Open main menu

Charles Matthew Egerton Hazlewood (born 14 November 1966) is a British conductor and advocate for a wider audience for orchestral music. After winning the European Broadcasting Union conducting competition in his twenties, Hazlewood has had a career as an international conductor, music director of film and theatre, composer and a curator of music on British radio and television.

Hazlewood has conducted many of the world's best orchestras, including the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Gothenburg & Malmö Symphonies, Copenhagen Philharmonic, the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Concertgebouw of Amsterdam and the Philharmonia.

He is best known for his relentless crusade to bring orchestral music to a 21st century audience. His many innovations, such as introducing the music to the audience, recasting of the term 'classical music' to 'orchestral music', taking orchestral performance out of the concert hall to fresh audiences, and rethinking what an orchestra by integrating disability and new technologies, and his collaborations with leading musicians from all genres of music have been instrumental in creating new 'norms' in the world of orchestral music.

Education and early careerEdit

Hazlewood attended Christ's Hospital school in West Sussex where he was a chorister and organist. He later gained an organ scholarship to Keble College, Oxford, in 1986, graduating in 1989. He made his London debut with his own chamber orchestra, EOS, in January 1991. Hazlewood's follow-up concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and its controversial presentation which included talking to the audience about the pieces to be played and a stage set caused The Times reviewer to leave during the interval, exclaiming "I could take no more."[citation needed]

He was nominated by the BBC in 1995 as the UK's sole representative in the European Broadcasting Union conducting competition in Lisbon, where he won first prize.


Hazlewood is music director of the music ensemble Army of Generals, formed to record with him all the music for his BBC films. Army of Generals (coined by 18th and 19th-century musicologist Charles Burney who used the phrase to describe the finest orchestra of the day (i.e. an ensemble of soloists), support many of Hazlewood's West Country projects. Appearances include St George's Bristol (partnering the Unthanks in a bespoke orchestral/folk project) and headlining the Park Stage at Glastonbury Festival (Philip Glass's Heroes Symphony).

Described by the BBC as "passionate about new work", he has conducted over 100 world premieres.[1] Known for challenging the boundaries between genres and his passion to break the orchestra out of the ivory tower, he has also initiated several projects that explore common ground between different musical disciplines, such as Urban Classic, which created a new hybrid drawing together 5 Grime MC's and the BBC Concert Orchestra.[2] As well as his Orchestra in a Field festivals which showcased orchestral music with a contemporary twist,[3]

Hazlewood has collaborated similarly with musicians from across the contemporary musical landscape such as drum and bass artists Squarepusher and Goldie and soul performers Wyclef Jean and Labrinth.

His interest in a wide variety of musical genres led to several seasons of The Charles Hazlewood Show on BBC Radio 2 and a place on the judging panel of the popular music industry's creativity awards, the Mercury Music prize.[4]

Charles Hazlewood’s All Star Collective, described as "A sort of avant-garde super group" in The Idler,[citation needed] is an ensemble dedicated to improvisation which features artists from across the musical spectrum, such as Portishead's Adrian Utley, former Jazz Warriors saxophonist Jason Yarde, Goldfrapp's Will Gregory, saxophonist Andy Sheppard, composer Graham Fitkin, drum and bass performer Squarepusher. Hazlewood first assembled the band to play at the Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts, the largest of its kind in the world, in 2008. They have since made regular appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and Hazlewood's own Orchestra in a Field festival. Their live "super group" performance of Tubular Bells came to the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and the Sage Gateshead, a re-enactment of Mike Oldfield's own group performance 38 years previously. In 2012 they played Terry Riley's A Rainbow in Curved Air in the festival of improvised performance at the Bristol Old Vic. In 2014 they launched the Thunderbirds are Go project at the Glastonbury Festival, a celebration of composer Barry Gray. The show also featured at the 6 Music Festival in 2016 with guest vocalist Jarvis Cocker. In 2017 Hazlewood's All Star Collective "Thunderbirds are Go" project toured the UK [5].

Music director for film and theatreEdit

Hazlewood's work as a composer and music director has been received with consistent critical acclaim. His South African township 'Carmen' film sung in !Xhosa won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, his production of the mediaeval mystery plays 'The Mysteries' was a sell out in London's West End and provoked the first leader on music theatre in the Times in 40 years; his re-invention of John Gay's, the Beggar's Opera (Dead Dog in a suitcase), was listed by the Guardian in the top 10 shows of 2015.

