I first heard Kate Wishart in action at a lunchtime concert at St John’s Church, Peterborough, last August (writes Joe Conway).
Accompanying cellist Helen Downham at the piano, Kate’s playing struck me as both highly sensitive and thoroughly competent.
Two months later I attended Peterborough Opera’s splendid performance of Verdi’s A Masked Ball and there was Kate again, this time in the crucial role of musical director. Her conducting was as pleasing as her piano-playing had been, her admirably clear beat holding the production together.
I’d also heard her some months earlier in yet another role, as timpanist with the City of Peterborough Symphony Orchestra.
With all this in mind, Kate Wishart, conductor, pianist, and percussionist, clearly rates as one of Peterborough’s most prominent artistic heroes and our meeting last week was long overdue.
Over a cup of tea, she told me that both her parents had been professional musicians. “My mother was the violinist Hannah Jones,” she said, “and while she was pregnant with me she gave a performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Presumably with me listening in!”
Hannah encouraged Kate in her musical studies, and the young girl soon enrolled at the Birmingham School of Music. Later entering the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London at the exceptionally young age of 16.
Kate told me another picturesque story, this time about her father, the composer and conductor Peter Wishart.
“He was rehearsing the Guildhall orchestra in Ravel’s Piano Concerto and I was in the percussion section. He wasn’t happy with something and wanted to tell me.” But Peter was diffident about mentioning their family connection in public so he addressed her as “Er, triangle?”
After leaving music college, she joined the Academy of the BBC in Bristol. As timpanist and percussionist she worked with now legendary conductors like Norman Del Mar and George Hurst. Subsequently, Kate went freelance. “I was only 19 but I immediately got lots of work,” she said, “including playing with the English Chamber Orchestra, Kent Opera, and even the Royal Shakespeare Company.” Kate emphasised that she particularly loved working in the theatre, whether in opera, ballet, or plays with incidental music.
But, at this point something unforeseen happened.
“I started to wonder if I wanted to continue doing freelance percussion for the rest of my life,” she said. “With going to the Guildhall at such a young age I’d missed out on university, and my mother suggested I try another career.”
After considering various options she decided on medicine. “You’ll never make it, you’re too old,” her friends warned.
But, Kate evidently loves a challenge and was inspired to make a sea-change in her life. From music to medicine. From the arts to the sciences.
And so, around a decade after she’d begun her musical higher education at the Guildhall in the City of London, Kate was cycling across the metropolis to St Mary’s Hospital at Paddington.
Six years later she qualified as a GP, and eventually settled in Sawtry near Peterborough.
“I learned my job there,” Kate told me. Afterwards she was in demand as a locum until, after a meteoric rise, she was appointed Head of GP training for the East of England.
Kate Wishart continued in this role at her office in Cambridge until she retired a couple of years ago. But, at this point another sea-change occurred.
Musicians often talk about ternary form, which might sound a bit abstruse. It’s also known as ‘ABA’ form and simply means that in a piece of music the first theme is followed by a contrasted middle section before it re-appears later. Abstruse or not, this seems to be the pattern of Kate’s life.
Music followed by medicine, and then music again.
In practice this means that Kate Wishart is now at the point where she’s able to dedicate all of her time to her first love.
I’ve already mentioned her work as a pianist, where she’s probably Peterborough’s most sought-after accompanist, and her key role in the CPSO. But even more important is her ongoing work with Peterborough Opera which she described as being “like a dream come true.”
Though she was only appointed musical director in 2015, Kate has already conducted Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte and Edward German’s Merrie England, as well as A Masked Ball. I can also reveal that a performance of the glorious Requiem by Verdi is being considered for 2019.
More immediately, in fact this weekend, Peterborough Opera will be staging Gounod’s Romeo and Juliet in Oundle and Peterborough.
Under Kate Wishart’s direction the music will be in the safest of hands.