Interview with Guy Simpson
He's one of the few conductors in the world Andrew Lloyd Webber trusts. We talked to Guy Simpson about his work on Evita.
Guy Simpson, Musical Director of Evita
What does the 'Musical Director' do?
The Musical Director is part of a team with the director and the choreographer. We create the piece together. If you're not prepared to be part of a team, you might as well forget it. You teach the show together, you work out the cues together, and then, of course, you lead the show nightly from the pit.
How do you prepare for a show?
Preparing for a show or an opera or preparing for a concert involves a lot of study and quiet work alone. You can't just roll up at rehearsals and say, 'What's this?' so you need to do your homework. I've always been that kind of prepared guy who does his homework and listens to recordings. I think, 'I do like that', 'that seems a bit fast to me', 'I don't really like that version', 'I like that version' and I come up with a version in my head that I want it to sound like. You start rehearsals like that, then be open to the director and the choreographer and the artists. You have to be open to their ideas and collaborative, to take on board some things they want to do, and know when to say 'nope, we can't do that, we should do this'. It's having a vision.
How did you become one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's go-to guys?
My relationship with Andrew goes back a long time. I first started working on his music on a musical called Cats. I was very young. Then on Phantom of the Opera I took over as Musical Director on the Sydney season of Phantom in 1993. Since then I've supervised a lot of Phantoms around the world. And then I did Love Never Dies here. So he trusts certain people, and I'm thrilled to be one of those guys. There's not many of us around the globe, and its nice to know that he trusts me with his work, and I get calls to do all sorts of cool things. My job before this was doing Phantom in Brazil. So you get to go to these incredible places and teach a new company his work.
What do you love about the music of Evita?
Evita is a classic early Andrew Lloyd Webber score. It's got shades of Jesus Christ Superstar and the promise of what was to come afterwards, shades of Sunset Boulevard and Phantom of the Opera.
It's got great melody writing, that's one of Andrew's hallmarks, he knows how to write a tune and great memorable melodies. Evita goes a bit further than that too. It's got some really difficult parts — there's no point shying away from it — difficult moments that are hard that demand the listener to really listen and catch the information. It's like a documentary with episodes and you've got to listen. And then there's a song that's very easy to listen to. So you're on a rollercoaster all night between difficult music and less difficult music.
For me it's just the perfect Andrew piece. There's no dialogue, it's sung-through and it goes from his classical roots through to his rock style. It's just the perfect score.
Why should anyone buy a ticket?
This cast is incredible. It sounds amazing, right from the opening requiem through to Kurt's screaming rock-tenor voice, through to Paolo's beautiful sonorous baritone, then you've got Tina Arena, is there a more perfect voice? She has incredible pitch and intonation, great sound and it's the same. She's just flawless. I'm just so, so in love with her voice. The ensemble are fantastic. It's not a huge ensemble but they make a mighty sound and no one will be disappointed by the sound you're hearing.
Then you've got the orchestra. This is a new orchestration written about 10 years ago. Andrew collaborating with David Cullen, who is his go-to-guy now. They've made it much more of the flavour of South America. You've got this really evocative tango music and these epic moments in classic Andrew style. Musically you're getting great value, great sounds. It's very rewarding.