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

I’m not from a musical family. My parents and I never thought that I would become a cellist. It all started randomly as my first cello was a gift from my mom’s friend. However, we never took it too seriously and I was not especially curious to learn how to play the cello until a friend of mine came to my home to play games with me. She showed a great interest in the cello and my mom was about to give it to her but that definitely triggered something in me and it was the moment I decided to pick up the cello and learn to play it.  I perhaps would never have become a cellist if this didn’t occur and I have never stopped playing the cello ever since then.

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

Curiosity coupled with a willingness to push myself out of my comfort zone. I always strive to broaden my perspective on life as a global citizen and to be resilient.

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

As a cellist, the challenge is to reach people with my instrument who don’t necessarily know much about cello and classical music.  I hope to continue to make classical music more accessible to a wider audience and that my instrument will be appreciated as much as the piano or voice.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My first recording of French Cello Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra.  It was a dream come true as a musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I play everything from my heart.  Works that speak to me the most are the pieces I play so that can change with time.

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

When I choose repertoire for concerts, I do this by consensus and after discussion with the artistic director, fellow musicians and the conductor. I do always try to include some new pieces so that I can expand my repertoire and bring something new to audiences.

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

I do love playing in Seoul in particular because it’s my hometown.  It is always special to perform in my home country.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love the work of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, former chief conductor of the Rotterdam Philharmonic, with whom I used to work.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It was one of my most recent concerts in the UK – a recital at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester.  I was so honoured to be there to and felt privileged to play in this wonderful hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, I feel most rewarded when I overcome difficulties or discover new ways to interpret a piece I have been practicing. Finding my own way to play a piece means a lot to me.  It gives me a confidence and I am full of joy to play the music.

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

For myself, I always look for an inspiration so I visit art exhibitions, I travel a lot, I look for new partnerships, I seek out new repertoire…I like discovering new things.  Life is full of surprises that open up my mind and I would encourage aspiring musicians to always be curious about the world.

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

I would hopefully be in a place where I can continue to follow my passion of music-making.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I’m not sure if such perfection exists, but for me I definitely feel most happy when I can immerse myself in music.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello

What is your present state of mind?

I live in the present

Hee-Lim Young’s recording of French Cello Concertos with the London Symphony Orchestra is available now on the Sony Classical label.


Hee-Young Lim was appointed as the Principal Solo Cellist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra under Yannick Nézet-Séguin. She was one of the first female Asian cellists ever to lead a section in a major European orchestra. In 2018, she was invited to join the teaching faculty of the Beijing Central Conservatory, the first Korean professor ever appointed to this prestigious conservatory. Praised by the Washington Post as “a deeply gifted musician, with a full, singing tone, near- flawless technique and a natural lyricism that infused nearly every note she played,” cellist Hee- Young Lim has quickly established herself as one of the most charismatic and fast-rising cellists of her generation.

Born in Seoul, she was accepted to the Pre-College division of Korean National University of Arts and Yewon Arts School, winning prizes for Excellence in Music and the Most Distinguished Alumni Award. She entered the Korean National University at age 15, as the youngest student ever to be accepted. She moved to the United States to further her education at the New England Conservatory. Upon graduation, she went on to study at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, studying with Philippe Muller, where she graduated with ‘Highest Distinction’. She is also a graduate of Hochschule für Musik ‘Franz Liszt’ Weimar, where she earned her degree summa cum laude.

In-demand as a soloist, she has in recent years performed with distinguished ensembles including the German Berlin Chamber Orchestra, the Budapest Radio Philharmonic, the Warsaw National Philharmonic, the Jena Philharmonie, the Houston Symphony Orchestra, the KBS Symphony Orchestra, the Seoul Symphony Orchestra, the Baden-Baden Philharmonie, the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen, the Bandung Philharmonic, the Korean Chamber Orchestra, the Incheon Symphony Orchestra, the Ningbo Symphony, Zagreb Soloists and many others.

As an enthusiast advocate of contemporary music, Hee-Young Lim is privileged to champion the work of today’s composers. Most recently, Columbia University in New York commissioned her to give the European premiere of Peter Susser’s Cello Suite in Paris and in 2019 she will give the Asia premiere of Jakub Jankowski’s Aspects of Return at the Tong Yeong International Music Festival.

Teaching has been a very significant aspect of Hee-Young Lim’s career. She has held master classes at Seoul’s Ewha University, Rotterdam Conservatory, Paris Reuil-Malmaison Conservatoire and Jakarta University, among others.

