Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?

My parents have a music school, Harpenden Musicale, where we grew up. Music was always going on around the house and inevitably it rubbed off on me and my siblings. The cello has been there as long as I can remember and I simply can’t imagine life without it. We would try all sorts of instruments in the music shop (where my grandmother worked until she was around 90 years old!), but the cello kept my attention most. One day we were in our local town and a lady came up to my mother and started to chat. I didn’t really recognise her and she asked how I was getting on with my new cello teacher. I responded enthusiastically, “Oh, much better than the last”, only to discover that she was my previous teacher! The real turning point was when I was 16 and went to Tanglewood in the States for 8 weeks. I heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra perform each week with soloists from all over the world and heard many great chamber concerts. I enjoyed this experience so much that when I returned home I worked harder than ever and two years later won the BBC Young Musician competition.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was fortunate to study with teachers from the same musical tradition, including Nicholas Jones at Chetham’s, Steven Doane at the Eastman School of Music in the States, and Steven Isserlis and David Waterman at IMS Prussia Cove. All of these mentors studied with a wonderfully eccentric musical guru called Jane Cowan at the London Cello Centre and later at her home in Scotland. She was a formidable influence on all of them and her wisdom lives on. Their influence has been so infectious that I now play on covered gut strings and I often hear them on my shoulders when I’m working with students at the Royal Academy of Music. I also studied privately with Ralph Kirshbaum, Bernard Greenhouse and have more recently been playing Bach for Anner Bylsma.

Tell us more about your new album……

Tecchler’s Cello: From Cambridge to Rome has been an ongoing adventure for the past couple of years. My cello turned 300 and thanks to some support from a sponsor, I commissioned 3 new works to celebrate this landmark. One thing led to another and we turned this seed of an idea into a recording that captured a variety of works on a journey to historical places that have meaning in my musical life. We started in Kings College Chapel, where I was a chorister in the 90s, moved on to Hatfield House where I curate a festival, to the Royal Academy of Music where I have a small class, and to the Wigmore Hall where I often perform. We finally ended up in Rome where the cello was made. It was quite an operation, but we have captured the journey on film and in recording and are gradually releasing the tracks towards the full release in September. There’s plenty of variety on there and I hope the narrative comes across with all the repertoire, musical collaborations and places that have meaning in the cello’s current existence. I couldn’t have done this without the support of so many people who got involved and supported our endeavours. One of the highlights was meeting the man who unknowingly owned the space where David Tecchler use to work in Rome, which is now a garage. Stefano opened up the old studio and we had a performance there as well as in the Pamphilj Palace where we invited guests from the UK to come and support the recording. The icing on the cake was recording Respighi’s Adagio con Variazioni with the Accademia di Santa Cecilia which culminated the journey earlier this year.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I was catapulted into the profession from the age of 19 and the biggest challenge early on in my career was learning repertoire for the first time for important concerts. For example, I remember performing the Walton Concerto live on radio which was the first time I’d performed it with orchestra, but I’ve also performed the Elgar Concerto live on TV opening the BBC Proms in 2001 and broke a string during the live final of the BBC competition! These were immense challenges, as was premiering a new cello Concerto last year by Charlotte Bray at the Proms. But one thrives off these opportunities and it’s what continues to spur you on every day to learn from the past, live in the present, and dream for the future.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My debut recital CD with Kathryn Stott is a happy memory, although I haven’t listened to it for years. The disc includes 3 British composers; Frank Bridge, Benjamin Britten and Mark Anthony Turnage. I’m Godfather to Mark’s son, Milo, and we recorded a piece that Mark wrote for Milo’s christening alongside the Sonata of Bridge and Britten. Kathy’s experience is so vast that being my first recording I was grateful to have her guidance and support throughout. I’m now greatly looking forward to releasing this latest CD – it has captured my current journey and has lots of variety on the disc including works by Barrière, Beethoven, Respighi and 3 new commissions.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I like to think I’m performing whatever music is in front of me as best I can. It’s hard to answer this question, but I give everything to whatever music I’m communicating in the moment. Premiering a new work is always thrilling because nobody can compare it to another performance and everyone is hearing it for the first time. This is always refreshing and alive. On the other hand, performing the Bach Suites or Beethoven Sonatas is quite terrifying because not only are these works revered by cellists, but they are also so well known and often performed.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Some things are planned and others are asked for by promoters. As the years go by, there are certain works I’m more and more keen to get round to performing. For example, works like the Grieg and Franck Sonatas. Next season I’ve been asked to perform two concertos which are new to me by Kabalevsky and Martinu. I’ve also been asked to record Holst’s Invocation, which is also new to me. I’m looking forward to a festival celebrating Schumann and playing most of his chamber repertoire throughout the week including the Piano Trios, Piano Quartet and Quintet.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I’ve been fortunate to perform in many great concert halls in London, Paris, Berlin and Tokyo, but I think that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is a particularly special hall. There’s so much history there and the setting and acoustic is a real inspiration to all musicians. I also like the Birmingham Symphony Hall and Bridgewater Hall. If only London could get a new concert hall, although we are lucky with the Wigmore Hall!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I grew up listening to many cellists from Casals to Tortelier, Rostropovich, Du Pré, Fournier, Feuermann etc etc and then living cellists including Yo Yo Ma, Truls Mørk and Steven Isserlis. What an incredible crop from the past and present! I think artists like these have helped to inspire the current generation of cellists that have been emerging in recent years. I also grew up listening to the Beaux Art Trio, Amadeus Quartet and, on the other side of the spectrum, to Sting! Now one can turn to YouTube and not only hear, but also see all these unique artists in action, which is a pleasure to tap into from time to time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think it was when I was a member of the National Youth Orchestra performing Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony with Rostropovich at the helm at the BBC Proms. That concert knocked all of us youngsters sideways! There are a few particularly special experiences that I can think of. One other I could mention was performing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time in the Concertgebouw with Michael Collins, Kathryn Stott and Isabelle van Keulen when I was 20 years old. This was a great honour, to perform such an extraordinary work with musicians I looked up to in this setting at the beginning of my career.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I think you need to find music from deep within you. Parents, teachers and friends are a big part of your development, but you need to love what you do if it is going to be sustainable in the future. Have fun, read music with friends, work hard and find a teacher who you connect with. Concentrate during your practice session, particularly if schoolwork is taking up much time (and not least sport!). Know what you need to work on and improve. Be patient – this is not a sprint, but a marathon and with daily practice and commitment with the right sort of guidance you will feed off the improvements and be motivated to continue to develop as an artist and a musician. Listen to lots of music and influences, go to concerts and read about composers’ lives. Enjoy your music making and don’t be too hard on yourself. Forget how you’ve learnt things when you go on stage and liberate yourself to live in the moment.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Living in a family home with a music studio at the end of the garden continuing to thrive off music!

