Mr Stephen Brearley is the conductor and organiser of the Doctors’ Orchestra. A highly-experienced general and vascular surgeon, he has a private practice at Spire Roding Hospital, Essex and an NHS base at Whipps Cross University Hospital, East London.
I have been an amateur musician since childhood, playing the violin and piano and later conducting both in Cambridge and at the Middlesex Hospital, where I studied. Unfortunately, when I first started training to be a surgeon music had to take a back seat.
In 2004, I became a founding member of the European Doctors’ Orchestra and still play violin for the EDO now. In February 2010 I was asked to put together a charity concert for Freedom for Torture and the Doctors’ Orchestra was born. Its first concert was a success and the forthcoming one will be the third we have given in support of the same charity.
The players are excellent. Many doctors are also musicians and, as there are many doctors, it follows that we have a large pool of talent available. Some of the doctors in the orchestra have actually been professional musicians before or alongside their medical careers. We are also able to recruit from abroad and have, for instance, an entire section of doctor-trombonists joining us from Germany.
The Berlioz (Overture Les Francs Juges) and Franck (Symphony in D Minor) have been passions of mine since my teenage years. I can vividly remember hearing the Berlioz at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool in my youth and I learnt the Franck symphony from LPs my father gave me in my early teens. I have wanted to conduct these pieces for over 40 years!
Some of my medical peers, who know me for my surgical practice or post-graduate courses, might not realise that I am also a musician. I used to fly aeroplanes as well but have given that up now!
It would be fun to say ‘music’ but there are so many brilliant young musicians it would have been difficult. I actually went to school with the conductor Sir Simon Rattle so I always had a useful benchmark. We shared the same piano teacher, were in the same youth orchestra and lived 200 yards apart in Liverpool, where we grew up. He was so much better than me that I had no illusions about the standard needed to have a musical career!
It is an interesting question because so many musical champions like Wagner and Beethoven were actually not very nice people! However I think Mendelssohn, who was a great polymath, would have been fun to have around the table. Berlioz would have been too full of his own importance but Franck might have been an amiable addition to the party.
My wife and I love travelling and have visited every continent but Antarctica (with no plans to go there at the moment). But I am most at home with European/Mediterranean culture and especially love the Amalfi Coast.
It would have to include Beethoven’s 7th Symphony and Brahms’s 1st piano concerto. Maybe also some Verdi, Strauss (Richard), Mozart and Schubert.
With my music, I have learnt most from watching and playing for other conductors, learning from those I most admire but also learning how not to do things. Much the same can be said of my training in surgery!