She plays on a 1714 Joseph Filius Andrea Guarneri Cello graciously given by a private donor and a Dominique Peccatte bow.

Guest review by Adrian Ainsworth

The latest brilliant release from cellist-composer Jo Quail is an album that speaks of mirrors, doubles and opposites. Always an artist that convinces equally whether one views her music as avant-garde classical or underground electronica, ‘Exsolve’ is Jo’s most perfect expression yet of how to create pieces that somehow inhabit, yet defy genre at the same time.

I’m sure this is also what makes her music such a pleasure to write about – as I have done frequently, including CD liner notes. Jo builds her compositions around electric cello, fed into a loop station that she simultaneously operates like a second instrument – allowing her to play almost all her material live, solo, standing (her feet dancing across the pedals as she creates layer upon layer of rhythm and melody).

But from first note to last, ‘Exsolve’ thrives on creative tension, looking inward and examining head-on this marriage of ancient/acoustic and modern/electronic. As instrumentals so often do, Jo’s music always becomes ‘visual’ for me, provoking images, memories even, in my mind. Water is a recurring motif in earlier JQ track titles, and here I inescapably thought of Turner’s ship caught in the Snow Storm. Throughout, it felt like something was breaking through, a kind of sonic or atmospheric disruption – depending on your personal tastes, this could be as menacing as Cthulhu or as exhilarating as a cloudburst.

New tunings and new sounds help to make this a classic ‘headphones’ record, as Jo explores distortion and percussive techniques to conjure a military drum tattoo or a doom-laden bass riff from her cello. When listening, you really are surrounded: the music closes in, each of the three lengthy tracks building not necessarily in volume, but in presence, intensity (‘Exsolve’ was produced by Chris Fielding and mastered by James Griffith: plaudits to them for the album’s fearsome clarity).

Another creative pair of ‘opposites’ the album reflects is the personal with the collaborative. For such a self-sufficient performer, Jo has always featured guests on her albums and sought to programme live events with full bands or classical performers. ‘Exsolve’ welcomes three visitors, who play a crucial role on one piece each. Dan Capp and Nik Sampson both contribute heroically exciting guitar parts, while Lucie Dehli adds her supernaturally fluid vocalese in an unforgettable cameo. But while these guest appearances gesture towards extreme metal and even jazz, they blend perfectly into the array of unearthly sounds already coming from the cello.

Classical and metal really are ‘twinned’ here, in a way quite distinct from, say, hard rock bands using orchestras or string sections for added bombast (not that there’s a problem with that!). Album by album, Jo has been assembling tracks more like parts of suites or sequences, and ‘Exsolve’ – with its three ‘movements’ that are both coherent stand-alone pieces, but which all contribute and develop towards a key central idea – can almost feel like a concerto for cello and studio. In this respect, it’s a genuinely avant-garde classical achievement. Yet, at the same time, it reaches a powerful heaviness borne of thunderous riffs and insistent hooks. In other words, it rocks.

If ‘Exsolve’ tells me a story, it’s of these two genres almost struggling for supremacy within Jo’s music. The balance shifts this way and that. The insistent, cyclic guitar that takes control of ‘Forge’ gives way to the acoustic ‘Of Two Forms’ section. The dancing pizzicato of ‘Mandrel Cantus’ breaks into atonal soloing, distorted cello riffs and a final guitar explosion – but then its steady comedown progression dissolves into the chiming, Pärt-like coda. Finally, however, ‘Causleen’s Wheel’ brings matters to a head, its keening melody and agitated reel leading to a seismic shift and temporary sonic limbo, before the finale crashes through. No guitars this time: the cello supplies the heaviness, the electricity, and ultimately the full force of the wordless vocal is unleashed, resolving the conflict and bringing equilibrium with a triumphant, euphoric female battle cry.

A fascinating and beautiful listen, as always. And especially here, addictive, cathartic.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZHZl2ARMfI

(Video edit of ‘Mandrel Cantus’, filmed by Simon Kallas and Michael Fletcher.)

Jo releases her music independently, so you can buy physical and/or digital versions of ‘Exsolve’ – along with all her earlier work – directly from Bandcamp. Dive in here. [link: https://joquail.bandcamp.com/]


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

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 how attentive a 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 starting when I was five years old, during which I had fantastic experiences performing amongst top professionals, signing autographs and even being interviewed by Richard Baker before rushing back to the swimming pool!

