Jonathan goes solo for cathedral performance

Jonathan Whittaker
Jonathan Whittaker

A WIGAN musician took on a prestigious solo role as his university orchestral society celebrated its half century at a sold-out cathedral concert.

Jonathan Whittaker, from Orrell, played the solo part in Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No.2 in front of 450 people at Durham Cathedral.

The concert was a high-profile affair as the evening also included an appearance from world-famous baritone Sir Thomas Allen performing the world premiere of a new piece by North East composer John Casken.

As president of the Durham University Orchestral Society, which put on the concert to mark its 50th birthday, Jonathan also played a huge role in organising the concert as well as performing his own solo and keeping up with his maths degree but said the experience of playing to the packed cathedral made it all worth it.

Former Winstanley College student Jonathan, 21, said: “It was amazing and by far the biggest thing I’ve done. It was 18 months of hard work but it paid off.

“It was also a unique thing to do as I’d never played piano with an orchestra before. It was amazing to perform in the cathedral and I think I’ll be very lucky to get such an opportunity again.

“I spent a year and a bit learning the Saint-Saens piece, and as president I had to organise the rehearsals, so I spoke to Sir Thomas quite a bit.

“It was a massive privilege to meet him. He’s also the university chancellor and some friends told me that he also mentioned my name in his speech at the graduation ceremony, which is pretty cool.”

Although Jonathan has been playing piano since the age of eight his main musical interest at Durham has been as percussion, where he has become the university orchestra’s section principal.

The former St James’ RC Primary School and St Peter’s RC High School pupil started learning piano in Wigan with Phillippa Coulson, who also introduced him to percussion by inviting him to play with the Skelmersdale Brass Band.

He played both piano and percussion with the Halle Youth Orchestra, during which time he performed many concerts at Manchester’s famous Bridgewater Hall and toured with the ensemble to Tuscany and Prague.

He says he still enjoys playing both as they involve very different aspects of the experience of making music.

Jonathan said: “When I auditioned at university for piano it was my main focus but there’s a lot more opportunities to play percussion in the orchestra.

Alongside his music Jonathan’s focus is on completing his four-year maths course which includes an integrated Master’s, where he is also putting his numerical skills into practice as the treasurer of University College.

He hopes to go on to a career in accountancy once he graduates but says he certainly has no intention of putting aside either the piano or his percussion sticks.

He said: “I’ve already got a summer job with Ernst and Young and I’m going into accounting, but once I qualify finding a balance of music and finance would be lovely.

“I’m looking to move to London after uni and there’s lots of good amateur orchestras people can get involved in there, so playing percussion with one of them will be top of my to-do list.”