Guest post by Ruth Phillips

Many people ask me on Breathing Bow retreats if stage presence is something we can practice, if it is possible to find a way to be exactly where we are – in a concert hall with an audience right here and right now, about to share what we love?

I believe that the answer is yes.

Musicians’ preparation a concert day can range from taking beta blockers to eating bananas. However, as soon as we are on stage we feel fear. Fear of losing control or mental focus, and above all fear of judgement. Our muscles contract, our heart rate speeds up, we go blank, our bow shakes, we sweat….the list of symptoms for ‘stage fright’ is endless and for many of us, coping with them simply isn’t enough. Why would we want to play music if concerts were merely to be coped with not rejoiced in?

We fight or try to ‘get over’ the fear. We tell ourselves how foolish we are to feel it (‘There’s nothing to be frightened of!’), or we boost ourselves up with ‘positive’ thoughts – which are in fact just judgements (‘You’re wonderful!’ ‘No-one’s here to judge you’). Or we pretend (‘Imagine the public naked!/ that you are on a beautiful beach/that you are Steven Isserlis!’ ) We practice as much control as possible and cram our minds with thoughts.

But what if we were to stop fighting and actually listen to the fear?

Marshall Rosenberg, in his work on ‘Non-Violent Communication’, says that all humans share the same fundamental needs, and that every emotion is the expression of either a met (‘positive’ emotions) or an unmet (‘negative’ emotions) need. Through the ‘negative’ emotion of fear we could bring our attention to the unmet needs that we have as performers, a list of which would go something like this:

Stability

Ease

Efficacy

Space

Freedom

Peace.

Security

Connection

Spontaneity

Presence

Expression

Contribution

Most of us, surely, would love to feel all these things when we are on stage! So, how can we practice them, so that we are fulfilled not just in the practice room but also on stage?

Personally, it is through yoga and meditation that I have been liberated from the prison of fear and found joy and presence on stage, but there are many other doorways. Alexander Technique, T’ai Chi and Feldenkrais, for example. Whatever discipline we choose, it seems to me that practicing the following things are key:

1. Tensegrity (gravity and core muscles)

2. Non-doing.

3. Getting ourselves out of the way

4. Presence

5. Breath.

Tensegrity

Obviously, we need tension to move, even to sit, but we also need release. Life and music are a constant play between tension and release. The pull of a wave, a dominant chord resolving to the tonic, an in and an out-breath, an up and a down bow all express this perfect relationship, the word for which is Tensegrity.

Tens(ion) plus (int)egrity.

“Tensegrity is a structural principal of geometry where shapes benefit from strength and flexibility due to the push and pull of their parts.” – Will Nagel

By using our entire body as a biomechanical system – abandoning ourselves to gravity and having movement flow from our core through to our limbs – we can learn to play with stability, efficacy and ease.

“When the abandonment to gravity comes into action, resistance ceases, fear vanishes, order is regained, nature starts again to function in its natural rhythm and the body is able to blossom fully, allowing the river of life to flow freely through all parts.”

Awakening the spine…Vanda Scaravelli

A note on working with Gravity

It takes strength to hold a bow-arm from the string, and with added adrenalin this becomes even more challenging. Gripping harder we migrate to the tip of the bow to avoid confronting the weight. Practicing in a way that works with, rather than against gravity, however, we reorganize rather than withhold the weight. In forte, for example, the arm is aligned so that there are as few kinks as possible and the weight flows freely into the string. In pianissimo the elbow is low and the weight, unable to travel up the hill of the forearm just as water does not travel up a U-bend, rests at the elbow.

A note on working with the centre of gravity and our core muscles

Every form of skilled or powerful movement on terra firma illustrates that athletic movement works best when power flows freely through the core. – Terry Laughlin, Total Immersion Swimming

The terms can be vague and we often use them incorrectly. Some speak of muscles, some of bones and others of energy centres, but I think most traditions agree that the area around our centre of gravity is key to all movement. When we walk, for example, we move our centre of gravity forward, throwing ourselves off balance, and the released leg swings forward. The swing of the arm in bowing or shifting is no different, with movement happening through release and not tension.

