How a boy from the wrong side of town found life’s right path

Ryan Wigglesworth - credit Benjamin Ealovega
Ryan Wigglesworth - credit Benjamin Ealovega
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The son of a butcher from Wincobank, the young Ryan Wigglesworth had a talent which marked him out as a cut above the rest.

He loved music, in particular singing, and relished the chance to perform. Ryan was spotted as a talent at the age of six, singing his heart out at school assemblies.

This boy deserved a chance and his efforts earned him an audition at Sheffield Cathedral. “I was a boy from the wrong side of town, but the music became my world and I was very lucky that the Cathedral’s organist Graham Matthews took me under his wing,” said Wigglesworth, now 34.

“I was this strange little creature, who was obsessed with the music we were doing. I started writing my own pieces based on composers like Mendelssohn and this was the start of the journey.”

He travelled across the city to attend King Edward’s School in Sheffield where he prospered and at 15 was offered a place at the exclusive Charterhouse school in Surrey.

Ryan’s life was changing and he continued to thrive in an environment which nurtured his talent. He studied at Oxford before going on to lecture at Cambridge. The transformation was supported by his parents, who were rightly proud of their boy. There was no musical background in terms of playing, but the Wigglesworth household valued art.

“My dad had an artistic bent, painting and carving in his spare time,” recalls Wigglesworth. “He also listened to classical music and there were LPs lying around of Beethoven and Mozart symphonies which I became obsessed by.”

Ryan’s development continued apace in both composing and conducting.

Appointments have included Composer in Residence at the English National Orchestra and holding the Daniel R. Lewis Composer Fellowship with the Cleveland Orchestra.

As a conductor he is much sought after in repertoire ranging from the baroque to the present day. Wigglesworth will become the Hallé Orchestra’s principal guest conductor next year. Ryan is relishing the prospect.

“I’m lucky to do what I do at the level I do,” he says. “The orchestras I’m able to work with make the experiences incredibly fulfilling. It can be difficult to build a relationship with an orchestra, but I certainly have one with the Hallé.

“They were the first orchestra I saw. It was at the Sheffield City Hall, conducted by Sir Charles Groves and I remember the programme – the Sorcerers Apprentice by Dukas, Beethoven’s 5th and Mozart’s 21st piano concerto.

“It was an incredibly meaningful night and to have a relationship with that orchestra is really wonderful. It has been a privilege listening to what they have been doing.

“They obviously have a very special relationship with Sir Mark Elder and the wonderful thing about this orchestra is it seems to have a unique colour to its work. So often the colour of a work can get flattened but not with the Hallé.”

The respect is mutual. John Summers, Hallé Chief Executive, said: “We are all very much looking forward to welcoming Ryan next year, and are delighted that such a considerable artist will become a part of the Hallé family.

“Ryan is a worthy successor to Markus Stenz, Principal Guest Conductor for the past six years, with whom the Hallé has enjoyed a warm and successful relationship.

”The programme for his appearance at the City Hall next month includes the ever-popular Mozart clarinet concerto and Sibelius 2nd symphony. The Mozart will be played Rotherham musician Lynsey Marsh.

“The piece is sublime and Lynsey is the most wonderful player.

“It will be a real thrill. It’s early days in my new relationship with the Hallé so to be able to collaborate with one of the principals is a particular joy.

“I was keen to do the Sibelius, the colour of the piece is absolutely right for the Hallé. It has incredibly fine shades and I can’t wait to perform it.”