Tecchler’s Cello: from Cambridge to Rome

Guy Johnston and Friends

Works by Barriere, Beethoven, Respighi, Ola Gjeilo and 3 new commissions by David Matthews, Mark Simpson and Charlotte Bray

Tom Poster, piano
Magnus Johnston, violin
Sheku Kanneh-Mason, cello

The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
Directed by Stephen Cleobury

The Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia
Directed by Carlo Rizzari

Released 8 September 2017

Taster video

 

guy-johnston.com

Who or what inspired you to take up the ‘cello and pursue a career in music?

My father is an amateur violinist and has been playing in string quartets with friends all his life. At the age of two I was allowed to sit in the room when they were rehearsing and I was obsessed with the cello and have been ever since.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I was extraordinarily lucky with my first cello teacher. I started the piano with my mum, who taught me to read music and was then introduced to my teacher, Dicky Boeke, at the age of six, but didn’t start with her until I was eight as she was so busy. She taught me for 10 years, and not just about cello; it was about art, literature, opera. She helped me audition for the great Dutch cellist Anner Bylsma and I studied with him for two years from the age of 17-19. I have been on my own since then, apart from a year of studies in the US and an unforgettable summer course with William Pleeth in Aldeburgh.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I consider my career to have reached its middle length so far, and I still have two decades to go. So of course there are ups and downs and disappointments – everybody has these. One challenge could be physical in terms of injury; however I have been very lucky in that sense. Practising and the relationship with your instrument keeps you inspired.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My last recordings, although I still hope to keep improving and being more expressive. I’m now at two-thirds of my recording project doing all the sonatas by Schubert and Brahms which include many violin pieces and on the last release is the 2nd Brahms violin sonata, which I believe is a world premiere recording. I also recorded Schubert’s Fantasy for violin and piano, which is technically a very intimidating piece, so getting my teeth into that was great, very stimulating and I am very happy with it. Some recordings just have very happy memories, for instance doing The Walton Concerto with Sydney Symphony Orchestra 7 or 8 years ago in Sydney Opera House, that most glamorous and gorgeous place.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I am always happy performing concertos with orchestras, however the Beethoven Cello Sonatas are particularly rewarding to perform, brimming with energy and lyricism, as they are.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

As I said, I have embarked on this enormous recording project with the Schubert and Brahms pieces so they will appear on my recital program, concertos are up to orchestras that invite me to play and then there are occasional collaborations in chamber music programs, in trio, quartet, quintet or sextet repertoire, but also projects like the one I’m doing next month with a singer and a pianist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I mentioned Sydney Opera House; however another example is the new Melbourne Recital Centre, a stunningly beautiful place in which to perform and listen to music. I will be doing three recitals on three consecutive days in August: Beethoven, Brahms and Bach marathons, a bit of a milestone week for me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My all-time favourite musician is a singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the German baritone. As a teenager I started collecting his albums and still collect today. He is a supreme musician and a fantastically inspiring singer to listen to. I also really respect and enjoy listening to the American cellist YoYo Ma.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Walton Concerto with Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Sydney Opera House, but it could also be Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. In fact it’s hard to say. I enjoyed Paxton last year for example.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I am a professor in a German Musikhochschule and I try to inspire and discipline the students; however what musicians might not realise is that they must work as creative artists. They are of course recreating scores that composers delivered, but it is very important for them to do that with creativity. They must consider traditions, what they mean, and how important and unimportant they are. Also creativity in how you practise and make things better. It is important to keep muscles supple and continue to practise in that way. Also to simply enjoy alternative approaches to keeping your mind fresh.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

My wife is English so maybe living in the UK once we have raised our kids in Holland.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That includes other people around you, conversation and good food.

What is your most treasured possession?

Other than my cello, nothing in the material sense.

What is your present state of mind?

I have just been working as a jury member in Brussels which was an intense period, so I am recovering from that. I am looking forward to the summer festivals, which include Music at Paxton, and also to catching up with my colleagues and working with them. I am also looking forward to going to my little basement cellar to practise!

Pieter Wispelwey performs at Music at Paxton this summer and will also be giving a masterclass:

Sunday 23 July 1.30pm, cello masterclass

An opportunity for advanced students of all ages to learn and gain insight into Bach’s Cello Suites from an acknowledged master. 

Please note places are strictly limited. For further information and application details, please contact info@musicatpaxton.co.uk by 01 June 2017.

Tickets £10.00 (concessions free entry) – unreserved.

NB: free to ticket holders for the evening concert.

