Matthew Barley/Cellist

Music is the hidden arithmetical exercise of a mind unconscious that it is calculating.


Best Musical Week of my Life?

I just had the most wonderful week that I can remember! It started last Sunday in Manchester when I premiered Fraser Trainer’s concerto for cello and orchestra. The context was interesting: a multi media celebration of the 250th anniversary of the Bridgewater Canal…’a canal?’ you say…Yes, a canal. Amazingly, it was brilliant. There were two actors reading a brilliant script by Di Sherlock about the making and history of the canal, which, believe me, was totally absorbing, and there were 5 primary schools singing songs they had helped create. I had a small group of improvisers from the BBC Philharmonic who were excellent – we have worked together a lot over the years and they are developing into very fine improvisers indeed; and then there were 5 movements for cello and orchestra (with the full BBC Phil). The most exciting thing about this last element for me was that around half of my part was improvised, which was a first for me – with an orchestra – and it was incredibly good fun – so many sounds to play with and communicate with. Such a buzz. Then a London day on Monday to practice my way back into the Peasant Girl programme with Viktoria and then down to Southampton on Tuesday to Turner Sims Hall. It’s a good hall, slightly too live in the bass, but we worked our way around it and the public were just great – so warm and attentive. We all reckoned it was one of the best concerts we’ve done, which, after around 20, was exciting in itself – there was a flow that was very satisfying, and a freedom with material we had not found before. It was a late night, driving back to London, and a very early start as I was back up in Manchester for two days of player training with members of the Manchester Camerata. It was the first time I’d worked with them, and they are obviously an impressive lot. During the two days they made incredible progress. It was set up as a pilot project to start improvising with them, and the the difference between the beginning of day 1 and the end of day 2 was just wonderful! We had some great playing going by the end, and there is a unique pleasure for me from seeing a group of players grow into a new skill they thought they didn’t have. Also amazing for me is to reflect on how hard this kind of training day was 20 years ago, and how now it just seems like a breeze! I’m sure it’s partly that I’m better at what I do, but the climate seems so different – improvising is not the big deal it used to be. Hallelujah! Then a late train back to London on Thursday evening and a quick turn around before we drove to Bristol for a Peasant Girl performance at St George’s Brandon Hill. This one just blew us away, because not only did we manage to build on the place we had got to on Tuesday – more flow, more freedom, more communication – but the acoustic. Wow! There were passages where I heard everything totally clearly for the first time, in some bits of tricky balance between marimba, drums and piano and it was just so pleasurable. It’s like playing inside a huge musical instrument, and because it’s so responsive you try to make more colours and even more comes back to you, so you really up your game. The audience were wonderful, enjoying it as much as we were. Thank you to all involved in this heavenly week of music making!

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