Composer, musician, singer-songwriter, record producer and conductor, Mike Batt has teamed with record label Guild Music to release a special recording of Holst The Planets that he conducted in 1993. Here he shares his thoughts on why The Planets is such a significant work and the challenges of working on it with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, together with some insights into his musical and creative life…..

What it is about The Planets that makes it such an attractive piece to conduct?

It’s a seriously wonderful piece of orchestral composition. Maybe that’s obvious but The Planets has such melodic strength, and depth of orchestration and it ranges across the entire spectrum of emotions and dynamics. It’s not just “Programme music” like a piece “about” each particular planet. In Saturn – The Bringer Of Old Age, you feel the emotional weight of old age, in the dark, lumbering opening. Later in that movement you get a bit of feisty madness, maybe even confusion coming in, always in an original and musically striking way. It’s a real adventure for the listener just as it must have been for the composer.

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

For some reason, as soon as I heard orchestral music. I wanted to be a conductor. I didn’t grow up in a musical family. There was almost no music in the house. The junk mail leaflet from Concert Hall records dropped through the letterbox when I was about 11 and that was it. Once I heard Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, I wanted to conduct it. The fact that my granny sent me an LP called “Music for Frustrated Conductors” with little diagrams of a cartoon bloke diagrammatically conducting the basic rhythms, might have contributed! I read an interview a while ago where Simon Rattle said he had partly been influenced into conducting by that very same album!

Mike-Batt-conducting-Credit-Claire-Williams
Mike Batt conducting (photo: Claire Williams)

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

My love for music is almost too eclectic for my own good, to the extent that people might be confused by it. But I wouldn’t change the chameleonesque nature of my “theatres of operation” and my passions and influences, which range from from Mozart to Bartok and The Beatles, The Rolling Stones to Frank Zappa and Count Basie.

How exactly do you see your role as a conductor? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

An orchestra definitely gets a vibe from a conductor and vice versa. The conductor needs the orchestra to feel confident that he or she won’t let them down by screwing up, or make them play a piece in ways that they don’t feel appropriate (eg., tempi that they hate) – although that’s part and parcel of being an orchestral musician. If an orchestra “likes” a conductor and empathises with him, they will play better for him. If they can see it matters to him, they will try to deliver. A bit of an eye contact just before a woodwind or horn entry, for example, works wonders to make the player feel that you know where he or she is coming in and would like to share the moment. If you punch the air at the brass section just as they are breathing to come in fortissimo they actually do play fortissimo!

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

The best way is by body language. You should be able to walk in and just play, maybe with a little pre-explaining any particular ideas you have, but it should mostly come from your baton, body and face. You are sort of dancing with the band , and you are “leading” the dance. A great orchestra will observe a rubato moment that has never been discussed, just by what they see and feel from the conductor. They should and do follow that baton, far more than non-musicians could ever imagine. Conducting a great orchestra is like driving an F1 car. They respond completely to the slightest gesture.

This was your first time working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. What was the most challenging part of conducting them?

I’ve worked with them many times since – but this recording was 25 years ago. It’s always a thrill to meet a new orchestra and when you know you have top notch players, you know the job will get done, and to the standard you want. Call me an optimist! But “meeting” a new band is rather like a first date. There are a few nerves. It takes only a few seconds for the conductor to size up the orchestra, and crucially for me, vice versa! So the challenges are only psychological. If you have top players the challenges are shared, – you are all after the same thing, a brilliant performance. When I was younger I had an experience where an overseas orchestra decided they didn’t much like me after only a few seconds. You could just tell. You learn by such experiences. You still get the job done but it’s less comfortable.

And what is the most fulfilling aspect of conducting the RPO?

Somehow that day in 1993 when we recorded the Planets it was just a joy to do it. I could see they were enjoying it, and so was I. The room (Watford Town Hall) had wonderful acoustics and I can’t think of a panicky or unpleasant moment. I would cite that whole day of recording as one of the most fulfilling events of my musical life.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Schubert: 9th Symphony (The “Great” C major)

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Royal Albert Hall. It’s intimate and cozy, strangely. Yet it has that special majesty and charisma. You also know the audience are taking in that wonderful atmosphere before you even play a note!

As a musician and composer, what is your definition of success?

