We meet the musicians, discover their story and their passion for performance
Kelly McCusker’s passion for music is evident every time she describes playing the violin. Whether it’s plucking the strings on a period instrument for The Hanover Band or playing pub gigs with an electric violin, her voice dances with excitement and enthusiasm.
“I just love music and I adore playing with my colleagues,” says Kelly. “There’s something really special about the relationship and the bonds we have in The Hanover Band.
With The Band celebrating Beethoven’s 250th anniversary this year, Kelly, who was born in London, is looking forward to performing all nine of the great composer’s symphonies with her colleagues at Livery Halls across the City.
“We are producing something unique for the audience because we are trying to create a performance where they hear Beethoven as they would have in his day. We all get on so well and we all give it our best shot to make it authentic.”
Kelly, who was born in London, developed an interest in music from an early age. With Irish parents she has a strong musical heritage and by the time she was in infant school she’d begun trying different instruments. As a young girl, playing the bagpipes, she even had the chance to play at the wedding of Suggs, the lead singer of Madness!
“Although my parents never played anything, they love music so there was always music in the house,” she says. “I loved singing and when I was at infant school someone suggested they give me an instrument, so I began playing both violin and piano. I remember having this fantastic music teacher who was really pretty with curly hair and who had a killer name; Miss Hailstones!”
When she was 11, her music teacher suggested she audition for the Purcell School of Music. In the end, Kelly was awarded a scholarship.
She says: “At the time I didn’t realise what a big deal it was and didn’t know what it meant but it was a pretty amazing experience.”
Kelly, 49, stayed at the Purcell School from 11 to 18 before studying for a BA at Kingston University. From there she headed to Birmingham Conservatoire to undertake a Masters in performance and spent a year training with the City of Birmingham Orchestra, led by Sir Simon Rattle, which she describes as “just incredible”. Whilst there she also worked with late baroque musician Micaela Comberti.
“I learned so much from her and developed my love of baroque music with her,” she adds.
It was Comberti who recommended Kelly to different groups as an accomplished player. Those groups then recommended her to others, and she quickly gained a reputation as an excellent violinist. As well as playing classical and baroque she also spent time playing with pop band The Divine Comedy.
However, it wasn’t long before Caroline Brown, founder of The Hanover Band, heard about her skills and offered her an audition.
Kelly says: “Caroline was always really encouraging, and she would always look out for the young ones. She was so friendly and approachable. She said to me one day you look like you know what you’re doing so maybe we should put you in front.
“Eventually, she moved me to lead 2nd violin. It was all down to her and her encouragement that I’ve ended up where I am, and I have been really blessed.”
Kelly divides her time between playing classical and baroque music, modern music on an electric violin in pubs around Derbyshire, which she describes as “crazy, great fun”, and teaching young children music at a prep school.
“It’s a little like an extreme sport what I do,” she says. “Because I play such a variety of violins and music, I love the challenge of each genre. One day I might be doing modern, trying to be like Annie Lennox, then I might be doing more period authentic performances. If I was only allowed to take away one violin with me however, it would be The Hanover Band one.
“There’s something really raw and earthy about playing this kind of music. There’s a connection spiritually between you and the composers of the day. I still get tingles whenever I play that kind of music and I can’t imagine a time when I won’t play it.”
Kelly will be performing all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies at Livery Halls in The City of London, starting on 2 March and, culminating in his 9th Choral symphony on 16 December, his official birthday. As well as the Beethoven In The City concert series, The Hanover Band will also be performing at Arundel Festival from August 22-29.
The Beethoven 250 cycle begins at Stationers’ Hall on 2 March 2020 and runs from March-December 2020.
For full details of The Hanover Band’s 2020 celebrations see:
BEETHOVEN IN THE CITY
BEETHOVEN IN ARUNDEL
Follow the celebrations here: