StringSection Blog

Live performances

Cello Purchase Appeal

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

A couple of Sundays ago I attended a concert given by an amateur orchestra in Hertfordshire. Part of the reason was that a former pupil of mine was in the violin sections and I wanted to turn up to support him and to see how he was getting on with the orchestra’s challenging repertoire. The other reason was an attractive programme that included a favourite of mine, Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor (Op. 104).

Before the concert began I scanned through the programme notes, paying particular attention to the biographical notes of the solo cellist. I then noticed an insert into the programme and read this with particular interest. It went:



*** is playing a rare cello made in Cremona circa 1700 by Giovanni Battista Rugeri, a contemporary of Antonio Stradivari. *** has a once in a lifetime chance to buy it by November 2014! He urgently needs investors or a benefactor(s) to help him achieve this goal. It would be purchased by a trust of investors/shareholders (just like having a share in a house). This is not a short term project so investors must be willing to invest for 10 – 15 years and enjoy the benefit of potential capital appreciation and ***’s development as a top cellist.

 This ‘appeal’ posed a few questions as I could only assume that the instrument must be very valuable to justify it as a potential investment. Firstly, what must life be like, travelling on public transport with a six-figure sum perched on your back? I’d imagine you’d be watching over your shoulder, whether at home, in a café or backstage for a concert.

Secondly, would the instrument justify the price tag in terms of tone quality and the purpose it would be used for? In a solo setting or small chamber ensemble, perhaps. In an orchestra though, its tonal properties may not be fully realized. Often instruments of superior pedigree don’t always live up to their price tag so I was intrigued to hear it – on listening, I felt this one had a pleasing, mellow tone, but lacked definition in its lower register and had a more intimate character to it.

Thirdly, how could a player know how long they would need the cello for? They might decide that they want it for life, or hear another instrument that is obviously better, and desire that instrument instead. What if the investors all want to sell at different times? It all sounds a little bit complicated to me.

Also, perhaps the cellist has a  ‘…once in a lifetime chance to buy’ this particular cello, but that doesn’t apply to other instruments. And this brings me onto the crux of my point: what is wrong with a modern instrument by a maker who is not yet famous, but who is making wonderful  instruments with marvellous projection and tone quality? I’m sure that the best instruments do mellow, change, develop, even improve with age, but I’m equally sure that these same instruments were really good when they were newly made. In an interview in 1997 Gidon Kremer said ‘The sounds I produce are my own, not an instrument’s’, he insists.

‘I am in the lucky position of being able to choose from the best old Italian instruments, so why shouldn’t I? But I know I can play just as well on a good modern instrument even if it might prove more difficult than on a Strad or ‘Del Gesù’ without telling anybody, and the composer himself – who had heard his piece played on the older instrument 14 times that season – insisted that on that occasion it had sounded especially well!

I own two new violins made by the luthier Martin McClean of Moneymore, Northern Ireland. Both instruments were very reasonably priced for handmade instruments and this definitely challenges the view that a modern instrument can’t have all the qualities we as string players look for: complexity, sweetness, evenness and effortless projection. Buying new is also a good way of stimulating trade for the makers who are alive and working today – and thereby supporting this vital contribution to music. Only ever playing antique instruments is a bit like always listening to music by master composers who were alive 200 years ago, but refusing to listen to music of our own time.

‘Grains’ Album Launch at the Vortex Jazz Club

Monday, February 7th, 2011

On Monday 31st of January, four of us played as part of the launch night for the album ‘Grains’ by contemporary composer Jim Perkins.


The musicians were myself and Louise Bevan on violins, Adrian Smith on viola and Alexandra Mackenzie on ‘cello. The evening was largely devoted to Jim Perkins’s music which is experimental in nature and uses technology to help expand the sound palette. The main piece we were involved in was scored for string quartet, piano and laptop which contributed some startling sonic effects. The co-ordination between the real instruments and electronic sounds was achieved through the use of a click track played through headphones.

‘Grains’ is available from itunes and amazon and is released on the Bigo and Twigetti label.

Works for Piano, String Quartet….and laptops.

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

On Monday the 31st January, four of us will be joining contemporary composer Jim Perkins on stage to help launch his new album entitled ‘Grains’. Grains is a collection of alternative classical pieces written for solo piano, piano with electronica and strings with electronic sounds. A few months ago,  I helped record some of the upper string parts on one of the pieces, so it’s great to be part of the album launch with other colleagues. The other violin part will be played by Louise Bevan and we will be joined by Adrian Smith on viola and Alexandra Mackenzie on cello, all of whom play with the Manor House String Quartet. As we will be providing live strings to an accompaniment of electronic sounds played by a laptop, the four us of will be working with the other parts generated through headphones to keep the music rhythmically tight. The concert is taking place at the Vortex club in North London and the evening will also feature performances by pianist Ed Cohen, Ed Perkins, Lilith Gottfarb and Jeremy Keenan. There will be a display of live audio-visual work as well as performed music.

We look forward to collaborating with Jim on the 31st and wish him every success with the preparations towards the evening.

Concert at the Cadogan Hall for Soundaround

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

On Thursday night, a group of 10 players from String section (including the Manor House String Quartet at the core) were booked to perform as part of a very special concert, held by the charity Soundaround who produce audio magazines for sight impaired people.

The music was conducted by the contemporary English composer Philip G. W. Henderson who we worked with last year recording ‘Magic Wood’ – a suite of atmospheric music for string ensemble.

The evening was formatted with pieces of music interspersed with interviews of the composer and performers who included Steve Hackett on guitar, singers Neil Latchman and Pia Sukanya and pianist Dhevdhas Nair.

Our performers included myself (Vaughan Jones) on violin, along with Louise Bevan, Gabrielle Painter, Judith Templeman and Ruth Funnell. The violas were played by Adrian Smith and Reiad Chibah, with Julia Graham and Emma Black on ‘Cellos. We were joined by double bassist Ben Russell who was great to work with.

As we had already rehearsed the quartet parts previously, the day was mainly focused on the works written for 10 piece string ensemble (the majority of the programme). The performances were a success with the group sounding very strong and every player having some intricate solos which emerged from the textures at various points.

We very much look forward to working with Philip again in the future!