It can be so many things, depending on how you look at it. The parameters of commercial success have changed so much that it’s hard to say what is a “hit” and what isn’t. But artistically, if a composition succeeds in moving the audience and conveying the feeling you had when you wrote it, that is success. If you felt tearful writing it, you can bet the audience will feel tearful listening. If you were writing a funny, witty piece and you chuckled or were amused, the audience will chuckle and be amused too. That’s success.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Partly answered above. But guitarists John Paracelli and Chris Spedding are “up there” as musicians. So many classical musicians to choose from. Nicola Benedetti is such a wonderful violinist, so I’ll choose her. The (sadly) late Douggie Cummings (former principal cellist of the LSO) was an astonishingly good “life force” to have in the room while working, a beautiful player. Composers? Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Brahms, Beethoven Schubert, Tchaikovsky. All possibly boring marquee names to choose, but that’s why they got there!

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

Don’t get into gangs and cliques. Seriously, snobbishness in music is necessary in getting everyone to feel special about their music, but leave the snobbishness (again, sadly) to the audiences. You as a practitioner should feel free to enjoy every genre and do what you like. Oh, and practice until you’re blue in the face. Be passionate. If you aren’t passionate don’t get into it full time. Do it as a hobby. Even then you’ll enjoy it more if you are passionate. Pretty obvious I guess.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Knowing that my family could be happy and secure and fulfilled

What is your present state of mind?

Restless, with so much more to do as time marches on and I get older. I wish I could live for a lot more musically capable, healthy years than will probably be the case. Does that mean there will always be a project that I’ve conceived that I will never see come to fruition? Probably. I’m not afraid to die, I’m just afraid of not being alive.

 

To mark the centenary of the first performance of Holst’s The Planets on 29th September 1918, Guild Music presents the first complete release of a recording that Mike Batt made in 1993 that has lain in the vaults for 25 years. Produced by Robert Matthew-Walker and engineered by Abbey Road’s Simon Rhodes. Further information


Michael Batt LVO is an English singer-songwriter, musician, record producer, director, conductor and former Deputy Chairman of the British Phonographic Industry. He is best known for creating The Wombles pop act, writing the chart-topping “Bright Eyes”, and discovering Katie Melua. He has also conducted many of the world’s great Orchestras, including the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony and Stuttgart Philharmonic in both classical and pop recordings and performances.

 

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 violin and pursue a career in music?

I grew up in a musical family, so I was surrounded by music from the beginning. I seemed to like the violin from the moment I started, and my maternal grandmother was a violinist, which helped!

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

Outside of my family, like all violinists I listened to the greats, like Kreisler, Milstein etc. Musically speaking, Pierre Boulez had a decisive influence, especially on how to understand and then interpret the pieces I play.

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

Every concert is a challenge! Playing the violin is extremely difficult, so it involves a lot of practice. And most of it is scales, exercises, etudes.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very happy with the most recent one, which sketches a history of Italian violin music. The programme (Sciarrino, Tartini, Berio, Paganini) is fascinating!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a soft spot for classical modernity, especially the second Viennese school. But as in the recording I mentioned above, my main interest lies in the juxtaposition of works from different times that have an inherent link. The compartmentalized nature of how we see music is not only absurd, but also counterproductive; we do not allow ourselves to understand the scope of what we hear and play because of this.

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

Sometimes I choose, sometimes the promoter chooses, sometimes a combination of both. I like when the programmes I play have an inner logic, the pieces should communicate with each other.

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

The Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin is a unique venue because of its shape, and also the acoustics. I consider myself lucky to be able to play there regularly.

Who are your favourite musicians?

See earlier question…. Other than that, I am happy to have had the experience of working with great musicians, and hearing many more.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

If I had to pick one, it would be a concert Boulez did with the Berlin Philharmonic many years ago. The programme was beautiful, ingenious and quite amusing in its titles: Webern 6 pieces, Schönberg 5 pieces, Bartók 4 pieces, Berg 3 pieces.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Unlike in sport, we cannot quantify success, so we go by other criteria, the most important being whether we have understood the music we played and could convey this to the public. Other than that, it helps to play in tune obviously.

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

The most important thing is to stress the importance of the music we play, and that we are in fact only there to convey an understanding of it. People might be attracted to star soloists and the like, but what they actually hear is Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so on.

Michael Barenboim makes his his UK recital debut on 18 June at Aldeburgh Festival, performing works by Bach, Bartók, Michael Hersch and a world premiere from his close friend Johannes Borowski.

Further information


Violinist Michael Barenboim is one of the most versatile and talented artists of his generation and has performed with some of the world’s most prestigious orchestras and conductors, including the Wiener Philharmoniker, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Pierre Boulez and Münchner Philharmoniker conducted by the late Lorin Maazel.

michaelbarenboim.com

 

(photo by Marcus Höhn)

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

I come from a family of musicians; my mother was even playing concerts with me in her belly so I guess I’ve been drinking it all in since I was a bean. I began with the violin so the viola is a natural sibling instrument and I’m happily bilingual as both violinist and violist. I rarely think of my life as a musician in terms of a career, I just knew that music would hold the greatest challenges and rewards, and so there was no other path… here I am on it!

