Principal timpanist at the London Philharmonic Orchestra and senior timpani professor at the Royal Academy of Music.
My thoughts about being a timpanist
I have always loved orchestral music from all eras. I started playing the violin in my school orchestra at a young age and was constantly drawn to the sounds coming from the back of the orchestra, in particular the beautiful sound of the timpani. My interest has always been in timpani as essentially harmonic, rather than percussive instruments. To me it’s very important to have an acute awareness of the timpani’s harmonic role at any given point in the music, and from this perspective one can tune, balance and emphasise within the orchestral sound.
Beethoven obviously loved the timpani and his symphonies are the cornerstone for all timpanists, technically and musically. Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Elgar, Mahler and Richard Strauss all wrote wonderful timpani parts, showing that they enjoyed the rich sound and harmonic potential of the instruments. Stravinsky, Bartok and Janacek also loved timpani, writing very demanding parts that are extremely rewarding to play; even though they pushed the timpani’s capabilities to the limit, every note is so well-considered and effective.
To be able to play the music of such fine composers in a great orchestra is an enormous privilege, especially on Wolfgang Hardtke’s beautiful instruments; they have a huge range of volume and colour for romantic repertoire as well as being able to provide a really compact and punchy sound as and when that’s required, by classical and by twentieth century composers. They’re superbly built, fantastically versatile, great sounding drums!
Born in Cambridge in 1966, Simon studied timpani at the Royal College of Music in London with Alan Cumberland, Janos Keszei and Andrew Smith. He won the gold medal in the 1988 Shell/LSO competition and joined the percussion section in the London Symphony Orchestra in 1991.
He became joint principal timpani and percussion in 1995, being privileged to share the timpani position with Kurt-Hans Goedicke. In 2002 Simon joined the London Philharmonic Orchestra as principal timpanist.
He is senior timpani professor at the Royal Academy of Music and has taught and given master classes around the world. Simon also enjoys composing and arranging brass music, from quintet to tentet and large brass ensemble and his arrangements have been played by a variety of groups including London Brass and LPO Brass.
Hardtke Classic with Berlin bowls, sizes 81cm, 74, 66, 60, 58
Why I play Hardtke timpani
Wolfgang Hardtke simply makes supremely good instruments; the excellent standards of craftsmanship allied with innovative improvements to the original Ringer design provide drums with a deep rich tone, good sustain and a clean, focused centre to each note across an enormous dynamic range. The sound has a unique character – these timpani are a joy to play.
I mainly use the Funke range – German felt with cork cores plus flannel and leather. I also use sticks by David Morbey, Helmut Rosenthal, Peter Offelder, 4timp, Sean Hooper and Gerald Fromme.
I use Super Kalfo heads which I lap myself.