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

I grew up attending my father’s concerts with cellist Alexander Baillie and listening through the door to their rehearsals at home. Musicians were often guests at our house and I remember discussing the finer points of ‘Lord of the Rings’ with Dame 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. There are cellists whom I greatly admire such as Mstislav Rostropovich and János Starker, but I have been more often inspired by musicians in other fields such as the conductors Claudio Abbado and Carlos Kleiber, the violinist Julia Fischer and pianists Claudio Arrau and Arthur Rubinstein.

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

The greatest challenges have been projects that I embarked upon with a view to expanding the repertoire of the cello. In 2014 I performed Jan Vriend’s ‘Anatomy of Passion’, a 30 minute work for cello and piano composed in 2004. It was a formidable challenge, not only because of great technical demands and complex rhythms to coordinate with the piano, but also because I decided to perform the piece from memory which I believe made my performance more convincing. More recently, I arranged and performed Bach’s iconic ‘Ciaccona’ from the Violin Partita No. 2 in venues including London’s Wigmore Hall and King’s College Chapel. This was an enormous statement, to take a piece which means so much to people and adapt it to another instrument which made it essential for me to transcend the substantial technical difficulties of performing this on the cello and create a performance which was musically worthwhile and not just an impressive show of technique.

Which performances/recordings 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. My performances of the two pieces mentioned above have been some of the most rewarding concert experiences of my life. I am also happy that the recording I made at nineteen years old of the Chopin Cello Sonata still seems relevant to me despite the six years of development I have had since then.

Which particular works do you think you play/conduct best?

I play a wide range of repertoire, from Bach through to brand new pieces and I try to approach every type of music with the same philosophy – to take a fresh look at the score and try to interpret what that particular composer means in their notation. I then put one hundred percent of myself into every moment of the music, no matter what the style. Having said that, I think music by Benjamin Britten, Prokofiev and Shostakovich suits me well and I find the technical challenges of music from the 20th and 21st centuries to be the most fascinating. In terms of conducting my repertoire is smaller, but I have most enjoyed conducting 19th and 20th century music. In particular, I conducted Strauss’ Metamorphosen with the Seraphin Chamber Orchestra in 2017 and since I felt a particular affinity with the piece I found it very natural to memorise and perform.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season as a performer and also as conductor?

My repertoire choices are often taken in collaboration with musicians I am working with and I am very lucky to perform regularly with my father, pianist James Lisney. We both enjoy crafting programmes with a unifying theme and have toured several of these ‘project’ concerts with titles such as the Beethoven Grand Tour (the five Cello Sonatas), Cello Song and Russian Connections. I enjoy playing contemporary music so I make a particular effort to fit some new music into most of my recital programmes. As for concerti and chamber music that is often a little more out of my control but I am eager to play all sorts of music!

You are also a composer and conductor. How do these disciplines impact on your performing career and vice versa?

My work as a composer impacts directly on my cello career as I often perform my own music. My conducting contributes less obviously to the rest of my career (though I have conducted my own music) but I believe that the experience of leading an orchestra through various types of music has improved my concerto playing and opened my eyes to particular considerations in composition. My experiences as a cellist are central to everything I do and it is almost impossible to separate it out. Of course, the technical knowledge is crucial to composing for string instruments but also the experience of performing gives me a certain empathy with musicians I am writing for; I take great care to ensure that the music I compose is rewarding both to perform and to hear.

As a composer, how would you describe your compositional language?

This is a question we composers are asked very regularly and I am still struggling for an answer! The aspects of my music which might constitute a style or language are by nature the ones that recur in many of my pieces and as such, they are the very elements it is difficult to identify in one’s own music. My orchestration is often detailed and delicate, but I am not averse to thicker symphonic textures. I do not write in a strictly tonal idiom but I think it is clear to listeners that I have a background in western classical music, and tonal direction is central to my music. I am very motivically-led and this is often the focus of my compositional process. I begin with one or two ideas which I develop, combine and transform in the same way Beethoven, Wagner and so many others have done before.

How do you work, as a composer?

Since I have never had my own piano I have become accustomed to working in silence at a desk. I tend to start out on manuscript paper and when I begin writing I usually have a significant portion of the piece mostly if not fully composed in my head. At some point in the process I will ‘run out’ of music and at that point I look back at what I have written so far and examine the possibilities. Later on I type everything into Sibelius [music notation software] but I do not use the playback function except for checking mistakes – I am much more likely to hear a typo than see one!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, ensembles and orchestras?