Between 1995 and 2003 Hazlewood was Music Director of Broomhill Opera and Wilton's Music Hall in London; for whom he conducted, amongst others, Britten's The Turn of the Screw (director Elijah Moshinsky), Puccini's Il Trittico (director Simon Callow) and Kurt Weill's The Silverlake in a new translation by Rory Bremner.

In 1999, Hazlewood and theatre director Mark Dornford-May created a new opera company in Cape Town from the townships and villages of South Africa; the mostly black lyric-theatre company DDK (Dimpho di Kopane, Sotho for "combined talents") was formed. Of the 40 members, only three had professional training. In January 2001, the company's debut of Bizet's Carmen opened to damning South African reviews, with one newspaper saying it was preposterous for black South Africans to perform Western opera. The Mysteries, for which Hazlewood devised the score, sold out in London's West End in 2003, inciting the first editorial on music in The Times newspaper in 40 years.[6] Hazlewood was music director and conductor for the company's film version of Carmen, set in a township in South Africa (U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha) which won the Golden Bear award for Best Film at the 2005 Berlin International Film Festival. Their subsequent film, Son of Man, featured a score created by Hazlewood in collaboration with the company.

Hazlewood was music director of DDK from 2000 to 2007. With the company he also conceived the music for the shows Ibali Loo Tsotsi (The Beggar's Opera);[7] and The Snow Queen, which premiered in New York in 2004.[8]

In 2009, Hazlewood conducted Kurt Weill's musical drama Lost in the Stars, set in apartheid South Africa, at the South Bank Centre.[9]

In 2014, Hazlewood scored the radical reworking of John Gay’s The Beggars Opera with the Kneehigh Theatre Company, called Dead Dog in a Suitcase. This co-production with the Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse was written by Carl Grose and directed by Mike Shepherd. The show toured the UK and internationally in 2015/16 and was listed in the top ten shows of 2015 by the Guardian newspaper.[citation needed]

In 2016 Hazlewood wrote the score for a music theatre version of 'Tin Drum'based on the iconic novel about a boy growing in up Nazi Germany by the author Gunter Grass. With a libretto by Karl Grose and performed and produced by the KneeHigh Theatre Company the show opened was described as 'banging hit' but the Guardian and completed sell out national tour in 2016/17.

In 2018 Hazlewood's long desired goal to integrate mass karoake into the storyline of a show became a reality with 'Ubu' which had its debut to critical acclaim (Independent) in August 2018. Written by Karl Grose and performed by the Kneehigh Theatre Company.


Hazlewood's style as a communicator, described as engaging and enthusiastic, has made him a regular face on British television.[10][11] He has authored and conducted the music in BBC films on Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky as well as a series exploring the birth of British music. He also appeared on the judging panel for the reality show Classical Star (BBC2 2007)[12] and has anchored the BBC Proms TV coverage since 2001.[13]

He authored and presented How Pop Songs Work (BBC Four, 2008); a film with Damon Gough (aka Badly Drawn Boy) entitled Stripping Pop (BBC Three, 2003);[14] and a two part documentary Tones, Drones and Arpeggios: The Magic of Minimalism (BBC Four, 2018), on the history of minimalist music.[15]

His first TV appearance was as music director on Jonathan Miller's Opera Works (1996).

In 2018 Hazlewood made 2 television films about minimalism for BBC4 'Tones, drone and arpeggios - the magic of minimalism'. In these he interviews the 'greats' of the genre: Terry Riley, Le Monte Young, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich.


Hazlewood formerly performed and delivered musical analyses with the BBC orchestras for Radio 3's Discovering Music.

Hazlewood's eclectic radio show, The Charles Hazlewood Show on Radio 2, won three Sony Radio Academy Awards. The musical selections are "linked together in surprising and productive new ways, with Mozart, for example, followed by Ivor Cutler, then The Streets, then Handel".[16] Hazlewood has improvised music on the show with guests as diverse as Super Furry Animals, Scritti Politti, Billy Bragg, pianist Joanna MacGregor and the Guillemots.

Musical Innovation in the West CountryEdit

After returning to Somerset as his home, Hazlewood has been committed to addressing the lack of professional orchestral performance in the region. His projects in the region are characterised by combining the highest musical standards with the greatest inclusivity. Many audience members will have never been to an orchestral performance, and frequently members of the British Paraorchestra are among the performers.

