Nicola Lisle talks to Hertford Bruckner Orchestra soloist Claire Vallance

When Claire Vallance steps on to the concert platform on Saturday as soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, she will be reacquainting herself with a work she first encountered at school.

“This was one of the set works that we had to study,” she says. “I can’t remember if it was the whole thing or just the first movement, but I know it quite well and Beethoven’s my absolute favourite composer, so I’ve played lots of Beethoven sonatas and other things.”

The concerto is part of the programme being given by the Hertford Bruckner Orchestra, which was founded by Dr Paul Coones, formerly a geography tutor at Hertford and now chairman of the curators at the Sheldonian Theatre.

Although not officially constituted until 2003, the orchestra actually gave its inaugural concert just over 16 years ago, in February 2000, and was founded to perform Bruckner’s symphonies and to explore the late romantic German and Russian repertoire.

As well as the Beethoven piano concerto, Saturday’s concert will also feature the overture to Mozart’s ever-popular Don Giovanni and Bizet’s delightful Symphony in C.

A member of the string section since the orchestra’s early days, Claire is delighted – if not a little nervous – at the prospect of stepping into the limelight and performing on her favourite instrument.

“When I joined Hertford, Paul asked me to come and play violin in the orchestra. Actually I was rubbish at the violin, although I’m a lot better now.

“I spent many years sawing away in the second violins and sometimes getting plonked in the violas.

“But piano’s my main thing. Piano’s the instrument I’ve been trained to play.

“I started learning this concerto years and years ago, and never actually ended up doing it for various reasons. When Paul asked if I wanted to do it, I spent overnight battling between ‘I couldn’t possibly’ and ‘Actually, I might never get another chance to do this’, so I thought I’d say yes before I changed my mind!”

By day, Claire is a chemistry tutor and research fellow at Hertford, but music has always had equal importance in her life.

“I did lots of music at school but I also did lots of science, so I had a bit of a quandary when I went to university. I didn’t know which to do, so I did both to start with.

“At the university I went to in New Zealand you could do a double degree, so you could do two degree subjects and it took five years.

“I was going to do that, so I did the first year of a music degree at the same time as the first year of a science degree, but they couldn’t timetable it very well so I gave up!”

Science won the day, but she has retained her passion for music. As well as playing for the Hertford Bruckner Orchestra, she also plays in a string quartet and various other orchestras.

For now, though, she is focusing on her debut as a concerto soloist.

“I’ve never done a concerto and I’ve always wanted to do one, so it’s great to have the opportunity. It’s better to regret the things you have done than the things you haven’t.

“I’m sure I won’t regret this, though. It’ll be fine!”

Where and when
Hertford Bruckner Orchestra, University Church, Oxford, Saturday, 8pm. Tickets: 01865 305305 or