David Coronel

David Coronel joined Bromley Symphony Orchestra in 2001. He had taken up percussion at school, having classes with Stephen Henderson, now a busy freelancer playing with everyone from period instrument bands to the John Wilson Orchestra, although he was then playing for the London Symphony Orchestra. David gave up playing after leaving university, but took it up again in 1996 when he started collecting his own instruments.

The keyword for percussionists is variety – David has a large collection of instruments ranging from the common orchestral items like timpani, bass drums, cymbals and snare drums to more obscure and ethnic items like vibraslaps, agogo bells, lion’s roar and a thundersheet. The worst part of the job is transporting them to and from concerts. When Bromley Symphony played the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique last season, David also had two church bells on hire, and had to shuttle there and back twice to the hall to get everything home. Fortunately, the new hall at Langley Park has excellent access for percussion, all on the flat. The worst hall he has played in is St.John’s Smith Square, where everything has to be carried up 16 stone steps into the building, and then (usually) up two or three more levels to the back of the stage.

David’s first instrument was the piano, on which he had lessons from the age of five. Once he had joined the school choir and orchestra, however, he lost a lot of his enthusiasm for the piano, preferring the more communal nature of performing in large groups. He did take Grade 8 piano, but only just passed! Although he gave up playing percussion for about 15 years, he has never had a break from choral singing. As soon as he left university, he joined Bromley Philharmonic Choir, of which he is now Chairman, and he also sings with the chamber choir Sine Nomine Singers.

David started a computer business in Bromley in 1983, specialising for many years in the now defunct Acorn computers, switching to standard PCs in the late 1990s. He still runs the business, but from home.

When he first started as a percussionist, the players he admired most were Kurt Hans Goedicke, principal timpanist of the LSO, and the whole section at the CBSO in the late 1970s: James Strebing, Margaret Cotton, Annie Oakley and Douglas Milne. Nowadays there are so many wonderful players around, but the timpanist he most admires and enjoys watching is Paul Turner of the BBC Philharmonic.

David says it would be easy to name all the composers who write the best parts for percussionists as his favourites, but his musical tastes are much more catholic. He used to be a frequent opera-goer, and his best-loved works were those of Handel, Verdi and Janáček, but in general, he doesn’t have favourite composers, or rather, has too many of them. He has had a personal interest in Chabrier and Finzi for many years, and more recently Messiaen and Mahler, but it’s easier to name the composers he dislikes – Vivaldi and Liszt!

The music colleges nowadays produce percussionists of astonishing skill, but one of the side-effects of landing students with massive debts when they leave is that they can’t afford to buy all the instruments they’ll be called to play, let alone the means to transport them. The upshot of all this is that there are relatively few musicians like David who can provide all the gear (hiring everything commercially would be prohibitively expensive), so he is always in demand! Weekends without a concert somewhere are rare, and he often has two.

He started playing for the Whitehall Orchestra before he joined Bromley. They used to be called the Orchestra of the Civil Service, but it’s no longer necessary to be a civil servant to play for them. They only do three concerts a season, but they are adventurous in their choice of repertory, like Bromley, and play to a high standard. He also regularly plays for Harmony Sinfonia, as do other members of Bromley. Harmony has been going since 2009, and is based around Lewisham and Brockley. Despite being formed so recently, they certainly hit the ground running, and have given some excellent concerts. Kensington is well-served with orchestras, and David plays for two of them: Kensington Philharmonic Orchestra plays the same sort of repertoire as Bromley, normally in the very plush surroundings of Chelsea Town Hall; Kensington Chamber Orchestra is a smaller ensemble, and often play contemporary works. Nearer home, he has been timpanist for Sidcup Symphony Orchestra for the last couple of years, and for Kentish Opera for rather longer than that! He also plays for Philharmonia BritannicaLambeth Wind OrchestraLewisham Concert BandHayes Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Tunbridge Wells Symphony Orchestra.

Two stories come to mind…

I was playing for Whitehall Orchestra at St.John’s Waterloo, doing Mahler Symphony No.1. I’d engaged a fine but headstrong student from the Royal College as one of the section, and he was allocated the triangle part. As usual, I supplied a suitable triangle supported by a triangle stand, but the student said that he preferred to hold the triangle in his hand. He promptly pulled a length of thread from the lining of his overcoat, strung it through the triangle, and proceeded to play. You may know that this symphony ends with a loud triangle roll which plays right through the final chords: as he was playing it, his makeshift string snapped, and the triangle fell noisily to the floor – the rest of the section could hardly suppress their laughter. I hope he learnt to use the equipment supplied in future…

The other story is more personal, and more painful. I was doing a concert in Streatham which included a piece (I forget which) with a part for rattle. At the beginning of the rehearsal, the conductor proudly brought over an authentic World War II air raid warning rattle, a massive thing like a giant football rattle, and suggested I use that for maximum effect. The cue arrived, and I tried to play but it wouldn’t turn! I realised that, being left-handed, I was trying to turn it the wrong way, so switched direction. Unfortunately, I didn’t move my hand position, so instead of swinging away from me, it whacked straight into my nose! Blood started pouring out, but the show must go on, so I carried on playing, much to the conductor’s amusement. Luckily, I tidied myself up before the evening performance…