Orchestral manoeuvres make their mark at Bakers

David Pyatt doesn’t get to meet his audience too much. The principal French horn player of the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) tends to spend his life shuttling between rehearsal rooms and the Barbican concert hall.

But Baker & McKenzie’s role as pro bono legal adviser to the LSO and sponsor of the French horn chair means that Pyatt meets plenty of Bakers lawyers (and their clients) at LSO post-concert ­receptions. For the musicians it is a way of getting audience response that he might not otherwise hear.

“Every orchestra has their own repertoire,” he says. “With us it’s a lot of Mahler, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, which isn’t always the most accessible stuff, but we’ve played it so often we’re really used to it. So when you meet people at these receptions who’ve heard Mahler for the first time, they’re often blown away and it reminds me of what it was like when I first heard it.”

Baker & McKenzie has ­sponsored the LSO for 13 years, mostly in the form of pro bono support to all its corporate, ­commercial, IP and employment needs, with corporate partner Peter Knight overseeing the ­relationship. In return, the firm gets prominent ads in all LSO brochures, a special London ­concert for 200 clients, plus ­attendance on the LSO’s international circuit in Frankfurt, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Vienna and Warsaw. The value of Bakers’ package allows the LSO to endow a principal French horn chair in the firm’s name.

“Sponsorship of the chair removes some of the massive headaches of funding that the LSO has,” says Pyatt, who has been ­principal horn at the LSO since 1998.

Bakers is not the only law firm that endows a chair at the LSO – Linklaters endows the principal second violinist David Alberman – but its relationship, set up by ­former Bakers London managing partner Nigel Carrington, runs particularly deep. So deep that Bakers partners can’t quite ­remember why the French horn was picked over any other ­instrument, although Jasper Rees, author of music bestseller I Found My Horn, suggests a reason for the firm’s choice.

“Schumann said ’the horn is the soul of the orchestra’,” he says. ­”Listen to any composer from Beethoven to Wagner, and dare to disagree with him.”

Bakers IP partner Stephen Jones – an amateur horn player himself – attended an LSO teambuilding event for its top sponsors along with three other Bakers partners and sat with Pyatt’s horn section during a rehearsal at LSO’s second London venue, St Luke’s.

“You realise that the conductor has a surprising influence,” he says. “It’s intangible, but you really see the difference when a conductor is shaping it and everybody’s ­working together. It really relates to our own experience to see how they all work together.”

Rather like managing partners, conductors can be divided into two distinct leadership styles, according to Pyatt. “You get the very hands-on, micromanaging maestro type but – and this is an extreme generalisation – they don’t always get the best performances. Often they’re so intent on the details they don’t see the big picture and they forget that it’s their job to provide the overview.

Bernard Haitink, Valery Gergiev and Colin Davis really do leave the details to us and that’s very ­liberating – and quite ­dangerous for them sometimes, as they have to trust us to do it. But for us as musicians it’s the most satisfying way to work.”

But different situations require different management techniques of principal players. “With recording sessions it’s really different as you’re often very tight for time, so managing a section then is very­ different from rehearsals where you’re trying things out,” says Pyatt. “In a recording session all that collegiate atmosphere has to go as it’s so pressurised. If I say to the section ’you have to play ­sharper’, they have to play sharper, and that can be ­difficult for younger players coming in who believe in [orchestral] democracy, but in that pressurised situation if the horn section sounds duff, it’s my responsibility.”

Musicians may have more in common with lawyers than they think.