Another example of movement coming from our centre is the twist of the torso. The cello teacher, Steve Doane, talks about finding the horizontal axis of movement by sweeping one’s gaze from left to right as one crosses from the A to the C string or shifts up the fingerboard. This works because we do not shift our gaze just with our eyes or even just our head. There is corresponding shift – an imperceptible twist from left to right – at our centre. Doane says:

“This swing supports the shifting motion by communicating energy from the feet through the hips to the back and arms. It is an essential part of your dynamic cellistic balance.” -‘The Owl’ exercise – Cello Ergonomics

Initiating movement from our core does not mean hurling ourselves about. In fact, by making sure the big cogs power the little cogs, movement becomes more efficient. Just try the string crossing exercise with the opposite core movement – turning from right to left as you cross from A-C strings on the cello – and you will see how restricted your natural power and flow is.

Non-doing

“To relax is not to collapse….It is not a state of passivity but, on the contrary, of alert watchfulness. It is perhaps the most ‘active’ of our attitudes, going ‘with’ and not ‘against’ our body and feelings.”- (Vanda Scaravelli – Awakening the Spine.)

The tennis player observes the ball as it leaves his racket and completes the trajectory he has sent it on. He is no longer ‘in control’ of the ball but rather relaxed, alert and watchful. Primed for the return. Once we have learned to initiate movement from our core, we must also practice this attitude on non-doing, in which we find space, peace and freedom.

A note on practicing non-doing

Working with the breath is a wonderful way to practice release and non-doing. Rather than controlling every millimeter of the stroke, the out-breath is used to lead the release of the bow, and the in-breath to lead the preparation. At the end of the out-breath there is a still point, just as there is in the arc of the bow, the arc of a phrase.

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement.

And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance. – TS Eliot

Getting ourselves out of the way

“When we relax about imperfection, we no longer lose our life moments in the pursuit of being different and in the fear of what is wrong.” – Tara Brach, meditation teacher

We fear that unless we inject every phrase with our ‘personality’, our ‘interpretation’ will be boring. However, when a musical line falls like an autumn leaf, or rises like an eagle soaring on a thermal, is this our personality? Or our interpretation? When we are able to get ourselves out of the way, there is no ‘I’ to judge or be judged. Because there is no judgement there is no duality, no perfection, no imperfection, no right, no wrong, no them (the audience) and us (the performer). Instead, there is security and connection.

Presence

“In order to really be, you have to be free from the thinking…”

“Non-thinking is an art and, like any art, it requires patience and practice.”

-Thich Nhat Hanh (Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise)

Thought is necessary. We need to think during our practice – about the composer’s life, the harmony, the metre, the structure – but thought in the form of planning, judging, remembering and commenting takes us out of the present moment, which inhibits our ability to listen. Observation, however, which we develop through meditation practice, focuses our attention on the present and brings spontaneity.

The Breath

“The bow must be a living thing at all times, and all living things need to breathe” – Steven Isserlis, cellist.

For me, the breath is the thing that binds all of this together. No-wonder it is at the root of so many spiritual practices! It is inspiration and expression, tension and release, taking in and letting go, expansion and contraction. It is not ‘ours’ though it passes through us, and it connects us with ourselves, our bodies and the audience. With all living things. The ocean breathes, trees breathe….It is everything we are and everything music is. When we are aligned and in harmony, we feel as if we are being breathed, just as we can, in performance, feel like the music is playing us. Only then we can find true expression and make a contribution.

 


Ruth Phillips is cellist, teacher and creator of Breathing Body, Breathing Bow workshops for cellists and other musicians

Next retreat in Provence: 16 – 20 October 2018

What is Stage Presence and how do we practice it?

Autumn retreat in Provence with Ruth Phillips and Jane Fenton – October 16-20th   Exploring tension, release and space through yoga, breath and mindfulness. Held in a magnificent Provencal farmhouse, and catered by whole-food chef, Tara Lee Byrne. Open to all musicians – amateurs, students and professionals

Further information and booking thebreathingbow.com

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

Having had a brief and disastrous career on the piano aged five (6 lessons and the teacher sacked me for being ‘totally unmusical’), when I was seven I heard a cellist, loved the sound, and announced I would be a professional one day with my own helicopter. I’m still saving up.

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

I have been influenced by many things around me in my life – famous cellists of course (Yo-Yo Ma, Rostropovich, Casals etc), but also by Russians and their approach, by my wife, Viktoria Mullova and her uncompromisingly pure and selfless approach to music-making. But there are two influences that are not so obvious. I grew up on the Beatles and the aspect of their output I find most fascinating is that they did everything with love – at least until the last year or two – and this really shows in their music. George Harrison remarked that whenever any of them had an idea the response would always be ‘yes’ from the rest of the band, and that philosophy I aspire to – the positivity, inclusivity and humanity at the centre of the music. Also, I was profoundly influenced by watching the film The Thin Red Line. I was in a hotel room in Sydney and watched this brilliantly made war film and it completely destroyed me – I was a weeping wreck by the end, and the thing that exercised me most was, ‘what can I do to respond to this’? It just felt so impossible to do nothing, but what can a cellist do in the face of the inhumanity of our world? The only thing I could come up with was that I must practice and play with more heart, more dedication, and challenge myself every day to do better – in short to do my utmost every day to become the best I possibly can and help to add a happy and fulfilled grain of sand to the beach of the world. It is a lifelong task and one I take seriously, although I’m aware of how small one man’s contribution is, but that film was a deep inspiration.

