"This engrossing recital is a defining statement in modern cello playing." Around Britten CD – Sinfini, 2013

Matthew's musical world is one of adventure, collaboration, and diversity.
One of the finest cellists of his generation, Matthew has appeared as soloist with orchestras and in recital in many great concert halls around the world, and is equally comfortable with improvisation, making music with Indian, Brazilian or Jazz musicians... or a classroom full of children.

Spontonality!

November 28th, 2016

One my most satisfying, profound and just downright musical improvisation experiences ever has been with a group named Spontonality that was dreamed up with old friend Tim West, who then organised it with creativity and flair so five of us ended up in the most beautiful place imaginable for an impro week in Cornwall – Kestle Barton studios. We explored all the possible different combinations of the five of us – all the solos, duos, trios and quartets, with Tim on piano, Tony woods on saxes, Julian Bliss on clarinets, and Torbjorn Hultmark on trumpet/soprano trombone/electronics/bird noises/shouting/coffee mug and chair. There were moments of sublime magic, utter madness, serene happiness, funk/12tone/free jazz and everything in between. Here is the last 10′ of the week on soundcloud if you want a listen – and let me know what you think.

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A Love Affair Continues…

November 20th, 2016

Yes, I really do love India! The colours, the food, the history, the smiles, the languages, the religions, the light and the darkness, and, of course, the music. My first trip there was in the early ‘90s when a 5-week tour with the British Council and a small chamber group exploded into my young consciousness. I came back with a huge haul of cassettes to listen to, and that was when the love affair began. I have worked with many Indian musicians since, the most rewarding and exciting certainly being a collaboration that began with sarod-master Ustad Amjad Ali Khan in 2000 in the Royal Festival Hall. This continued with many concerts in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and India, often including his sons, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan.

In September I was back in the Royal Festival Hall for the latest chapter of this musical journey for a performance in the Darbar Festival, with 4 musicians from the Philharmonia Orchestra and Niladri Kumar (sitar), Rakesh Chaurasia (bansuri – wooden flute), Jayanthi Kumaresh (saraswati veena) and Ghatam Karthick (ghatam – the clay pot): 4 of the most exceptionally talented of the younger generation of Indian classical musicians, making a name for themselves worldwide.

In 2015, when this project began to brew, I started thinking about the way to make a meaningful meeting between the two greatest classical traditions in the world – those of Europe and India – and thought that the creation, as well as the performance of the music had to be shared between east and west. Often it is the case that Indian musicians have provided musical material, and western musicians have arranged it for orchestra or other ensemble and I have often been disappointed with the results. So I called old friend and running-mate Fraser Trainer, with whom I have done a huge number of creative projects around the world and we began to collect ideas and ingredients.

The recipe we hit upon began with a visit to India (see previous blog) with the Philharmonia musicians, meeting the instrumentalists we were to eventually work with, and playing together, sometimes improvising, sometimes learning their melodies and rhythms, and sometimes sharing some of our music. We made really good connections there, and Fraser started to collect material for our final piece. Over the next year or so, there was a lot of communication between us all by email, skype and file sharing; Fraser and I bashed out a structure for the piece, and slowly a kind of skeleton for the piece emerged. I would say that we started with about 15’ of music already composed, and then during a 5-day rehearsal period leading to the concert we added lots of musical flesh, and ended with a piece of nearly an hour. That final week had been very intense, but full of a wonderful sense of co-creation, and lots of laughter and discovery. The concert itself was one of the most excting I have taken part in – in many ways it was the fruit of 20 years of searching and thinking and collaborating and I was extremely proud of the result. Two reviews here and here sum it up well.

Here’s hoping there are many more chapters to come.

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My most exotic programme…

May 17th, 2016

Next Monday I play a very exotic programme in Portsmouth…well, exotic for me, which, in this case, is Schumann, Beethoven, Janacek and Brahms. I think it’s about 20 years since I have played a programme with nothing contemporary, electronic, Indian, Brazilian, improvised, or just generally weird. So it’s been a great joy to immerse myself in some of the greatest music ever written for cello and piano. I’m joined by Alasdair Beatson, (“Artistry incarnate – that was Beatson” Sunday Times) who is a truly magnificent pianist and musician, to explore the intimacies of Schumann, the lonely genius of late Beethoven, the ecstatic excesses of Janacek, and the sheer comforting beauty of Brahms. Part of the wonderful Music in the Round on Tour which is a great honour for me. Tickets here.

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Charhdi Kala

January 29th, 2016

 

Imagine, in the course of a week, meeting, say, Colin Currie, Danielle de Niese Hilary Hahn, Piotr Anderszewski, Pekka Kuusisto, Laurence Power, Avi Avital, Mahan Estafani and a handful of others. Not only do you meet them, but you get to hear them all play for you in a private and relaxed setting, and then they talk to you about their musical world, years of training and philosophy of making music, after which you spend a couple of hours making music with them. That is a pretty close parallel for what I recently experienced in India, with 12 of their greatest musicians whose names I think would be unknown to our Western classical audience, but I’ve printed them all below for those interested.

