Call in to say to cello

Cellist Matthew Barley
Cellist Matthew Barley
Share this article

Described as the most adventurous cellist in the world, what does globe-trotting Matthew Barley do to mark the birth of Benjamin Britten one hundred years ago?

Well, be adventurous – extremely adventurous!

At present, cello in hand, he is halfway through 12 months of gallivanting all over the UK, including to a number of unlikely destinations, to perform the same programme of music (all solo) at 55 concerts and engaging in 45 workshops – yes, the total is 100.

Peak Cavern (Devil’s Arse) this Friday isn’t necessarily the most extreme concert venue he is performing in with such places as a nature reserve and lighthouse on his itinerary, while there is hardly a more improbable place for a workshop than a Glasgow prison.

Dropping off points are generally more conventional from established to less obvious locations on his travels, which began on January 9 and end at Britten’s home in Aldeburgh on December 4.

On the composer’s birthday, November 22, he performs the concert in Sheffield at Upper Chapel as part of the city’s A Boy Was Born festival.

“The impetus was wanting an unusual way to celebrate one hundred years of Britten,” explains the always-enthusiastic Barley, a former High Storrs schoolboy who used to live in Endcliffe.

“I’ve always found it interesting that instead of going to one of the big metropolis cities, he goes for a tiny little town (Aldeburgh) in out of the way Suffolk to create a festival.

“So it’s a sort of tribute to what was such a bold move, taking the programme to lots of out of the way places up and down the country. I’ve done 25 concerts so far and have been amazed by the response.

The five-item concert programme is built round Britten’s Third Cello Suite which draws its inspiration from the Kontakion, the Russian Hymn of the Dead.

By commissioning pieces on the themes of pre-life (from Dai Fujikura), after-life (Jan Bang) and reincarnation (James MacMillan) a programme was created that covered the life cycle of the soul, the theme of life posing no problems: Bach’s Suite No 5.

Being Matthew Barley it is unlikely to happen, but despite the Fujikura and Bang (improvised) pieces allowing artistic flexibility, is there a risk of over-familiarity and repetition?

“I’ve never played the same programme so many times. As I say, I’ve done 25 concerts so far and there’s no hint of getting bored. It gets more and more fascinating. I’m just starting to get to know it.”