Talking with Teije

Talking with Teije

In the upcoming Taste of Omega lunchtime concert, we welcome back cellist Teije Hylkema. Teije has been performing with Omega for a number of years now and in this very special concert he is presenting some of the highlights of the cello repertoire, including the 'holy grail' of cello repertoire, one of Bach's Cello Suites. Samuel Cottell caught up with Teije ahead of the concert to talk Bach and playing for Royalty. 

Teije Hylkema is the Principal Cellist of the Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, and has worked as a guest principal with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the Tasmanian Symphony Orche, and in close collaborations with violinist Andrew Haveron, accordionist James Crabb, and didgeridoo player William Barton. Before moving to Australia in 2012, Teije was co-principal at the Radio Kamer Filharmonie. Teije is a dedicated chamber music player, both on modern and baroque cello, performing in chamber music festivals in Europe and in Australia. Teije has also performed for the Dutch Royal in Holland and his cello was once patched up in Baghdad by a man called Muhammed Ali.

We caught up with Teije ahead of the final "A Taste of Omega" concert to talk about his life as a cellist. 

Could you tell us a little bit about your journey as a musician, so far. How did you start out playing cello and what drew you to living and working in Australia?

My sisters and brother all played the violin. Plus my mother played the flute. I needed to balance out all that treble-register. So cello it was for me ... My wife is Australian and she lived with me in The Netherlands for 8 years. Its only fair that I spend some time here ; ) But in all seriousness: Its been great being here: I enjoy my job as Principal Cellist of OA Orchestra and I am grateful to have gotten many performing opportunities.

I understand that you have played before the Dutch Royal family? Could you tell us a little bit about that and what it was like?

I played for them on a couple of occasions: Once with my orchestra, The Radio Chamber Philharmonic with our chief Jaap van Zweden and another time with Nynke Laverman who is a Dutch Fado singer. Its always a great honour to play for your King and Queen. I recently had the pleasure of meeting them again in Sydney on their Australian Tour.

Your cello has travelled all over the world with you and was once repaired by a man called Muhammad Ali. Could you tell us a bit about that story?

My cello recently celebrated its 100th birthday, it’s from 1916. It was built in Buenos Aires by Camillo Mandelli, an Italian immigrant. You’ re right, it has been patched up in Baghdad at some point in the 60s by a Muhamed Ali. I would love to follow the trail around the world that it’s made in 100 years, it would be very interesting.. maybe one day when I’m retired, haha

In this program with Omega, you are performing Bach’s Cello Suite, No.2 in D minor. I understand these are considered a sort of the holy grail of cello repertoire. Why is this so and why do you think these pieces are adored by both musicians and audiences like?

As you may or may not know, I love engineering, building and everything technical (I am a licensed mechanic among other things.) That’s why Bach’s music really resonates with me, it combines all the elements that I like: construction, logic, beauty and simplicity. After each practise I can’t help but marvel at his craftsmanship.

The Cello Suites weren’t considered ‘works’, but rather ‘studies’ prior to Casals performing and recording them? Do you think it was his performances that changed this or was there something else that was discovered?

Casals definitely put the Suites on the map by first performing them and recording them and this brought them to a wider audience. I suppose it's similar to how Jacqueline Dupré’s recorded  Elgar's Cello Concerto and gave it more exposure. 

There’s be a lot of speculation about the cello suites in regards to their source, since we don’t have a handwritten version by Bach (as they were copied by his wife). Is this something that is considered when you are learning these works and how you approach them with this in mind?

I use an edition with Anna Magdalena’s handwritten manuscript. I suspect lots of it was written down in great hurry as the bowings are often inconsistent. So it’s good to have as a reference but I don’t follow it literally. On the subject of authenticity: I like to practise and perform with a baroque cello and bow but on this occasion I have chosen to go with a modern sound, so I will play on steel strings with my Sartory bow.

You regularly work in chamber music and with orchestras. What’s the main difference in giving a performance of a solo work in comparison to orchestral and chamber music?

When you are the only person on stage you can basically do whatever you like.As more people join on stage in chamber music you may find that you have to compromise on ideas but at the same time you also get inspired by one another.

An orchestra is a totally different ball game: You are a part of a bigger entity that realizes the conductors ideas, not necessarily your own. However there is nothing like the team spirit you experience in an orchestra playing a wonderful symphony or an opera!

One of the other works on the program is Brahms’ Trio, op.114. The cello here has quite a prominent role. Is this something that usually happens in a trio setting or was Brahms doing something special in this work?

All I can say is that Brahms uses the cello very well in his chamber music. Come to the concert and see if you agree!

As well as playing Bach, Teije also does a top notch interpretation of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean: 

See Teije in concert with Maria Raspopova and David Rowden as they present the final performance in the "Taste of Omega Series" at City Recital Hall. Escape the busy city in your lunch break and relax with a course of classical music, served by Australia's finest musicians.