Sunday 23 July 7.30pm Pieter Wispelwey in concert

J S Bach Three Suites for solo cello – No 3 in C, No 4 in E flat & No 5 in C minor

Full details and tickets

Pieter Wispelwey is equally at ease on the modern or period cello. His acute stylistic awareness, combined with a truly original interpretation and a phenomenal technical mastery, has won the hearts of critics and public alike in repertoire ranging from JS Bach to Schnittke, Elliott Carter and works composed for him.

Highlights of the 16-17 season include a play-direct project with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, a performance of the complete Bach suites at Auditorium de Lyon and the City Recital Hall in Sydney, performances of Tavener’s Svyati with the Flanders Radio Choir and two recitals at King’s Place in London as part of their ‘Cello Unwrapped’ season. Pieter will also give series of extraordinary recitals at the Melbourne Recital Centre as part their Great Performer Series, where he will perform the complete Bach Suites, Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano, and the two cello sonatas by Brahms over the course of three consecutive evenings.

Pieter Wispelwey enjoys chamber music collaborations and regular duo partners include pianists Cédric Tiberghien and Alasdair Beatson and he appears as a guest artist with a number of string quartets including the Australian String Quartet.

Wispelwey’s career spans five continents and he has appeared as soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Boston Symphony, Dallas Symphony, St Paul’s Chamber Orchestra, NHK Symphony, Yomiuri Nippon, Tokyo Philharmonic, Sapporo Symphony, Sydney Symphony, London Philharmonic, Hallé Orchestra, BBC Symphony, BBC Scottish Symphony, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Academy of Ancient Music, Gewandhaus Orchester Leipzig, Danish National Radio Symphony, Budapest Festival Orchestra and Camerata Salzburg. Conductor collaborations include Ivan Fischer, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Herbert Blomstedt, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Jeffrey Tate, Kent Nagano, Sir Neville Marriner, Philippe Herreweghe, Vassily Sinaisky, Vladimir Jurowski, Louis Langrée, Marc Minkowski, Ton Koopman and Sir Roger Norrington.

With regular recital appearances in London (Wigmore Hall), Paris (Châtelet, Louvre), Amsterdam (Concertgebouw, Muziekgebouw), Brussels (Bozar), Berlin (Konzerthaus), Milan (Societta del Quartetto), Buenos Aires (Teatro Colon), Sydney (The Utzon Room), Los Angeles (Walt Disney Hall) and New York (Lincoln Center), Wispelwey has established a reputation as one of the most charismatic recitalists on the circuit

In 2012 Wispelwey celebrated his 50th birthday by embarking on a project showcasing the Bach Cello Suites. He recorded the complete Suites for the third time, released on the label ‘Evil Penguin Classics’. The box set also includes a DVD featuring illustrated debates on the interpretation of the Bach Suites with eminent Bach scholars Laurence Dreyfus and John Butt. A major strand of his recital performances is his performances of the complete suites during the course of one evening, an accomplishment that has attracted major critical acclaim throughout Europe and the US. “On paper it is a feat requiring brilliance, stamina and perhaps a bit of hubris. In practice Mr. Wispelwey proved himself impressively up to the challenge, offering performances as eloquent as they were provocative” ( New York Times).

Pieter Wispelwey’s impressive discography of over 20 albums, available on Channel Classic, Onyx and Evil Penguin Classics, has attracted major international awards. His most recent concerto release features the C.P.E. Bach’s Cello Concerto in A major with the Musikkollegium Winterthur, whilst he is also midway through an imaginative project to record the complete duo repertoire of Schubert and Brahms. Other recent releases include Lalo’s Cello Concerto, Saint-Saen’s Concerto no.2 and the Britten Cello Symphony with Seikyo Kim and the Flanders Symphony Orchestra, Walton’s Cello Concerto (Sydney Symphony/Jeffrey Tate), Prokofiev’s Symphonie Concertante (Rotterdam Philharmonic/Vassily Sinaisky.

Born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, Wispelwey’ studied with Dicky Boeke and Anner Bylsma in Amsterdam and later with Paul Katz in the USA and William Pleeth in the UK.
Pieter Wispelwey plays on a 1760 Giovanni Battista Guadagnini cello and a 1710 Rombouts baroque cello.

www.pieterwispelwey.com

(photo credit: Carolien Sikkenk)

trio34

Who or what inspired you to take up the ‘cello, and pursue a career in music?

Genetic predisposition! My dad was a cellist in the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne. I didn’t however start playing the cello until I was 12 years old. When I was younger I always had a natural interest in the piano and at about 7 or 8 we got an electronic keyboard which quickly became my favourite toy. However for some reason still unbeknown to me, my parents never arranged formal piano lessons for me so I was almost entirely self-taught and didn’t have a proper piano lesson until I got to the RCM, by which time I was playing Beethoven Sonatas and all sorts of repertoire with far more enthusiasm than proper training!

At around 10 or 11 my parents suggested I should take up another instrument and I distinctly remember not thinking very much at all of the idea at the time (I just wanted to play the piano!), so I didn’t really get going on the cello for quite some time. Gradually the interest grew, but it wasn’t really until I started having lessons with Raphael Wallfisch at 15 that something clicked and I decided that this was what I wanted to do. Of course by that point I was so far behind everyone else that I had to do what other people would do in 10 years in 2! I worked incredibly hard and got into music college at 17, first in Hannover and then in London at the RCM.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I think my time at the RCM was hugely influential in terms of opening my eyes to the huge range of possibilities one has as a musician. Growing up and studying in Germany that wasn’t high on the agenda – you were expected to get an orchestral job and that was certainly the done thing in my own family! (My dad worked in the same orchestra for 43 years!) I think I am temperamentally wholly unsuited to knowing my schedule 12 months in advance, so discovering that your career can encompass many different aspects of performing and teaching was great and I ran with it. There is certainly no lack of diversity in my career now and I rarely know my full schedule even one week in advance!

