Sam Cottell's interview with Dutch Cellest, Teije Hylkema
Well, first off could you tell us a little bit about your cello and what you love most about it?
My cello is a Camillo Mandelli, built in Buenos Aires, 1916. So this is a special anniversary year because it just became 100 years old! I love the sound and the shape - it’s a Montagnana model with a beautiful big bottom. What is quite interesting is that it has a repair patch which was signed “Mohamed Ali, Baghdad 1968” In those times Baghdad was very mondain and had its own symphony orchestra. How times have changed.
Teije first discovered Elgar’s cello concerto when he was a student in Amsterdam Conservatory and is he is enjoying re-visiting the work for his upcoming performance. “My teacher at the time was Dmitri Ferschtman, who helped me understand the beauty of this work. I then performed it with the Dutch National Youth Orchestra. It’s interesting to pick it up after all those years and to see how my ideas about it have changed, or actually, how I had no idea back then…,” he says.
So, what is it about the Elgar Cello Concerto that gets cellists, and audiences, so excited?
I think it is Jacqueline Jacqueline du Pré. Only after she performed and recorded it in 1960 it became really popular. Her powerful, raw-emotional virtuosic rendition gave the piece the cult status that it has now. Somehow I think she became the embodiment of the concerto and in a way the concerto also reflects her tragic fate.
When you are preparing and studying the concerto what is your approach and how to you get ‘inside’ the music and is there a process you go through during this learning and internalising the music?
First of all you have to learn the text obviously. Also I like to listen to recordings to get ideas for my interpretation. Learning the music is a matter of repetition, practising the difficult passages over and over again and playing it through until you reach a stage where you are free of technical difficulties and can allow yourself to be spontaneous on stage.
There is a sense of haunting and melancholy in this work- how does Elgar achieve this and what about the writing for the cello makes this such an emotional and introspective work?
There is definitely the melancholic element but for me the word nobilmente, written as an expression mark in both the 1st and 4th movement is a keyword in this concerto. The grand, quasi ad libitum opening of the first movement and the beginning and very end of last movement are the noble fundaments on which this concerto is built, with the end being the pivotal climax of the piece. In between these pillars we are led from drama and hope to lighthearted brilliance to molto espressivo tenderness. It is very well written for the cello, in the right register to let the sonorous sound of the cello shine.
Balancing a cello against an orchestra is a difficult task for any composer, but in this work Elgar seems to have got it exactly in the right spot - how does the smaller chamber version of the piece compare to the full orchestral one and do you have to approach it in a different way for a chamber version of the work?
This version allows for a more chamber music-like approach. I can use bowings that would not work with a big orchestra but that serve the phrases better. For example I can play the famous theme of the first movement, that is said to depict the hills of the English countryside, in one bow per bar instead of having to split it up in order to create the sound that is necessary to overpower a big orchestra.
What are you most looking forward to about performing as a featured soloist with Omega Ensemble?
It’s always an honour to be a concerto soloist, even better to be sharing the stage with my Omega friends. I am very much looking forward to the concert and sharing a drink with everyone afterwards, of course.
Find out more about Elgar's Cello Concerto, Omega Ensemble's third concert in their 2016 Virtuoso Series. Tickets on sale now and can be booked via cityrecitalhall.com or the Box Office on (02) 9258 2222.
Don’t miss out on this stunning work that will leave you breathless !
- Samuel Cottell