It was breathtaking and inspiring. I met musicians who had experienced waking at 2.30 every morning and practising until 5 am, then from 7 – 10 and once again in the afternoon: this particular musician, Bagauddin Dagar, spoke of only practising slow scales in his early morning stint to such a degree that the conscious mind disappeared and he felt completely at one with his deity – a perfectly Buddhistic meditative experience where he simply disappears and becomes the music. (He also demonstrated flawlessly how he divides a tone into 14 equal parts.) And Kala Ramnath, violinist, who studied with a legendary singer and spent years perfecting every little nuance of his virtuosic shakes and decorations. At one stage she only slept four hours a night and either practised or thought about the music for all the other 20 hours – she even said that she practised in her sleep. And Kaushiki Chakraborty, the singer who developed a 3 octave range without a break in the voice through working 7 – 9 hours a day all through her childhood – something most Western singing teachers would say could only ruin your voice for ever. Then there is Ravikiran, who did his first public performance aged two, and a host of other extraordinary musicians and human beings.

I am reminded that India is the country of the Saddhus who, to take one celebrated example, might hold their arm in the air for two years until it totally atrophied and cannot any longer be lowered, or another who hopped around the coast of India, or one who spent a lifetime up a tree. This is a country of extremes, but – crucially – never gratuitously. There is a purpose to this, in the case of the Saddhus it is to get closer to god, and in the case of some of the musicians it is the same, and even if they wouldn’t put it into the same words, their pursuit of perfection in music feels like the same journey. Jayanthi Kumaresh describes the journey back to the tonic in music being one of return to the supreme consciousness. Giridhar Udupa, master of the Ghatam (a clay pot to the uninitiated) performs complex arithmetical sums at the speed of light to determine which patterns he will play in his oh-so-intricate totally-off-piste solos to arrive back on the first beat at precisely the right point – all with a huge smile on his face.

So what was the point of all this except to make me feel like I’m a complete musical beginner? Well, it’s the first stage of a collaboration with the Philharmonia Orchestra and UK-based Darbar Festival (the biggest Indian music festival outside India) which will culminate in a performance at the Royal Festival Hall next September 16th to open SouthBankCentre’s classical music season.

I have taken part in many wonderful collaborations over the years, and they usually feel rushed – there is a concert deadline looming and it feels like there is insufficient time to dig in and assimilate a new language, process it, and come up with something that is greater than the sum of its parts: this one is already different. The Arts Council and British Council funded this phase of R&D, so I travelled with a couple of Philharmonia musicians and composer Fraser Trainer, and work will continue over the next 10 months to create the new work. Some of our workshops were attended by journalists, funders and others, and there was a very excited response. Everyone could feel that something special was beginning. (Gulp….hope we can deliver!)

We are aiming to find common ground as well as celebrate differences and Fraser Trainer is one of the keys to how this project will define itself. Usually I would collaborate with other performers without the presence of a composer, but I think the fact that we are bringing together the two most sophisticated classical traditions in the world means that we must represent the compositional side strongly as that has been the heart of our tradition for centuries.

In each session we listened to the Indian musician perform and then played for them before learning something from their world – melody, or rhythmic pattern. Sometimes these were astonishing difficult for our western ears – in certain melodies the level of ornamentation is so, so complex that I could only learn a few notes in, say, 15 minutes. And then would have forgotten it half an hour later! But the satisfaction of getting those few notes was immense and the cello can get very close to some of those sounds – I’m very much looking forward to practising this material. And then we would apply some of our compositional processes to bits of Indian music. This often involved layering different voices on top of each other in a way that Indian music doesn’t – we created some magical textures, and high points included a spontaneously created rendering of a Thumri style of song (with Kaushiki Chakraborty) with harmonic 4-part accompaniment; and listening to Bahauddin Dagar on Rudra Veena improvise over the chords of La Folia. We planted some seeds and time will tell how they germinate, but I learned a wonderful new word, Charhdi Kala, meaning eternal optimism. I’m totally full of Charhdi Kala.

I shall be posting updates over the coming months. Watch this space.

 

Praveen Godkhindi                        flute

Shashank Subramaniam             Carnatic flute

Anupama Bhagwat                        sitar

Udupa Giridhar                         ghatam

Guruprasanna                         khanjira

N Ravikiran                                    Carnatic chitra veena

Jayanthi Kumaresh                         saraswati veena

Kala Ramnath                         violin

Bahauddin Dagar                         rudra veena

Kaushiki Chakraborty             khayal vocal

Niladri Kumar                         sitar

Rakesh Chaurasia                         Hindustani flute

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Happy Birthday Joshua!

December 7th, 2015

My dear nephew is 10 today, out in California. I miss him, and one of the high points of next year will be some work on the West coast – can’t wait to see you Joshua, and have a great 10th Birthday! Love you! Uncle Matthew

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