As a cellist I think I always have soaked up influences not only from my teachers but also from many fantastic players (of all instruments) I have had the privilege of working with and that’s very much an ongoing process. I think it’s hugely important to be able to look at any piece of music you play not just through the prism of your own instrument, but to have a much wider base of knowledge and inspiration to drawn upon.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

At the moment my greatest challenge is trying to find the perfect cello. This is hugely complicated by the fact that I am quite tall, but have absolutely tiny hands! Trying to find an instrument with the right proportions that also has the power and the quality to project in a large hall and keep up with the amazing instruments I am regularly surrounded by, is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So far I found one perfect match – regrettably about £200,000 above budget!

Apart from that, the never-ending challenge is trying to keep on top of all my commitments (concerts, rehearsals, practice, travelling, students, managing a concert series etc…) and still have some sort of home life and down-time. Especially when your partner leads exactly the same life, trying to arrange going out for lunch or dinner, let alone a proper holiday, becomes a major logistical task! (And the laundry basket is constantly overflowing…)

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Hmmm…tricky! I think playing Shostakovich’s second Piano Trio at the Purcell Room a few years ago would have to be up there. It’s such a scary piece for any cellist, so to do it well in a very pressurised environment was a huge relief.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think whatever I really get my teeth into, but very often that happens to be 20th century music.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Unfortunately I have found the choice to be less and less mine! In more than 10 years of touring the UK chamber music scene with my trio I found that, no matter what pieces we offered – and there were many, what promoters asked for remained largely unchanged. The repertoire favourites, sure to bring in a capacity audience, with only occasional forays into anything more adventurous.

So last year I took matters into my own hands and founded ChamberMusicBox, a London concert series where people only find out what’s on the programme as the concert unfolds! This year we have a pool of 25 fantastic players and each and every concert is a completely mixed bag of music for strings, woodwind, piano and occasionally even voice. I have had to learn phenomenal amounts of notes since the series began, but it is so satisfying!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I have been fortunate to perform in so many fantastic halls around the world, including some amazing brand new ones in Asia, but I think one of my favourite halls to play in would have to be Zurich’s Tonhalle. Both the small as well as the large hall have wonderful acoustics.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One piece I never get tired of playing is Schnittke’s Piano Trio. It was actually the first trio I played at the RCM, and what was supposed to be a one-off concert actually started off my chamber music career path. We were incredibly fortunate to work on the piece with the late Alexander Ivashkin, Schnittke’s close friend and biographer, who brought the story behind the piece to live so vividly that it has ever since remained one of my very favourite works to perform. Sadly Sasha Ivashkin died three years ago, but everything he shared with us goes on stage with me every time I get to play it. It’s the most emotionally draining piece, but I just love it.

As a listener I am absolutely addicted to opera and singing in general.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, singers feature very heavily in that list: Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman, the great Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, and many great singers of the 20th century such as Mirella Freni.

As a cellist growing up I have always had huge admiration for Leonard Rose. His playing was everything cello playing should be. But there are so many other players I love, too many to mention.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think I would have to go with the most comical one of my career to date here! Several years ago I played at a festival in Sussex on a hot July day. At the time I was (yet again!) trying out a very nice Italian cello which I considered buying and this cello happened to be fitted with a certain type of mechanical metal pegs (they have largely gone out of fashion – thankfully!) which really didn’t seem to like going from a hot car into a cold church. Less than an hour before the concert the first peg started to slip. And the next. And another. No amount of tuning, pushing or shoving would keep these pegs in place and half an hour before the concert I had to admit my predicament to the organiser. He calmly told me not to worry and that he’d quickly nip home to fetch a cello he had. Fifteen minutes later he returned with a cello rather peculiar in colour and even more peculiar in sound. I had no choice but to play the concert on this cello. Only afterwards was I told its history: bought for £2 in an antique shop in Plymouth, it was completely stripped of its original varnish and repainted in a different colour – with fence paint!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Being a great player isn’t enough to guarantee you a great career! Today’s music profession demands so much more of those who enter it and I think as teachers we have a responsibility to be very open and honest about that. I would encourage aspiring musicians to be incredibly proactive and open-minded as to where their career path as performers may lead as, quite frequently, it will be somewhere totally different from where you thought it would lead when you entered college. Of course the reality is that, especially in London, you are eventually likely to be combining numerous different types of work, from chamber music to sessions, orchestral freelancing, teaching etc… You need to be extremely adaptable.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Cooking for those around me! I can regularly be found in the kitchen late at night after a concert cooking for whoever happens to be sat around our dining table at the time.

 

Since graduating with honours from the Royal College of Music in 2007, Julia Morneweg has quickly established a remarkably versatile career as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player.

The recipient of an EMI Music Foundation Award, she made her London concerto debut in 2006 performing the Elgar Concerto at St John’s Smith Square which immediately led to further engagements including a performance of Haydn’s C major Concerto with the International Mahler Orchestra at the same venue as well as Elgar with the Ternopol Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ukraine. Other concerto performances have included Lalo in London and Vivaldi in Cologne. As a recitalist she has appeared around the UK, Belgium, Italy, Germany and at venues such as the Purcell Room, Oxford’s Holywell Music Rooms, Trieste Opera House, St. Martin in the Fields, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the 2007 Charterhouse Festival (by invitation of renowned flautist Susan Milan) and the Tacoma International Music Festival, USA when she was only 16. Most recent festival appearances have included the Leamington, Lower Machen, Uckfield and Shipley Arts Festivals. Julia has collaborated with many renowned artists including Shlomo Mintz, Anna Kandinskaya, Mikhail Bereznitsky, Joan Enric Lluna, Sergei Podobedov, Kathron Sturrock, and Oleg Poliansky to name a few.