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

Working with my physiotherapist to overcome a skiing injury, and a hypnotherapist to overcome stage nerves were big mountains to climb.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m probably most proud of the last concerto performances before a short sabbatical I took this year. The cello concerto by HK Gruber is one of the hardest every written and I played it with the BBC Phil and Gruber conducting at Bridgewater Hall. I had such a good time playing. The orchestra were just awesome, Bridgewater Hall is very kind to cellos and I was very happy. Then a few weeks later I had 3 performances of Tavener’s The Protecting Veil in Mexico in beautiful halls where I felt totally free and comfortable onstage – Stephen Layton conducted like a dream so that I was absolutely liberated to make music without having to worry about anything. Heaven.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The Protecting Veil is a special one for me (see above), because I don’t approach it as a piece of classical music, but more from my experience of Indian classical music and improvisation – it was the music of India that inspired John Tavener as he was writing it. I enjoy playing it SO much!

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

Pretty random really – sometimes just because people ask me, and sometimes I decide what I want to play on a whim.

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

Dartington Great Hall, Wigmore Hall, St George’s Brandon Hill Bristol, Beethovenhaus in Bonn, the new hall in Cremona…well, quite a few – places where the cello can really sing.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Right now it’s all about gorgeous Brazilian music – Egberto Gismonti, Jobim, Danilo Caymmi, Milton Nascimento, Elis Regina, Chico Buarque. And of course Bach is always there in the centre, recently inspired by reading John Eliot Gardiner’s brilliant book, Music in the Castle of Heaven.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Carlos Kleiber, The Beatles, Beethoven, Bach, Ella Fitzgerald, Annie Lennox, Glenn Gould, Bernstein, Casals, Stevie Wonder – well, hundreds of them really…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Mahler 9 with the Berlin Philharmonic and Abbado at the Proms in 1991. I would have laughed if you had told me that one day I would raise his wonderful son, Misha. Life is beautifully unpredictable.

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

So long as it is done with with true sincerity from the heart, you are on the right track.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is making the sound that comes out of the cello the same as the one in my head.

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

Anywhere with family and friends.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being anywhere with family and friends.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My cello, of course.

What do you enjoy doing most? Breathing.

What is your present state of mind? 

Sitting on a train, passing a beautiful river, ducks flying overhead in formation. All is good.


Matthew Barley is internationally known as cellist, improviser, arranger, music animateur, and Artistic Director of Between The Notes. His musical world is focused on projects that connect people in different ways, blurring the boundaries that never really existed between genres and people.

As a soloist and chamber musician he has performed in over 50 countries, including appearances with the BBC Scottish (Volkov) and Philharmonic (Hazlewood), the Melbourne Symphony (Tortelier), New Zealand Symphony (Tan Dun), Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Netherland Radio Symphony (Stenz), Czech Philharmonic, Vienna Radio Symphony, Kremerata Baltica, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Scottish National (Alsop), and London Chamber Orchestra. He has performed at festivals in Lucerne, Schleswig-Holstein, Bonn-Beethovenfest, Hong Kong, Lanaudiere, Abu Dhabi, Krakow, City of London and in recent seasons has performed at some of the world’s great concert halls: London’s Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Kumho Hall in Korea, Pablo Casals Hall in Tokyo, The Rudolfinium In Prague, and the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. A key aspect of his recitals is mixing repertoire in unusual ways, pairing Bach suites with jazz and improvisation. He is particularly interested in music with electronics, having commissioned works from many composers including Dai Fujikura, Peter Wiegold, DJ Bee, John Metcalfe and Jan Bang. He has given other premieres of pieces written for him by James MacMillan, Thomas Larcher, Detlev Glanert, John Woolrich, and Fraser Trainer.

Read more here

(artist photo © Nick White)

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

When my father gave me the possibility to try a cello, everything went naturally its own way. There has never been a moment of decision-making.

