Destinations | Perfect Weekend

Mark Elder’s Manchester

The music director of the Hallé orchestra also works at opera houses in London, New York and Paris, where he recently conducted Robert Carsen’s production of Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

November 27 2011
Alison Gunn

“On Friday, I’m often back late after a concert in Leeds or Bradford, for example, so I allow myself a lie-in on Saturday morning. My flat is on the top floor of a converted mill and it’s just like a loft apartment in New York. My wife, Mandy, and I bought it 12 years ago, and I love it because it’s so different to my London home, a traditional Edwardian family house, and it’s wonderful for entertaining – something I do a lot of during a concert series in Manchester.

After a leisurely breakfast with the newspapers, our thoughts turn to who we’re entertaining that evening – usually the soloist from the concert, with some other musicians and friends – where everyone will sit, and what we’re going to eat and drink. Then it’s off to M&S for a big food shop. Mandy is a brilliant cook, but I help, of course – usually by making sure we’ve got enough wine and champagne. I’ll go with my friend and colleague John Summers to Majestic, where we do what we call a “Hallé” shop. I’m particularly into Chilean wines; they really have improved over the past decade.

If I have an evening concert, there’s a routine to the day. I’ll have a good lunch, then a siesta, after which I get up and start the day again at 6.30pm. I shower and dress, then walk over the canal bridge [pictured] to the Bridgewater Hall, totally focused on the music. I love the hall and my orchestra – they have a great heart, and the city is rightly proud of them. Every time we play, I try to set the bar a little higher, so when they take wing during a performance, and we all know it’s gone well, it’s incredibly rewarding.

Afterwards, it’s time to relax at the flat. Most of the soloists are not fussy about eating and drinking – they will come out, let their hair down and have a great night. Pianists can be quite wild, particularly the Russians.

On a non-working Saturday, I’ll find myself with Mandy in the city centre, where there are some fantastic shops but also lots of interesting buildings, such as the beautiful 18th-century church in St Ann’s Square, and the Museum of Science and Industry, a wonderful place full of steam engines, and where I held my 60th-birthday party. Then there’s the John Rylands Library, an extraordinary Victorian gothic building, like something out of Harry Potter. Sometimes I’ll walk along the canal to the Castlefield basin, where four or five canals meet, and above them railway lines crisscross. It’s a testament to the incredible power of Manchester in the industrial 19th century.

In the evening we like to go to the Cornerhouse, an independent cinema. I can watch a film with a relaxed, non-critical attitude, although I am incredibly interested in the presence of the director; how they put their distinguishing mark on it. Alternatively, we might go to the Royal Exchange Theatre, which is run by a friend of mine, Braham Murray. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him next year on a production of Leonard Bernstein’s musical Wonderful Town. It’s being cast now – all very exciting.

Sunday is a day to stretch the legs. Manchester is next to some spectacular countryside – the Peak District, the Moors, the Pennines. So if the weather’s good, we’ll take a trip out to Tatton Park, and stroll around the grounds and the beautiful Japanese garden.

Back at home, I’ll put in a couple of hours’ studying. A huge part of my job is about “making love” to the score – getting to know it really well, both philosophically and mechanically. Then I’ll read, catch up on the news, and take Mandy out for dinner. Our current favourite restaurant is Abode, where the cooking is imaginative and sophisticated. A meal is a combination of three parts that, like many sensory experiences, achieve the perfect balance.”

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