Julia Morneweg’s full biography

Photo credit: Philip Gatward
Photo credit: Philip Gatward

Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?

My parents were both dentists, but my mother was a keen amateur harpsichord player. I started as a very good recorder player and gradually ran out of music as I devoured everything!! My parents had friends who were Dutch baroque musicians who recommended I start learning a string instrument. I said I wanted to play the biggest – as they didn’t have an estate car at the time they lied, so I am a cellist not a bass player!

I went to Chethams’ School of Music at 9 years old but had only really been playing cello for a year.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Early on I would say Jacqueline du Pré, like many cellists of my generation. I became obsessed with new music after hearing Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ for my 10th birthday at the Royal Opera House, so I suppose this experience changed my musical direction. 

I met my former husband, the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, at 22 years old. His music always meant a huge amount to me and I was lucky he wrote for me a lot. We also both shared a huge passion for jazz and as he worked with musicians such as John Scofield and Peter Erskine this had a huge influence in the music and players I was interested in playing and collaborating with.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There have been many challenges but for me it has been building the self-belief and confidence which has very much effected the timing of my career. I was all set up and ready to launch into the profession in my early 20’s, but it felt much more natural to support someone else, especially someone whose work I really believed in.  Once I had the children I began the usual work/family life struggle everyone has. I have been a single mother now for three years so I have been trying to rebuild my life as well as restart my career on top of bringing up two very young children – to be honest every day is a struggle! Their father has moved down the road which has helped hugely and we organise diaries so the children are generally with one of us whilst the other works. Mark is a very hands on Dad and I am also lucky to have some incredibly supportive friends, mainly musicians, who have stood beside me during the challenging times.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of a chamber music disc I did for Toccata Classics of all of Hugh Wood’s chamber music with the London Archduke trio, Paul Silverthorne and Roger Heaton. We recorded it at Champs Hill a few years ago.  I adore Hugh’s music and chose to perform his Cello Concerto with the Royal College of Music Sinfonietta when I won the concerto trials in my last year of college.

I’m also proud of jazz  recordings I have done as those sessions have always been a massive musical learning experience for me. Ian Shaw, Judith Owen and Barb Jungr’s albums, on which I have featured, I still enjoy listening to as their artistry is so wonderful! Most of the time I find it almost painful hearing old recordings.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The two things I really enjoy doing and suppose feel comfortable  with now are the polar opposites musically. I have always loved working with classical contemporary composers – the stranger the music and the more demanding the better. I play lots of Lachenmann and Xenaxis when I can choose my own programmes. This is the music which I have always felt very natural  interpreting, probably more so than anything else.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love my work as a session ‘cellist. I like making the switch between styles and improvising does not fill me with dread. I relish the speed needed in interpreting something fast that has normally just been printed off and placed in front of me. Working closely with the artist and great producers in the moment can be very thrilling.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I tend to try and programme the same group for a run of concerts or festivals as it’s always nice working with the same players and programmes for more than a one-off performance. I work in so many different capacities as a ‘cellist the kind of booking I get will determine the repertoire. I feel quite passionately that if people are kept ‘safe’ from new music and not exposed to it because of their demographic/concert venue, then how will people ever get a chance to make a judgment themselves? I have been known to present a programme of Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Bach, Earth Wind and Fire and Kaija Sarriaho as I believe in every piece as good music. The musicians I work with on these programmes play each piece with the same passion and integrity which is crucial.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favourite venue would have to be The Forge in Camden, north London, with whose owners I have had a close relationship with since they opened. I love the fact it’s run by musicians and is down the road from me as I am a north London girl now. I have launched both my duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins and my show ‘Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family’ there, and both have been happy occasions.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing Helmet Lachenmann’s Solo cello piece Pression. I was fortunate enough to work with Helmut intensively  on the piece and was invited to perform it for his 75th birthday in the Konzerthaus, Berlin. He essentially made me grow new ears: he hears music in the most intense way and transcribes and describes what he wants so perfectly.

I always get a wonderful musical lift from playing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances with my Quintet – Lizzie ball on violin, Pedro Segundo on drums, Bartek Glowacki on accordion and Dave Maric on piano. Every time we play it it’s slightly different. The tunes are so strong they keep going round my head for days after a show.

I tend to listen to music I don’t get a chance to play much – recently I’ve got obsessed with Ry Cooder after I returned from a trip to make an album in LA. Harry Shearer and a number of the artists featuring on the album are big fans and spent one evening playing me all their favourite songs. I’m also a big D’Angelo fan and recently saw him live for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A very tough question as I’m meeting them all the time and I could list many. 

The musicians with who I am in groups with I have a huge amount of respect for: Genevieve Wilkins from G project, Judith Owen and her band, all my Urban Family collaborators, cellist Guy Johnston, Lizzie Ball-we share similar values and musical tastes and all stand out as people I like to work with and spend time with too. The two classical singers (although they do so much more!) I admire are Ruby Hughes and Lucy Schaufer. 

I became a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet over two years ago now and I would say without a doubt Gwilym is one of the greatest musicians I have worked with – the whole quintet actually (Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev and Martin France) are amazing and I always look forward to our concerts. 