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

All my teachers, mostly Eberhard Feltz; Nikolaus Harnoncourt and many musicians I’ve played with, including Janine Jansen, Gidon Kremer, the Quatuor Ébène and Alexander Lonquich to name a few.

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

The next concert.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

None.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That way of thinking prevents you from making music.

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

There are a lot of pieces that speak to you at different times. It is not always easy to judge the amount of time you need to bring them to life. Being aware of that amount, you choose the music that you want to spend your life with and grow.

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

Musikverein in Vienna, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Philharmonie in Warsaw. They have a special spirit, they support and inspire you to give your best.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I very much admire Alexander Lonquich for his integrity, the Quatuor Ebène for the diversity and devotion in their work, Janine Jansen for her utmost urgency. Playing with them feels like the best thing you can do.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Schubert Quintet with the Quatuor Ebene, Goldberg Variations and Brahms c-minor piano Quartet with Janine Jansen come to my mind. Listening to rehearsals with Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

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

Integrity and curiosity. Accepting failures as an inspiration to grow. Sharing something that unites everyone.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The concert experiences mentioned above.

What is your most treasured possession?

Love.


Renowned worldwide for his musical integrity and effortless virtuosity German-French cellist Nicolas Altstaedt is one of the most sought after and versatile artists today. As a soloist and conductor he enthralls audiences with repertoire spanning from the baroque to the contemporary.

Read more at:

www.nicolas-altstaedt.com

(photo: Marco Borggreve)

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

Juicy low notes, an absent cello-playing father, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet/Star Wars (for my 6-year old purveyor, a concert without these items on the programme just didn’t cut it), Verdi’s Falstaff (aged 6, I played the Page Boy in a stellar cast of AMAZING British singers conducted by Roger Norrington and directed by Jonathan Miller – the horn call that heralded Nanetta and Fenton’s night-time tryst and the magic of the ‘nymphs, elves’ music completely spell-bound me – music IS magic, after all).

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

Robert Le Page – two of his one-man shows ‘back in the day’: The Far Side of the Moon and The Andersen Project. Intimate, epic, harnessing cutting edge technology but all about the human touch. I thought, ‘I’m going to do this for classical music, in my own way.

Kneehigh Theatre – especially ‘The Bacchae’ and ‘Tristan and Iseult’. I went to see ‘The Bacchae’ with a legendary hangover and found its descent into a murderous rave world completely intoxicating – classic text meets visceral imagination (meets my legendary hangover) = THAT’S how to communicate something ‘from the canon’. And then I was lucky enough to work with them briefly, during which time Emma Rice sorted me out a couple of tickets for their sold out run of ‘Tristan and Iseult’ at the Cottesloe [at the National Theatre, London]. I went with the woman who became my wife. I couldn’t talk about the show for weeks afterwards without weeping.

Shakespeare – I really like nights out with fabulous art that somehow tend towards the condition of a Shakespeare play – where Hamlet needs his Gravediggers, Macbeth his Drunken Porter and King Lear his Fool. I’m being simplistic/dualistic (child of the binary/digital age)…but I hope you know what I mean. Clearly, the earthy and ethereal, bawdy and transcendent, unhinged and rational, ‘tragical-comical-historical-pastoral’ exist ‘cheek by jowl’ in works from the classical music canon…I find they rarely get a chance to breathe like that, though. Something to do, I think, with an overweening concern for propriety in the performance of classical music. Obviously, the really great music itself from the canon isn’t concerned with propriety (even if it is concerned with poise/balance/proportion etc) – it’s too busy being about important things like people, the world, meaning, expression.

So, Shakespeare is a kind of touchstone and guru/shaman in my own adventures.

My extraordinary teachers (Kate Beare, Alexander Baillie, Boris Pergamenschikow, Ulla Blom, Sam Kenyon).

Those cello-playing ‘animals’, where the cello-playing disappears – Shafran, Rostropovich, Harrell.

George London (Canadian bass-baritone), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Russian baritone – my cello teacher, Boris Pergamenschikow, would give me tapes of Hvorostovsky singing Russian romances…I wore it out).

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

Negotiating the feudal system inherent in the classical music industry in the UK – I’m still not especially adept at it! I have an aesthetic that’s deeply rooted in connection, communication, the transformative potential of music being performed RIGHT NOW. That can make me seem like a Wild Man sometimes! When that meets an aesthetic that’s rooted in the academic, amateur, choral tradition, impartial and dispassionate (profile the BBC and its various ‘voices’, for instance) – excellent qualities though they are! – it can take some neuro-linguistic adjustment to chime. For me, music is mainly about the visceral and the spiritual. The intellect is a useful tool along the way but, personally, in performance, I’m not that interested in beholding the intellect on stage. There are more vital things at stake and bigger risks to take.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ooooofff. Today…John Tavener’s The Fool at the QEH. It’s a mighty kind of dramatic cantata that he wrote for me to sing and play.