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

There many musicians to whom I’m thankful for inspiration, but if I think back to being drawn to improvisation as a child it is learning this skill that has had a powerful influence on my music-making and has opened many musical doors, sparking my curiosity at every stage.

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

Learning to say no. And overcoming fear.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the discs I’ve made with my group ZRI—we’re recorded both the Brahms Clarinet and Schubert C major quintets, re-scored to include santouri (dulcimer) and accordion to reconnect with the Hungarian, folk, and cafehaus traditions that inspired Johannes and Franz when they each went drinking in the Zum Roten Igel pub in Vienna and heard the gypsies play. We’re playing at Kings Place on April 8th with our brand new Charlie Chaplin live score and concert program!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ll leave that for the audience to decide…

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

Often I’m invited to play particular repertoire but if I’m in charge then I’ll choose a program according to the context in which it’ll be performed. The particular venue and kind of audience you expect is crucial for a choice of what to play and how to present a program. That’s not to say I’ll choose something that may be in an audience’s comfort zone—sometimes the most exciting concerts push those boundaries—but it’s always a consideration in planning. And the bottom line is it’s got to be something that I’m really into myself or else how can I expect anyone else to be?

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

I like to give concerts in weird and wild settings, and not necessarily traditional halls. But as far as more regular stage settings go, I love Wilton’s Music Hall in Shadwell—it’s a stunning Victorian music hall with a gorgeous natural acoustic. The Wanamaker Playhouse is also awesome: all wood, candle-lit, and perfect for a chamber group or solo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

How long have we got?! I like people who make music with risk and real-time flow, who have an individual voice and personality, who explore sound and colour, who like to groove…people who can captivate you with their imaginations. Magicians of sorts. Vladimir Horowitz, for example, or Bobby McFerrin.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s impossible to choose! Playing with Malian rappers at a festival in Timbuktu? Leading Bjork’s string orchestra in the Albert Hall? String trios with my father and sister in an old Berlin Ballroom? Solo Bach in an underground cave in the south of France?…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you are physically and imaginatively in the zone at a concert, when the flow of the music is bigger than you yet you are also standing at its helm… where your intuition is your guide, where you’re experiencing the music for the first time whether it’s from an old score or improvised… and when the audience are right there with you from start to finish.

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

Play with your mind and heart not your fingers. Learn to talk as well as sing on your instrument. And, to quote Charlie Parker: ‘If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn’!

What is your present state of mind?

I’m excited because I’m on a plane to the north of Norway where I’m spending 3 days working with some amazing folk musicians on a new Folk-meets-Baroque project.

 

Max Baillie performs in Time Line with Oliver Coates, Thomas Gould and Rakhi Singh on 28th February, part of the Time Unwrapped season at King’s Place.

Further information


A graduate of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Cambridge University, and Berlin’s UdK, violinist and violist Max Baillie leads a uniquely versatile career. He performs across a diverse spectrum of music spanning new commissions, improvisation, and collaborations with artists from all over the world. As a soloist and chamber musician he has performed on stages from the Royal Albert Hall to Glastonbury, from Mali to Moscow, and plays regularly for television and radio broadcast.

Max is a founding member of ZRI, Zum Roten Igel. The ensemble has toured to major festivals with its re-scored versions of the Brahms clarinet quintet and the Schubert C major quintet, including accordion and santouri (dulcimer). He also has a duo with his ‘cellist father Alexander Baillie with whom he recorded a disc of folk-influenced violin and cello duos earlier this year. Max also features regularly with Notes Inegales, an improvisation group which ventures into adventurous cross-cultural and cross-genre collaborations at its regular club night Club Inegales.

For over ten years Max held the Principal Viola position in the London-based group Aurora Orchestra, playing a major role in its creative path. He conceived and directed the first of Aurora’s Brazilian dance collaborations, featured as soloist in Julian Philips’ dedicated commission Maxamorphosis drawing on his background as a trained dancer, and in 2016 curated the first season of late night ‘Lock-in’ concerts at London’s Kings Place.

Max is partnered with the National Youth Orchestra of Britain to build an online educational resource for young string players, and is currently working with an animator to create a short film about how to approach solo Bach as part of his Bach Voyager project.

www.maxbaillie.com

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 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

 

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