Recently I have probably learnt the most from Leland Sklar, probably the most famous session bass player on the planet. When I have worked with him in sessions or gigs it’s pretty much been a masterclass every time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been so many it’s almost impossible to say but for very personal reasons I would say my Urban Family Concerts both at the Forge and at Wilderness Festival last summer. I am musician who has spent most of my career playing for different artists’ projects and groups so it felt incredible that so many colleagues wanted to support me at these events.  Also seeing classical musicians let their hair down at Wilderness Festival because I brought them there to make music was one of those life-affirming moments!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Follow your own path – don’t look over your shoulder as everyone’s journey both musically and in life is different.

There is work out there – you have to be inventive sometimes and even create your own work. The profession changes constantly so it’s wise to be diverse and say yes to everything when you start out, especially during this financial climate.

Obviously everyone is different but I would strongly advise anyone who went through both the music school and music college system like I did (17 years in one unbroken stretch) to take some time out to experience life and truly find out what YOU want to do. This is one thing I really wish I had done differently – even though in my case I would still have probably ended up being a musician. I only started really mixing with non-musicians when I went to antenatal classes!

The damage psychologically of being institutionalised is almost the hardest thing to overcome; I think it took me til 31 to really make the decision for myself to be a ‘cellist and then work on having the confidence and belief to go for it and enjoy it fully.

What is your most treasured possession?

Letters my father wrote to me before I was born. He died nearly 5 years ago and I miss him terribly. I was very lucky to be given a collection of letters he wrote to me as a 49-year-old, half a year before I was born. He told me what kind of person he was, his fears and the love he already felt for me. He didn’t want me to read them whilst he was alive so I was given them for my 30th birthday just after he died, but I could only bring myself to read them two years later when they then gave me so much strength: it was almost like he was speaking to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from the obvious things like spending time with my kids and playing great music, it has to be boxing. I have always loved to box since I was a teenager but for the past year I’ve been training with a professional boxer, Tony Milch. It keeps me fit both physically and mentally and I love watching him in his matches – it’s a real buzz even if I can barely look! 

Gabriella Swallow has emerged as one of the most versatile and exciting cellists of her generation. She studied at The Royal College of Music with Jerome Pernoo. She was awarded the coveted Tagore Gold Medal and performed the Hugh Wood Cello Concerto in her final year. As a soloist Gabriella went on to make her South Bank debut with the London Sinfonietta in the world premiere of ‘About Water’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage. In the same year she performed Paul Max Edlin’s Cello Concerto with the South Bank Sinfonia, which firmly launched her place as a leading performer of contemporary music. This has led her to commission and work with many of the major living composers of today.

In 2013 she made her Wigmore Hall debut with the soprano Ruby Hughes and in the same season performed at the La Jolla SummerFest in San Diego, the Aldeburgh Festival with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Cambridge Jazz Festival as a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet.

Gabriella is the string curator of Music Orbit’s string night ‘Strung Out’ and performs frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club ‘Classical Kicks’ night curated by violinist Lizzie Ball and at Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical club nights.

As a recording artist she has recorded all the chamber music of Hugh Wood for Toccata Classics with the London Archduke Piano Trio, which was released to critical acclaim in 2009. 2012 saw the release of ‘Ivr d’amour’, a disc of Massenet Songs where she appeared with soprano Sally Silver and celebrated pianist Richard Bonynge for the Guild label and also soprano Lucy Shaufer’s debut disc ‘Carpentersville’ for ABC Classics where Gabriella features as soloist. This CD was launched with a concert at The Aldeburgh Festival 2013.

In 2010 she co founded the duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. They made their debut with a sellout concert at The Forge in Camden and continue to perform regularly in the UK and Europe. Alongside her classical career she regularly crosses over in the fields of jazz and pop and is a sought after session musician appearing on many movie and television scores. She has recorded with many of the leading Jazz musicians on the UK scene including Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr, Liane Carroll, Guy Barker, Laurence Cottle, Pedro Segundo, Graeme Flowers, Jannette Mason and Claire Martin OBE. She has performed and recorded with Skunk Anansie, Sade, Dionne Warwick, Charlotte Church and has been a member of Judith Owen’s band since 2007. This year she continues her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock’s Quintet, whose members include the violinist Thomas Gould.

Gabriella is also a passionate broadcaster and arts commentator and has been a regular guest on BBC 4’s coverage of The Proms, Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ and ‘Music Matters’. She has been a guest speaker at the Bath Literary Festival and ‘The Battle of Ideas’. 

Gabriella plays a cello by Charles Harris Senior built in 1820 and an electric cello by Starfish Designs.

gabriellaswallow.com

Who or what inspired you to take up the ‘cello and make it your career?

Ahhh! that is a long story, I will try and shorten it as much as possible. Perhaps this might even be the beginning of a funny book for later on in life.

I come from a family musicians, everyone plays an instrument, my mum the piano teacher, my dad played the Jazz trombone (so did my grand dad), my sister the violin, my grandmother was a singer and she had 17 brothers and sisters, all musicians, piano, flute, violin, cello, clarinet, singers etc…

When I was born my parents thought it would be nice to carry on the tradition without thinking necessarily of a career and they tried me on the piano first, but it’s really tough to have a mum piano teacher… too much pressure. Then I tried the violin, apparently I was really talented and they found me a great but very tough Russian teacher, and being 5 years old at the time all I wanted to do was have fun, and he was making me do so many exercise, scales etc…so I got tired of it all and threw the bow at his face at one lesson, then came the percussion which I loved, but after too many complaints from the neighbours and one too many visits from the local police we decided to stop that, I tried the flute, but kept hyper ventilating and fainting, then the saxophone ( which I did more for my dad ) and eventually they just decided to give up and let me be a normal person… But as my grandmother the singer always wanted to play the cello, she had other plans and she bought me a cello for my seventh Christmas. Imagine the scene; there is a massive wrapped up present with my name on it and I was sure it was the bike I had been begging for for so many months and then my disappointment when I realised it was just another piece of wood without wheels or a seat. I felt cheated, I was still very much a child.

