The Classical Muse

Good Living:

Clemency Burton-Hill

Clemency is the Creative Director of Music and Arts for NYC Radio. She believes music is the key to emotional and cultural exchange. Get to know Belmond’s Classical Muse.

Clemency grew up in Hammersmith, West London. At age two she was transfixed watching a television broadcast of a violinist performing at a Christmas carol concert. It instantly inspired her to follow the same path.

Helen Brunner became Clemency’s first teacher. She chose to follow the Suzuki method of teaching, which applies the basics of language acquisition to learning music at a young age.

Clemency loved the violin and went on to study at the Royal College of Music, where she was a scholar. She went on to read English at Cambridge, graduating with a double first. Following this she then turned her hand to journalism, acting and writing two novels.

Now a leading arts broadcaster in the UK and USA, Clemency has presented the BBC Radio 3 Breakfast Show and fronted the Proms coverage on television. She also made a documentary on Yehudi Menuhin, of whom she was a student.

Currently a resident of New York City and creative director of music and arts at NYC Radio, Clemency is a published author. In her book ‘Year of Wonder: Classical Music for Everyday’; she shares her stirring passion for music and its ability to unlock emotions. She tells us how music can express what it means to be human and exchange cultural stories through music throughout centuries.

Clemency has curated six playlists inspired by Belmond destinations around the globe. It's an invitation for those with busy lives to take time to just be.

Good Living with , Clemency Burton-Hill

Clemency Burton-Hill

What does Good Living mean to you?

To me Good Living means finding a kind of balance in your life and going easy on yourself. I am not necessarily always very good at taking this advice on myself, but finding a kind of balance in which you can operate in the world, inspired and creatively connected. To be empathetic and curious and kind, and still find time for yourself to develop the things that really inspire and ignite your passion.

I found music and the arts, which is the world I work in, an incredibly powerful connective agent. The experiences that we all share are often pretty common, and we live in very divisive times. Sometimes we need reminding that we are all in this together.

What is it that connects you to what you do?

I feel so lucky. I am that cliché, that sort of person who says “I have never worked a day in my life”, even though the people closest to me would laugh and say I am a pathological workaholic. But I feel so unbelievably lucky to have carved out a career which is made up of a lot of things that I am really passionate about and really believe in.

So much of my work is about tapping into this human resource of joy and expressing ourselves. I am lucky that I get to work with the things that other human beings have put out into the world. Whether music or literature, or poems, they are all inspiring acts of generosity. And they’re all part of a common language of humanity. There has never been a human society that hasn’t created art and music, and that is such a powerful mode of expression.

Where do you think people are most at risk of missing out on Good Living?

I think we live in times that are really engineered to make us feel stressed, frazzled, under pressure. We are spending more and more of our lives on screens. I don’t have anything against screens per se, but I think we know that often the technology is literally designed to keep us there and to send us down these rabbit holes. They are often not very nourishing to our souls, minds, bodies or brains. I am a huge believer in the power of technology, but we need to use it mindfully and find ways to carve out a more nourishing relationship with it.

For me the flip side how do you re-engage with nature? How do you pique your curiosity? How do you remember that there is a world out there to explore and engage with and connect with? How do you keep a healthy connection with the people you care about? It does take a conscious effort to turn off your phone and go out there and be. To go out and live.

What one thing would you do everyday, no matter where you are, to stay feeling great?

Every single day, no matter where I am, I listen to music. It is the thing that keeps me sane and it is the thing that keeps me alive. I really believe that.

Do you have a piece of music that stirs a travel memory?

Music has been the passport to many of the most extraordinary travel experiences of my life, so it is impossible for me to say just one particular piece. But, I do feel that music is a mode of travelling in itself. It enables us to step onto a magic carpet and travel into other cultures and other lives and minds and also go deeper within ourselves. Music itself is ultimately the most powerful means of travel.

Classical music can be quite an intimidating genre to crack into for newcomers. Where would you recommend as a good entry point?

I think about this a lot. For me it isn’t the music which is intimidating. But there is a lot of cultural baggage that surrounds the term ‘classical music’. So I suggest stripping away all of those preconceptions and feel empowered to know that this genre of music is your music too.

You do not need to go at it with any sort of understanding of the history or the terminology or the academic side of things. What you need to come at it with is open ears and an open mind. And it sounds cheeky but a really good place to start is my book ‘Year of Wonder - Classical Music for Everyday’ because it is one piece of music for every day of the year. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, this music is yours.

Could you tell us a little more about the playlists you are curating for Belmond?

I have been so inspired by the different type of properties and the cultures that Belmond hotels are in. I’ve also thought about how to use music at different times of your day, different emotional states and moods. The playlists I’ve created factor in all these differences.

How do you feel live classical compares to recorded?

I think if you can get yourself to a live classical concert it might really change your perception of the genre. I would heartily urge everyone to do so because the chances are there is live classical music happening near you and it is a lot easier to access than you expect. It does not matter what you wear, it doesn’t matter when you clap. But if you cannot, oh my goodness, aren’t we lucky that we live in an age of technology where at the click of a button you can have access to the world’s greatest music anytime?

What has been your most moving musical encounter?

I have had so many moving musical encounters in my life, there are truly too many to name and I feel immensely enriched as a result. I am going to go with a really early one which was when I was very young, before the Berlin Wall came down. I was playing the violin with a group of children who came from all over the world. I was so young but I think I realised even then that what united us as human beings was far more powerful than what divided us. And the most powerful expression of that was music.

What can local music reveal about local culture?

I think local music can reveal everything about local culture. We often talk about music as being this universal language and it is, in that all human cultures for all of time have made music. I think it is such a wonderful insight into how a culture ticks and how people use rhythm and melody. I am that person who wherever I am in the world the first thing I want to do is hear some local music.

What inspired your interest in classical music?

I don’t know what it was, but I was extremely young and I saw a little girl playing the violin on TV in the early 1980s. My mother had a very little chill approach to screen time, and I saw this happen and everyone in my family was completely confused by my reaction because I became really obsessed with the idea that I wanted to do the same thing. I think in a way it is partly that which gives me this real conviction that music can speak to anyone and everyone.

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