I find it very rewarding to write specifically for certain players or ensembles. For example, in 2017 I composed ‘Thread of the Infinite’ for the Cambridge University Chamber Orchestra in the knowledge that they would perform this piece unconducted, directed from the violin by Thomas Gould. In this case I made sure that the coordination between parts was clear enough not to require a visual cue from a conductor and inserted several soaring violin solos for the Leader. I have recently written a piece ‘Spiralen’ for Ensemble Recherche, who specialise in the highly complex music of composers such as Brian Ferneyhough and Helmut Lachenmann. My music is far removed from this idiom but I found it very rewarding to work out what new things these musicians were capable of and how I could absorb this into my own style.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling?

Many of the most challenging aspects of being a conductor are administrative! At this stage in my career I am running my own orchestra which involves a lot of non-musical tasks such as organising parts, venues and marketing. This means however that I have autonomy over the artistic direction the orchestra takes which I find very exciting. I love rehearsing with musicians and find it very interesting to think about how different musicians respond to words and visual cues. I often have to say something in two or three different ways to get all the players in a section to respond in one way. If I want a particular quiet sound, for example, some of the violinists might pick that up from my beat, others would benefit from some metaphorical suggestion and the final group might respond best to a specific technical instruction such as bow position and speed of vibrato.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players? Conveying the vision of the composer?

I see my role as a facilitator with a interpretative opinion… I wish to give the players both the framework and the freedom to perform, which involves bringing everyone together to a unified vision of the music. I hope that in a concert situation I can help inspire the players to find something magical and then very often as a conductor our work is done – less is more.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are many works I would love to conduct, particularly some works by George Benjamin such as ‘At First Light’. Mahler’s Ninth Symphony totally captivated me and has filled my head since I first heard it. I am very excited that this dream is shortly to be fulfilled in a concert at West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on 3rd March 2019.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I feel entirely free when I am performing and my main motivation in pursuing a career in music is to get the opportunities to show people the music that I love and believe in.

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

What I have learnt so far is to approach every work with humility and love; look at every work from a composer’s perspective, 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. The journey is essential.

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

10 years sounds an unimaginably long time and I cannot immediately see where my current trajectory will take me. I suppose that my ultimate goal is to be able to perform the music I want to perform to a willing audience(!) and I hope that I can combine the three strands of my career – cello, composition and conducting – to have a fulfilling musical life.


Joy Lisney is one of the most exciting young musicians to emerge in recent years. Her early promise as a cellist was highlighted by Carlton Television when they chose her, at the age of six, as a possible high achiever of the twenty first century.

She has since fulfilled expectations with a distinguished international career, launched by a debut series of two concerts at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw in 2012.

Joy has enjoyed collaborations with artists including Dame Emma Kirkby, Alexander Baillie, Howard Williams, Huw Watkins, the Allegri Quartet and the Wihan Quartet and also performs regularly in duo with her father James Lisney. Venues for duo recitals have included Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, St. George’s Bristol, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and St. John’s Smith Square. In 2014 she performed all five Beethoven cello sonatas in a single concert in a tour concluding with a sold-out performance at London’s Southbank Centre. Projects in 2017 have included a Schubert Quintet Tour with the Allegri Quartet, concerto performances by Prokofiev, Haydn and Turnage and the Cello Song recital tour.

As a passionate advocate of new music Joy has commissioned two new works from the Dutch composer Jan Vriend, the first of which she recorded on her debut CD in 2012. In 2014 she performed as a London Sinfonietta Emerging Artist at the BBC Proms in a concert broadcast on Radio 3 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies. In April 2017 Joy performed on the opening night of the Park Lane Group Recital Series at St. John’s Smith Square, giving a solo recital including two premieres, one of which was her own composition ScordaturA. Joy has also given European premieres of works by Judith Weir and Cecilia McDowall.

As a composer, Joy has won the Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir Arthur Bliss Prizes and she was also Composer in Residence at Cambridge University Music Society for 2016-17. Joy is in the second year of her PhD in Composition at King’s College, Cambridge, supported by the AHRC, and is Honorary King’s College Vice-Chancellor’s Scholar. Her first string quartet was premiered by the Arditti Quartet and she has since had music performed at the King’s Lynn and Aldeburgh Festivals and the Park Lane Group Series.

Forthcoming performances this season include the Elgar Cello Concerto and the Brahms Double Concerto (with Emma Lisney), the premiere of her new work for chamber ensemble, and concerts at Temple Music Foundation, West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge, St George’s Bristol, the Purcell Room, and St John’s Smith Square.

Joy is also the founder and conductor of the Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, a string orchestra which combines the best players of Cambridge University with young professionals from the South of England.

joylisney.com

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)