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Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

Photo: Benjamin Ealovega

music and me

My parents were both professional musicians - my father, Peter, was a pianist, and my mother, Anita, is a cellist - so I was surrounded by music every single day.

A lot of it was filtering in, and when I really got interested in music I started listening to all the wonderful 78s we had in the house, particularly the ones involving cellists. There was one that's still among my favourite recordings: Bloch's Schelomo played by Emanuel Feuermann, with Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. We were missing the first record, so I only got to know it from side 3 onwards, but I was so crazy about it that I used to drive my friends mad by playing it down the phone to them.

Later on, when I was in my early teens a piece that made a huge difference to my life was the Brahms Double Concerto. My mother took me to the BBC studios in Maida Vale to hear Ida Haendel and Zara Nelsova do it with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Adrian Boult. And there I was, in that smallish space, confronted with the Brahms Double, and with these two extraordinary ladies playing it. And that performance really changed my life: from that moment on I had to be a cellist. Not only that, but I had to play the Brahms Double. Zara Nelsova has remained one of my favourite cellists of all time, and she's become a good friend.

One of the frequent visitors to our house was Kenneth Leighton. My father played his piano music all the time, and he was the first modern composer I met; This fired my interest not only in comtemporary music, but also in English contemporary music. There's a recording of my father playing the Piano Sonata Leighton wrote for him. Later I became friends with the composer, and commissioned works from him which I recorded.

Another piece I'd have to include is the Mendelssohn Octet, which was responsible for my meeting my wife, Libby. She was the only female violinist in the two quartets we had at the Royal Academy, and we had endless rehearsals - a great chance to get to know each other.

It was hearing the Walton Cello Concerto played by Piatigorsky that confirmed the fact that I wanted to go and study with him in Los Angeles. I was there for two years, and the Walton has played a very significant part in my life: I've performed it many times all over the world, and Piatigorsky was a huge influence both on my life and on my playing. The piece sounds as though it was tailormade for him, and I happen to know that it actually was, because I've seen the correspondence between him and Walton. His playing was both gigantic, and deeply expressive in the old style, where string players spoke rather than just played. And that's also reflected in the score, because there's so much that is written with portato (i.e. slightly detached) lines. When I hear the piece played in a sort of cleaned-up way, it seems completely the wrong style for it.

While I was in America I heard a recital by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau that completely knocked me for six - Schubert's Winterreise. I'd never heard any singing like that, or presentation like that: it was just totally magnetic, the way this man stood on the stage before he'd even sung a note; and I was so inspired by that.

Of all the concertos I play, my favourite one is the one by Finzi. I find it encompasses all the romatic yearnings of that period of British music - even more than the Elgar does, though I love that piece too. It's fantastically written for the cello: it's a virtuoso work, but also deeply poetic, and for me it epitomises the spirit of all the great cello concertos - the Schumann, the Dvorak, the Elgar. I don't often get the opportunity to play it, but this [2001] is Finzi's centenary year, and I'm immensely looking forward to doing it at the Proms.

 

Reprinted with kind permission of BBC Music Magazine, August 2001. To subscribe to BBC Music Magazine or to purchase a back issue please call 0870 444 7024 or e-mail bbcmusic@galleon.co.uk