Accompanying Thames Philharmonic in arrangements of songs from the shows by Gershwin will allow Ben Costello's talent for musical theatre to shine at the Kingston concert on 15 June. It's also something he loves: "I fell into musical theatre (MT) very early in my career, and I've been on the MT faculty at Laine Theatre Arts for seven years now. I also regularly visit Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts and Trinity College (John's alma mater), so lots of my former students are in the West End and elsewhere on the stage. It annoys me when some people are snobby or dismissive of MT; it just shows they don't really understand it."
Of In the Mood, the collection of songs from musicals that the Choir will sing from at the concert, Ben says: "It's of the highest quality, with excellent arrangements of some of the best American Songbook standards around. TPC is doing a pretty good job at getting into the style and swing, and it's lovely to hear the progress being made as we lead up to the concert." He will also accompany the Choir in Stanford's Songs of the Fleet.
Ben has worked with TPC for more than 20 years, first deputising for Roger Beeson while still a student, and subsequently 'depping' for John Bate. He has been a guest soloist at TPC concerts, sometimes playing piano duets with Roger, which he describes as 'great fun'. He guest-conducted in December 2011 when the Choir sang Britten's St Nicolas, and was one of the conductors for the massive War Requiem performance in 2018.
Born in London, Ben trained initially as a flautist, with piano as a second instrument. He studied piano, singing and organ at Kingston University, and won the conducting prize. His first contact with John Bate was as a member of the University Chamber Choir and accompanist for the University Chorus, both of which John directed. After Kingston, he did a Post-Grad Diploma in Conducting at the London College of Music, joining the teaching staff there for eight years, before returning to Kingston in 2006 to do a research Masters.
He now has what he describes as a freelance 'portfolio' career, which embraces conducting, accompanying, coaching and a lot of adjudication. He considers himself lucky that much of his work involves travelling, which he loves. "Since January, I've been to Gibraltar, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Lincoln, Cheltenham, and closer to home, Blackheath, Reigate and Worthing. I've got concerts with Southampton Choral (where he is now Musical Director) and TPC of course, then coaching singing on summer schools in Surrey and France! The variety is great fun."
Asked what gives him the greatest challenge, he says: "The adjudicating is the most tiring, but often the most fulfilling work I do." He looks back on his three years as TPC's Assistant Artistic Director as "great fun, involving some wonderful music". Overall, he says: "I've been very lucky with the opportunities I've had."
We all wish him many more.