000 performers.


  1. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (12 July 2002). "Home Entertainment: Charles Hazlewood". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  2. ^ a b "Orchestra in a Field". Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  3. ^ a b Hodgkinson, Will (8 May 2008). "The Somerset Barnstormer". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  4. ^ "Charles Hazlewood on Speakers Corner". [dead link]
  5. ^ "Army of Generals". Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  6. ^ "Charles Hazlewood". BBC Radio 3. [dead link]
  7. ^ "Mixing It". BBC Radio 3. November 2006. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  8. ^ MacMahon, James (10 September 2009). "Who judges the Mercury prize?". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  9. ^ Spencer, Charles (28 February 2002). "Divine, defiant and dazzling". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  10. ^ Koenig, Rhoda (22 October 2002). "The Beggar's Opera, Wilton's Music Hall, London". The Independent (London). Retrieved 13 November 2009. [dead link]
  11. ^ Jefferson, Margo (10 November 2004). "African and Western Worlds Collude Happily". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  12. ^ Seckerson, Edward (30 June 2009). "Lost in the stars". The Independent (London). Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  13. ^ Warman, Mark (7 May 2009). "Interview: Charles Hazlewood". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 16 November 2009. 
  14. ^ "Classical Star Judges" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  15. ^ "The Proms 2008" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 2012-12-12. 
  16. ^ Dee, Jonny (5 January 2008). "Top of the Boffs". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  17. ^ Mahoney, Elisabeth (4 May 2006). "Radio Review". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 18 November 2009. 
  18. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (25 August 2009). "Play The Field: 'The Planets' can be as exciting as the Grateful Dead". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 13 November 2009. 
  19. ^ "Friday Night Rediscovers The Planets". Friday Night is Music Night. BBC Radio 2. Retrieved 19 October 2011. 
  20. ^ "The Roundhouse, Beggar's Opera Reborn". Retrieved 2012-12-12. [not in citation given]

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