The last of the original British players

Trumpeter Steven Craven (left) and oboeist Nick Harcourt-Smith.
Trumpeter Steven Craven (left) and oboeist Nick Harcourt-Smith. / Jennie Rhodes
  • Steven Craven and Nick Harcourt-Smith have been in Malaga's Philharmonic Orchestra since 1991

Steven Craven and Nick Harcourt-Smith are the only two remaining British musicians who have been part of Malaga's philharmonic orchestra since it was formed in 1991.

As the Orquesta Filarmónica de Málaga heads towards its 30th anniversary in early 2021, Steven and Nick reflect back on their musical lives, decisions to come to Malaga and reasons for staying.

Both Nick and Steven confirm that "Malaga was lacking in good musicians" at the time. They explain that the main influx was Romanians and Russians as many of them were known by the Romanian musical director who formed the orchestra with the then mayor of Malaga, Pedro Aparicio, who Nick says was "very musical". It was also just before the 1992 Expo in Seville, so galvanised by the creation of an orchestra there, other Andalusian cities wanted to follow suite, says Nick.

Both men joined the orchestra after successfully auditioning for the trumpet and oboe respectively. Neither had visited the city before and at the time neither envisaged that almost thirty years later, they would still be here. They had previously met when they both played for the Forest Philharmonic Orchestra in London.

Steven, who was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, in 1965, explains that he grew up in a mining area, where almost everyone he knew was in or had something to do with a brass band. "All my mother's family were related to mining and most mining towns had a brass band. I was connected to that life when I was little," He explains. He goes onto explain how he sat "transfixed" as his uncle played the cornet at a family wedding when he was just six years old.

Steven's family could see that their young son was interested in playing the cornet and was musical, so they encouraged him to join the junior band at the local Bosworth Colliery. His school lent him an old cornet. "It was already really battered and I practiced on it a lot," recalls Steven, who is no stranger to appearing in the press. A scrapbook that he has kept is full of all the early clippings from local newspapers and brass band magazines charting his progress from local competitions to his band, the Yorkshire Imperial Band, to receiving certificates from the BBC for their 'Outstanding Performance' on BBC Radio Three's Band of the Year broadcast in 1981 and making it to the BBC Young Musician of the year finals in 1982.

After graduating with a music qualification from Huddersfield Technical College, Steven was offered a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. However, his studies coincided with the miners' strikes of the 1980s and, he explains, "I remember my dad sitting me on the edge of the bed after the summer holidays telling me that hard times had hit and I wouldn't be going back." He says he witnessed the fights, picket lines, political rallies and soup kitchens. "It was a kind of fight to get back to London," the musician recalls.

Steven completed his education, during which he met a number of important figures in the world of music. He has an impressive CV of venues and orchestras including the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Opera House, the BBC Symphony and London Symphony Orchestra as well as the European Community Youth Orchestra. "By the time I was twenty I was really in the swing of things in London," explains Steven. He also spent time touring in Germany and other parts of Europe with the Broadway musical, West Side Story, during its European tour in the 1980s.

Steven was one of two British trumpeters who came to Malaga in 1991 on an 18-month contract and he says that there were "seven or eight" other British musicians who arrived at the same time.

"When I knew I had won the audition for work in Malaga I had to look in the atlas to see where Malaga was. When I arrived in Malaga I thought it was an exotic hot place so far away from the UK. I was without a place to stay and I arrived with a suitcase, a trumpet, 50 quid in my pocket and my 18 month contract. I came with the idea of only sticking it ou for the first six months so I could save some cash then go back to the UK. I loved London and was just getting established there."

Military family

Nick, 53, comes from a military family and spent time, as many children of army officials do, at boarding school in the UK. He explains that he decided he wanted to play the oboe at the age of 12, because "it was different" and his gym master told him he had "a good diaphragm" so suggested he would be good at playing the oboe.

Despite also being a talented rugby player and after a dispute between two teachers when he was due to play in a match with an important audition for a scholarship for Bradfield College just days after, Nick soon decided that music was going to be his future. He won the music scholarship and during his time at Bradfield went to the junior department of the Royal Academy of Music every Saturday. After leaving Bradfield He went to Trinity College of Music London. Upon leaving Trinity he started to study with renowned oboist Thomas Indermühle with The Martin Musical Scholarship.

Similar to Steven, Nick had never been to Malaga before. He actually came with a former girlfriend, a violinist who had been asked to audition. She mentioned Nick's name and he was invited to go along too. He passed the audition and was given an initial three-month contract, with a view to auditioning for a more permanent position. Nick had no intention of staying in Malaga either. He was also doing well in London under the tutelage of Thomas Indermühle and got to travel extensively.

But the lure of Malaga along with a permanent contract and making a life for himself has kept him here. He has been first oboe in the orchestra ever since and lived in a number of places in the province, before settling in Casabermeja nine years ago, where he says was "one of the first foreigners." Nick now lives there with his partner and they both have children from previous relationships. He says of almost 30 years of playing the oboe for the philharmonic orchestra, "There have been lots of highlights."

With the orchestra, Nick and Steven, who also has children from a previous relationship, have appeared on soundtracks, performed in countless concerts in Malaga and beyond, appeared on film soundtracks, on the radio and television.

They both agree that they are settled here in Malaga province and that it is home.

"I wouldn't move from here," concludes Nick.