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 adverse 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 conducts the Seraphin Chamber Orchestra in music by Alma and Gustav Mahler and Franz Schubert at Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge on Saturday 10th November. Further information and tickets


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

(Photo: Jana Jocif)

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

I like to take the broad view of works: their historical and philosophical context, their structure, the issues surrounding them. As an artist, I like that music expresses itself using the body. Conductors are not far removed from dancers.

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

My time as a student in Vienna was unforgettable: the language, the repertoire, those life-changing sessions with Abbado and Harnoncourt. Those Nordic and English musical influences set me on my musical path.

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

There have been several! Creating a professional chamber choir in France, then developing a structure which brought together artistic discoveries, new technology… transmission… and now the creation of Insula Orchestra, playing on historical instruments.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m very proud of our recording of Richard Strauss’s monumental choral works, and, more recently, of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Franco Fagioli.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel an affinity for many composers, starting with Bach. As a conductor, I particularly enjoy performing Beethoven, Weber, Schumann…

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

It’s a very delicate operation: you must find a balance between your own wishes regarding the repertoire you want to create for yourself and your orchestra, soloists you’d like to work with, rare and unjustly neglected pieces, pieces by women composers, what the programme creators want…

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

There are several halls which really inspire me with their beauty and their acoustic… In France, the Philharmonie de Paris, soon to be the  Cité musicale de l’Ile Seguin, Theater an der Wien, the Barbican in London, and the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. There are also lovely halls in Tokyo and in the US.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I would like to come back to the final Schumann Ballades, they’re nothing less than little operas. I also enjoy conducting Mendelssohn’s ‘[Die erste] Walpurgisnacht’, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’… But also Bach’s St. John Passion. As a listener, I like listening to the big Romantic symphonies; Bruckner, Mahler, Shostakovich. At home, chamber music or Lieder.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

With the Brussels Philharmonic, I performed Schumann’s “Das Paradies und die Peri semi-staged. It’s a spiritual tale from which no-one escapes unscathed, and the music is sublime from start to finish.

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

It’s important to make your vision of the work, its artistic issues, clear to the musicians, and to speak to them about your view of it. On the other hand, the most important thing is to let the musicians communicate their musicality and feelings themselves. As a conductor, you are there just as much to understand their emotions and the colours they bring, and to relish them. You shouldn’t lead, you must be followed.

Could you tell us a bit about the Insula orchestra?

Insula is a period-instrument orchestra that focuses mostly on music from the Age of Enlightenment, the Classical style, and the pre-Romantics. We play symphonies and oratorios and also operas. There are 50 musicians, with the string section enlarged to fill today’s halls. We try to find a balance between a very cultivated, historically-informed style and one compatible with the size of concert halls.

Insula are making their UK debut on 21 September, how did you choose the programme for this? 

I proposed a programme to the Barbican that typifies our current artistic goals: Zelenka’s Miserere, a real forgotten masterpiece. Then, the Solemn Vespers, a famous work by Mozart, a composer central to our project, and whose Requiem we recorded earlier this year. Finally, a piece to which I feel particularly attached, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s rarely-performed Magnificat.

What are Insula’s plans for the 2015-16 season? 

Insula’s highlights for this season include the release of Orfeo in September on Archiv, then the Magnificat programme at the Barbican and, on tour, an all-Beethoven programme, with the 3rd piano concerto and Nicholas Angelich, as well as the Eroica symphony. After that, Mozart’s Lucio Silla with Franco Fagioli, in a semi-staged performance which will go on tour to Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Vienna.

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

I would like to have been involved in some exciting, innovative projects which bring in a big audience, and to have played in the greatest halls.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I am always searching for it.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Giving concerts, and connecting with the public, an “être merveilleux”, as Novalis said.

What is your present state of mind?

Impatient!
Insula make their UK debut on Monday 21 September at London’s Barbican Hall

Magnificat

Zelenka Miserere

Mozart Solemn Vespers K.339

C.P.E. Bach Magnificat in D Major H.772

Insula orchestra, accentus choir, Laurence Equilbeyconductor

Judith Van Wanroijsoprano, Wiebke Lehmkuhlalto, Reinoud Van Mechelentenor, Andreas Wolfbass

21 September 2015, Barbican Hall, London, 7.30pm

Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice 

CD release: 11 September 2015 

Archiv Produktion

Insula orchestra | accentus Choir

Franco Fagioli | Malin Hartelius | Emmanuelle de Negri

Conductor and musical director of Insula orchestra and accentus, Laurence Equilbey is acknowledged for her demanding, yet open-minded approach to her art. Her exploration of the symphonic repertory has seen her conducting the orchestras of Lyon, Bucharest, Liège, Leipzig, Brussels Philharmonic, Café Zimmermann, Akademie für alte Musik Berlin, Concerto Köln, Camerata Salzburg, Mozarteumorchester Salzburg, etc. In 2015, she performs Beethoven’s König Stephan with the Frankfurt Symphony Orchestra.

She has recently conducted Britten’s Albert Herring (at the Opéra de Rouen Normandie and the Opéra Comique), Weber’s Der Freischütz (Opéra de Toulon), Sous apparence (Opéra de Paris) and Reynaldo Hahn’s Ciboulette (Opéra comique).

She regularly conducts the Orchestra of the Opéra de Rouen. Since 2009, she has been working with accentus as an associate artist of the Paris Chamber Orchestra and will be joining up with them again for a Gounod/Liszt programme. She is also an associate artist of the Grand Théâtre de Provence in Aix-en-Provence and a companion of the Philharmonie de Paris.

In 2012, with support from the Conseil départemental des Hauts-de-Seine, she founded Insula orchestra, an ensemble devoted to the classical and pre-Romantic repertory, using period instruments. In 2014, she recorded with her musicians Mozart’s Requiem on the Naïve label and she continues to honour the Austrian composer in 2015-2016, with Vesperae solennes de confessore, and also Lucio Silla, including at the Theater an der Wien. Their second album – Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice with Franco Fagioli – will be released in September 2015 on the Deutsche Grammophon label (Archiv Produktion).

With accentus, Laurence Equilbey continues to interpret the great vocal music repertoire. She conducts a Bruckner program in the spring with the Orchestra of the Opéra de Rouen Normandie. The extensive recorded work of accentus (on the Naïve label) has received wide critical acclaim. Laurence Equilbey supports contemporary creation and she’s also Artistic Director and Director of Education at the Department for Young Singers at the Paris Conservatory.

Laurence Equilbey has studied music in Paris, Vienna and London, and conducting, notably with Eric Ericson, Denise Ham, Colin Metters and Jorma Panula.

Laurenceequilbey.com