Judith Mitchell cellist

CV: Performing and Teaching

2. Performance career - some personal reflections.

Stylish Beginnings

I started, as most of my generation, learning and playing in the style of the moment: wide, expressive vibrato, strong, even tone, (don't ask about my intonation in my early years!) - a modern, 'American' style was then the current desirable aim. My approach to music from all periods was utterly romantic, subjective and highly emotionally expressive. I tried always to experience and convey the spirit of the music and the composers' wishes, for which I owe thanks to enlightened teaching and also to playing so much music with experienced musicians as I grew up.

Rehearsals and performances in this 'modern' style with the trio at UCNW, Bangor, Ann Rees, Quatrocelli and various orchestras, were a great pleasure and the experience was inspiring. I have continued to develop and refine this approach, pushing it to the technical limits and always seeking to discover more about what I am trying to express in my playing. And of course that means expanding my musicianship too, from basic aural skills to details of style and historical colour. As I learned more about historically informed playing, and as the research in this area revealed more and more, it has been fascinating to consider my interpretation of many pieces all over again, deciding how to communicate this with a modern set-up, or whether to use period instrument and bows instead. Each approach influences the other and in the end it all comes down to Emmanuel Krivine's wise words: 'our… recording does not aspire to be an 'authentic interpretation' but an 'authentic interpretation', (from his introduction to his absolutely wonderful recordings of the Beethoven symphonies with La Chambre Philharmonique, on period instruments and backed up by extensive research).

Contemporary Music

My first real acquaintance with contemporary music arose during my first job as resident cellist in the trio at UCNW, Bangor, (although, had I had time over and above a dual study programme, Alan Hacker's contemporary music ensemble provided opportunities at the Royal Academy of Music too), when the composer Jeff Lewis set up a contemporary music group. There was a space for a cellist that I filled - and became hooked. Here were endless challenges, new ground, relevance, ferment and above all vibrant, exciting music arising from the world, events and concerns around us. William Matthias then commissioned two works for solo cello, with funds from the Welsh Arts Council - John Buller's Scribenery and Richard Rodney Bennett's Scena II. This was a real thrill and a first taste of working with the composers themselves (utterly nerve-wracking!). Norwich presented some similar experiences, notably through John Hopkins and also Philip Mead, to whom I am most grateful for introduction to Alejandro Viñao for his piece Triple Concerto and all that that led to.

Developments really blossomed when I moved back to London and came into contact with a huge range of music, players and approaches through playing with groups including the London Sinfonietta, Gemini, Almeida, Music Projects/London, among many others. Each group had its own preferences and choice of music for commission and performance and this gave me a wide perspective for future choices of my own. James Wood's Centre for Microtonal Music, and the ensemble Critical Band that arose from it, broadened this experience further still. The focus of this organisation was the vast and intriguing field of music with (so-called) microtonal intervals and tuning, along with the attendant endeavours to play it (occasionally something of a nightmare!). In 1993/4 I was awarded a grant from the Arts Council of Great Britain to explore the use of electronics in overcoming the undoubted difficulties that microtonal music presents to string players. Today, the gadgets that support this learning are much cheaper and more readily available, so tunings of all kinds can be learned and played more easily by anyone.

I really do love solo work, though, as well as working with other like-minded solo chamber music players in my group Interfusion, and these have been the mainstay of my playing for a while now. The music I play can contain live and recorded electronics, all sorts of tunings and intervals, extended bowing techniques including double bowing, and anything else that is musically and technically feasible. The commissioning of collaborative projects with composers became, and still is, the best of it for me, extending as it does both musical and technical possibilities together.

See my short CV and Repertoire for a list of these commissioned works and those of many other composers whose music I have enjoyed rehearsing and performing, together with concert tours, broadcasts and CD recordings.

See also my teaching and workshop/lecture demonstrations sections because, for me, all this wouldn't count for much unless it were connected with sharing it all and passing on necessary information and know-how to other musicians, whatever their level of playing/listening and whatever their involvement in music.

Historically informed playing on period instruments - eighteenth to early twentieth centuries

B.Mus studies with Thurston Dart, Arthur Jacobs, Eric Thiman and Geoffrey Pratley included the exploration of the history of stringed instruments and instrumental techniques, with special reference to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. I particularly remember Thurston Dart playing away at the harpsichord and showing us how early fingering (no thumb or fourth finger in this case) affects the phrasing, and vice versa. That demonstration of the link between instrumental craft and music was a revelation and still inspires me.

Playing in ten Handel operas as continuo cellist for Unicorn Opera Group Abingdon was another seminal experience. When I joined the group we were all playing in a modern style on modern instruments. We then began experimenting with aspects of period instruments and techniques, and we graduated bit by bit - with a certain amount of discussion, trial and error - to as 'authentic' a style as research at that time had identified.

In 1989 I found myself playing in the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for The Marriage of Figaro at Glyndebourne (conductor Simon Rattle), immediately followed (not even a day's transition, just a whopping great change of gear!) by playing in the same opera on modern instruments in a modern style for the Glyndebourne touring company (conductor Peter Maxwell Davis). This was another fascinating experience that, for me, posed many questions and provided much stimulus for creative thought about instruments, techniques and musical performance.

This whole field has developed by leaps and bounds and is still doing so, and it has been of great interest to rethink and develop my interpretation and playing of music of the late eighteenth, nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the light of both recent research and the primary sources that have emerged. We can listen to recordings of early twentieth century players, too, which is the ultimate food for thought. See my Articles and Recommendations section for latest enthusiasms in the recording line particularly, especially featuring those players who realise that, if we stop that persistent wide vibrato, we must develop the musical imagination to conjure exquisitely flexible phrasing and colour brought about by the ultimate in expressively varying bowing tone and control. And we need a good portion of our 'ten thousand hours of practice' (said to be needed to learn an instrument well) to achieve it, we really do. Incidentally, this extension of bowing technique mirrors the study of contemporary music exactly and the two are mutually enhancing.

At the centre of it all, however, whether we play in ultra-'historical', ultra-'modern', or modern style influenced by 'historic ideas', or any glorious shade in between, the goal is always the same: to bring the music to life. There is nothing else.