Being disappointed, I did not even want to try what looked to be an instrument of torture, but a month later my mum organised my first cello lesson. Being fairly small and having to carry the big case around to the teacher’s house, I could not help but feel people were looking at me as if I was a wounded gazelle limping around in the Serengeti, with predators all around looking at me and thinking ”humm… I don’t know what that thing is, but I really feel the urge to have a bite at the person carrying it…”

The cello teacher was great, she made the whole experience fun and little by little I discovered a trusting friend in this instrument, and it has stayed like this ever since.

I could not imagine my life with out playing the cello now, I am the first musician in my family to be a soloist and I thank my Grandmother every time I am on stage. It’s the only place where I have always felt completely at home.

Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?

There are so many musicians from the present as well as of course from past generations: Gregor Piatigorsky, Mistslav Rostropovitch, Yehudi Menuhin, Daniil Shafran as well as from the present and especially from all the colleagues I play with.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There have been a few. One of them was juggling four jobs at once which started when I was appointed principal cello of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London at the age of 20 (the youngest ever apparently). That same year, I started my position as cello professor at the Royal Conservatory of Mons in Belgium. Of course, I had all my solo and chamber music concerts and I was also finishing Masters Degree at the Guildhall School of Music too. There were some incredibly early mornings and very late nights practicing on stage of the Royal Festival Hall just after having done concerts with the Philharmonia.

It taught me a lot about efficiency.

My first recording was done in the middle of the night. This was my first solo CD and we recorded it in Bruxelles while I was working in Paris at the “Chatelet”. Each night, I had to dash after the performance to catch the last TGV to Bruxelles in time to start recording at 1am until 6 am and then back to Paris with the first train in order to make it for the rehearsal and concert. This went on for three days and nights straight… I was younger and even more crazy than I am now, although I’m sure many of my friends might disagree with me on that!

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

I always see playing as a soloist like making chamber music but with an impressive size group. I love to communicate with everyone on stage and it’s not so easy to engage with every single player in the orchestra, but when it happens, I find it magical.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Each of my recordings have something that I am proud of, it is difficult for me to say, as I am so very critical but each happened under a different set of circumstances.

My Lalo cello concerto recording was done in 4 hours of recording and the orchestra had not performed it before. The conductor arrived late for the recording, and we could not extend the recording because of union rules which I totally appreciate, so we did the last movement in two full takes, no edits.

My YouTube recordings of the Rococo variations with the N.H.K Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy had kind of a funny start. I did not think that I was jetlagged when I arrived the night before the first concert, we rehearsed and feeling relaxed I had about 1h30 to kill before the performance (which was being filmed live), I decided to just sit for a bit and relax. The next thing I know I hear a knock on my door and someone telling me that I am on stage in five minutes…I was not dressed, had fallen asleep…a very deep sleep and thank god I did not have to put make up otherwise I would have been in real trouble. I just had time to change clothes, tune the cello and off we went… It does not look like it, but the whole thing seemed surreal to me at the time… almost comical

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

There are so many: Palais des Beaux Arts of Bruxelles (because it’s home) Vienna Musikverein because it is so beautiful, has such an amazing acoustic and always reminds me of my Rising Star Tour. The Amsterdam Concertgebouw is not a bad place either of course (-; and of course I would not mind going back to Carnegie Hall, it was my debut stage in America and I was so young I did not have time to embrace and breathe in all the amazing vibes that this hall has experienced

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many, and each of them for different reasons: Ricardo Mutti’s incredible control of the orchestra and of the magnificent delivery he manages every time. Misha Maisky for his courage, he has the courage to speak his voice through his cello in the way that is true to him regardless of the criticism, Mikhail Pletnev and his mastership of the technique of the piano and his cool on stage. Steven Isserlis’s incredible musicianship and the research he implements into his unique sound.

There are just so many… I find something extraordinary in every Musician that I meet and work with. I feel blessed to have had the chance to come into contact with them and look forward to continue learning forever.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

In one of my few visits to Vietnam, I performed a recital during a lightning storm. While performing Paganini’s Moses Variations on One String, there was a massive bang that erupted in the packed French style theatre and all the power went out. As we had just started the piece, and not knowing if the power was going to come back on after a few seconds, we carried on performing the piece in total darkness. After 30-40 seconds the mass of spectators in front of us started using lighters, mobile phones and directed their lights towards us. It was like a rock concert. The whole piece finishes on a very virtuoso climax; we played still in the dark until the very last note, when- as if it had been planned and choreographed- all the lights came back on at the very final chord! I will never forget the incredible roar and cheers from the audience. It was the most electrifying performance and reaction from an audience in my whole life.

What is your favorite music to play? To listen to?

I love absolutely every kind of music, and I know it’s a cliché, but I really do. When I am in the car I hardly ever listen to classical music, more like pop and rock, in a hotel room I like listening to jazz… it somehow fits the bill for me and at home is were I listen the most to classical music. If I had to choose composers I enjoy performing, there are so many, but very often like my mood I will go through stages in the year where I am hooked on Brahms, Mahler, Schubert, Frank and then it would be Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, Britten, Barber etc…

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?

It’s such a big question and it would require several paragraphs to answer it really in depth, I think that it’s important to adjust the answer specifically to the young musician/student. Not everyone is the same and not every one requires the same kind of advice or encouragement. I guess the universal advice is be true to yourself and do what you enjoy most doing, this is what will make you the most happy in your professional life and thus in all other aspects of your life.

What are you working on at the moment?