In 2015, with the support of the Arts Council, a creative hub for Hazlewood's projects involving the British Paraorchestra, Army of Generals and the All Star Collective (all founded by Hazlewood) was created to develop innovative musical collaborations called 'Paraorchestra and Friends'. Based in Bristol, its groundbreaking performance projects have been attracting large audiences and national and international notice.

Hazlewood has twice staged his own music festival, "Orchestra in a Field" (formerly "Play the Field"), in and around Glastonbury in 2009/2011. The first event, backed by TV Dragon Deborah Meaden included a version of Holst's The Planets where members of Hazlewood's All Star band, featuring Will Gregory (Goldfrapp), Adrian Utley (Portishead), saxophonists Andy Sheppard and Jason Yarde, drummer Tony Orrell, keyboardist Graham Fitkin and harpist Ruth Wall improvised electronic responses to each orchestral planet from a separate stage across the parkland.[18] A recording of this concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 11 September 2009. [19] The second, held in the grounds of Glastonbury Abbey, included a national choir competition, a musical talk tent, and performances of Bizet's 'Carmen', Mussorgsky's 'Pictures in an Exhibition' and British rap artist Professor Green who performed alongside an 80 piece orchestra.

Hazlewood conducted the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain at the 2007 Glastonbury Festival, making history in performing the first ever symphony concert on the world-famous Pyramid Stage. The Charles Hazlewood All Stars, an ensemble dedicated to improvisation, was launched at Glastonbury Festival 2008, in 2014 his All Star Collective performed the music of Barry Grey ‘Thunderbirds are Go’, 2015 he performed on the Pyramid Stage with Unthanks and his orchestra. In 2016 he is conducting Phillip Glass piece 'Heroes Symphony' with combined members of his two orchestras: Army of Generals and the British Paraorchestra. This is the first time an orchestral event has headlined at the largest music festival in the world.

The British ParaorchestraEdit

The British Paraorchestra (BPO) is the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, founded by Hazlewood and television director Claire Whalley in November 2011. Following their world debut at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony in 2012 alongside Coldplay, the BPO is pioneering a global movement to recognise and showcase disabled musicians with extraordinary abilities. Just as the Paralympics have achieved so effectively in sport, the British Paraorchestra began by shifting perceptions of disability by creating a visible platform for gifted disabled musicians to perform and excel at the highest level with the aim of intergrating talented players with impairments into mainstream performances. As the Company 'Paraorchestra and Friends' has evolved it increasingly sees integration not as a charitable aim, but an artistic opportunity. Inclusivity forces a re-thinking of old models that opens the way for innovations in performances, theatre and the way we 'conceive' of an orchestra. Projects include 'The Nature of Why", 'The Anatomy of an Orchestra" and 'Play!".


  1. ^ "Charles Hazlewood". BBC Radio 3. Archived from the original on 28 May 2009.
  2. ^ "Mixing It". BBC Radio 3. November 2006. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  3. ^ "Orchestra in a Field". Archived from the original on 20 October 2012. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  4. ^ MacMahon, James (10 September 2009). "Who judges the Mercury prize?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  5. ^ "Thunderbirds Are Go!". Retrieved 29 June 2019.
  6. ^ Spencer, Charles (28 February 2002). "Divine, defiant and dazzling". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  7. ^ Koenig, Rhoda (22 October 2002). "The Beggar's Opera, Wilton's Music Hall, London". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 14 September 2016. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  8. ^ Jefferson, Margo (10 November 2004). "African and Western Worlds Collude Happily". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  9. ^ Seckerson, Edward (30 June 2009). "Lost in the stars". The Independent. London. Retrieved 18 November 2009.
  10. ^ Hodgkinson, Will (8 May 2008). "The Somerset Barnstormer". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  11. ^ Warman, Mark (7 May 2009). "Interview: Charles Hazlewood". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 16 November 2009.
  12. ^ "Classical Star Judges" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 27 September 2007. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  13. ^ "The Proms 2008" (Press release). BBC Press Office. 3 July 2008. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  14. ^ Dee, Jonny (5 January 2008). "Top of the Boffs". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 November 2009.
  15. ^ "Tones, Drones and Arpeggios: The Magic of Minimalism - BBC Four". BBC. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  16. ^ Mahoney, Elisabeth (4 May 2006). "Radio Review". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 November 2009.

External linksEdit