Recordings-wise, the one that’s out on February 16 (and then the solo disc coming out in April…obvs!). The Feb 16 recording is the world premiere recording of Hans Gál’s glorious Cello Concertino, along with his epic solo sonata and solo suite. Simon Fox-Gál produced it and he has captured the cello sound AMAZINGLY!

(And I also have to mention my recording of Errollyn Wallen’s fabulous/fiendish cello concerto – she’s a wonderful composer, extraordinary person and dear friend, and her cello concerto has deeply touched SO MANY listeners).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

For better or for worse, I think my nature and talents – such as they are – are good at connecting with and communicating works with big hearts, innate drama and an invitation to some kind of extremity in them. I like to go the ledge beyond the edge and report back. Don Quixote, Penderecki 2nd Cello Concerto, Rachmaninov Sonata – that’s today’s Top Three.

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

Generally by saying ‘yes’ and going to where the excitement is.

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

Victoria Hall in Geneva is exquisite, grand yet intimate. But actually, I find I’m less and less fussy – about acoustics, stage orientation etc. My job is to lay it on the line and ‘only connect’ and as long as I can see/hear, be seen/heard, then I’m really happy to get on with that.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many of my inspiring colleagues. I’m lucky to work with some of the greatest musicians I know – brimming with generosity, creativity, virtuosity. They make me better.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 19, I gave the first ‘from memory’ performance of Tavener’s ‘The Protecting Veil’ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. The intensity of the silence that followed that sublime piece was unforgettable.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Keeping going – adventurously, hungrily, positively – like the Great White Shark on the first page of Peter Benchley’s JAWS…carving out time and space to manifest my creative dreams…paying the bills.

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

Well, I did some ‘improvisation’ workshops and a performance with my band ZRI at the Yehudi Menuhin School last week. It was UNFORGETTABLE. The essence of what we offered was: accept and build, grow your own artist, honour your curiosity by continuing to take creative risks. The reaction we received was mind-blowing. These particular students were craving these kinds of ideas, concepts, approaches and tools. I think it’s time to bring our music education up to date. It’s possible to balance vision and provenance and train young musicians for a career right now.

Matthew Sharp performs with the Northern Chamber Orchestra on 9 March 2018 at Stockport Town Hall, and at the Glossop Music Festival during June 2018. 

Matthew’s new recording of Hans Gál’s Cello Concertino (world premiere recording), Solo Sonata, Solo Suite with the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods (conductor) is released on February 16, 2018 on the Avie Records label. Further information and preview tracks here

Matthew’s solo album ‘Rough Magic’ is released by Edition Peters Sounds, April 2018. Devotional Music by Wagner, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Messiaen, Piazzolla, Golijov, Sollima, Wallen, Jeff Buckley and works written for Matthew by John Tavener, Emily Hall and James Francis Brown

Sneak preview – Sollima’s Lamentatio (mp3)


Matthew Sharp is internationally recognised as both a compelling classical artist and a fearless pioneer. His adventures in and through music and across disciplines are ‘unrivalled’ and ‘unprecedented’, balancing provenance and vision in a unique and potent way.

He studied cello with Boris Pergamenschikow in Cologne, voice with Ulla Blom in Stockholm and English at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was taken to Jacqueline du Pré when he was 12, Galina Vishnewskaya when he was 18 and studied chamber music with the Amadeus Quartet. He performs at major venues and festivals worldwide as solo cellist, baritone, actor and director.

Matthew has appeared as solo performer with the RPO, LPO, RLPO, CBSO, Orchestra of Opera North, SCO, EUCO, ESO, NCO, Manchester Camerata, Orchestra of the Swan, Orchestra X, Arensky Chamber Orchestra, and Ural Philharmonic.

In opera, he has performed principal roles for Opera North, ROH, Almeida Opera and Mahogany Opera Group, amongst many others.

In theatre, he has performed principal roles at the Young Vic and National Theatre Studio, collaborated with Kneehigh, Complicité and, most recently, with legendary illustrator and film-maker, Dave McKean.

He has recorded for Sony, EMI, Decca, Naxos, Somm, NMC, Avie and Whirlwind and appeared in recital as both cellist and singer at Wigmore Hall, SBC and Salle Gaveau.

 

www.matthewsharp.net

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)