Many different things, Barber Cello Concerto, Elgar Concerto, Dvorak Cello concerto, Schubert, Brahms and Britten sonatas and Bach Cello Suites.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I love what I am doing now, I just want to keep going in the same direction, but as many of my friends and family know, I am a bit of a workaholic and perhaps where I should be in 10 years is for a brief time at least …on holiday….but with the cello (he never leaves my side!)

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Apart from the obvious on stage, performing with great friends in one of my favorite halls.

I do feel incredibly at peace swimming in the sea or skiing down some slopes. I guess I would also feel incredibly happy if every so often I get upgraded to first class seats when I am flying long haul flights…

What is your most treasured possession?

I am not a materialistic person, but my cello is my most prized possession, it’s my baby.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from the few dangerous sports that I do (surfing, skiing, scuba diving etc…) I love to perform and I also love to share what I have to offer and this is also why I love to teach so much.

I do also love to work in my garden in London, I am very good at DIY, I love animals especially spending time with ‘Tempo’, my golden retriever.

What is your present state of mind?

I am calm, relaxed and really looking forward to the challenges the future will bring my way.

David Cohen will be performing at this year’s Spitalfields Summer Music Festival with the Rambert Orchestra in a programme including a work by Cheryl Frances Hoad . Further details and tickets here

David Cohen has established a reputation as one of the most charismatic and exciting young cellists of today. Hailed by critics as “Magnificent”, Gramophone, “demonstrates total commitment, combining vitality with expressive feeling in the most spontaneous manner”, the Strad, “an individual, and an exceptionally gifted one,” New York Stereo Review.

Born in the town of Tournai in Belgium, David made his solo debut with the Belgium National Orchestra at the age of nine.

His international career as a soloist soon flourished with invitations from the Saint-Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Soloists Chamber Orchestra, l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Liege, l’Orchestre Symphonique de la VRT, l’Orchestre de la Beethoven Akademie, l’Orchestre National de Lille, the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, l’Orchestre de Chambre de Lauzanne, l’Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie, l’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, l’Orchestre Symphonique de Grenoble, the Polish Philharmonic Orchestra, the Sinfonia Varsovia, the Philharmonia Orchestra, the Seoul Philharmonic, the N.H.K. Symphony Orchestra, as well as the BBC Concert Orchestra.

David Cohen’s full biography

www.davidcohen.be

Joy Lisney (photo credit: Nick Rutter)

Who or what inspired you to take up the cello, and make it your career?

As a young child there was a lot of music around the house and I listened to Jacqueline du Pré play Bach’s Cello Suites every night before bed. I am not sure what an attentive listener I was – I believe the aim was for me to drop off to sleep! – but I refused to accept any other interpretation of that music! As for my decision to make cello my career, I became accustomed to the life of a touring artist on a series of cruises aged five (!), during which I seemed to take in my stride the challenges of performing among top professionals, signing autographs and even being interviewed by Richard Baker before rushing back to the swimming pool!

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

I grew up attending my father’s concerts with Alexander Baillie and listening through the door to their rehearsals at home. I even discussed the finer points of ‘Lord of the Rings’ Warhammer modelling with Emma Kirkby, whose individual approach to singing has always seemed the most natural to me. Lately, I have been influenced more by ideas and principles of making music than by specific performers: I am not aiming to emulate any cellist in particular but to reach my own personal sound in ways I am discovering myself. Of course there are cellists whom I greatly admire and I have seen many things that interest me in the performances of Rostropovich, Miklos Perenyi and Natalia Gutman.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I have not taken regular lessons for quite some time but just after I took the step of becoming independent of a teacher I had to learn and perform Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Rococo Variations’ in quick succession. It was a steep learning curve but the experience was very formative and I considered both performances to be great successes!

Which performance/s are you most proud of?

I try to make every performance better than the last, but rather than pride, I experience enjoyment when I play.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

When I was sixteen I performed in Cheltenham’s Pittville Pump Room for the first time, and fell in love with the beautiful domed ceiling and generous acoustic – you can play anything in there and it sounds good! I completely lost myself, staring into the chandelier as I played a Bach gamba sonata, and this performance marked a big jump forward in my development as a musician. The first time I played in the Kleine Zaal of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, it totally blew me away.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

That is a very difficult question to answer – I am constantly astonished by the different sensations and emotions I gain from listening to a wide range of music, from Wagnerian opera to sixteenth-century vocal music, right up to the myriad styles of music in the twentieth century.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I admire those musicians who try to reach the heart of the music and do not aim to impose their own stamp on it just for the sake of it. Carlos Kleiber and Martha Argerich have been particular inspirations. The cellist whom I look up to above any other is Mstislav Rostropovich. I regret that I was never able to hear him live but even on a recording his vivid communication is unsurpassed. He was also an excellent pianist and conductor, and I intend to conduct and compose as part of my musical life.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was eleven years old I was lucky enough to perform the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor with Alexander Baillie. I remember being more nervous than I have ever felt (before or since) and Alexander tried to abate my nerves by assuring me that however badly I played everyone would love it anyway because I was cuter than he was! Needless to say, it was not a comforting thought, but as soon as I went on stage, as always, all my insecurities drifted away.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

I don’t think I am quite at the point of imparting wisdom, but if pushed I would say that what I have learnt so far is to approach every work with humility and love; approach every work like a composer and put one hundred per cent of yourself into it and value that input. I have also learnt that your understanding of something you take the time to discover by yourself is so much deeper than something given to you fully-formed by a teacher.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to have the privilege of performing around the world, in recital and perhaps with professional orchestras as well. I also love to perform in the wonderful smaller venues and local music societies dotted around, which are often fascinatingly quirky and frequented by the best audiences!

 

Interview date: June 2012

 

www.joylisney.com