Musician of the Month: George Ross
What drew you to the cello?
Being the youngest of four boys, I was eager to learn an instrument as soon as possible, with my three elder brothers already well on their way, the house filled with instruments, and a constant din of “musical” noise. I started the piano at five, a skill I never really managed to improve on during my subsequent eleven years of study. I began playing the violin shortly after, but hearing the beautiful sounds that my eldest brother was able to create on the cello from the other room, it took me a further two years to quit the violin and ask my parents for cello lessons instead! If it weren’t for the inspiration my brother had experienced, listening to my father and Steven Isserlis rehearsing in our music room, and subsequently me hearing the effect that this had on his clear love for the instrument, I might still be playing the violin today, and badly for that matter.
Do you feel that delving into the historical development of the cello informs your performances?
I think that any form of knowledge I acquire from reading or finding out something about my instrument that I didn’t know before has a huge effect of how I play and perform. I have to say, that I get most of my inspiration from concerts and playing with incredible musicians, but I have also learned invaluable lessons about numerous aspects of my instrument from some incredible teachers and coaches that I’ve had the had the privilege of working with. Most recently, my time with Jaap ter Linden in The Hague since September has been immensely eye-opening to what really can be done with a “baroque” cello when teamed with such an informed master of the instrument.
Is there a difference to the approach and writing for the cello in the baroque period to later musical periods?
As in any period of music, the great composers of the baroque period were being inspired and influenced by the diversity of music and musical language around them and it took a few brave and determined individuals to convince their peers that the cello could speak this language as a solo instrument. Unlike in later periods where our best sonatas and concertos were written not by cellists but by pianists, with an urge to use the cello in a way that their virtuoso contemporaries of the instrument made it possible to do, composers of the baroque period did not necessarily start out as cellists, but as rounded musicians with a firm knowledge of harmony, counterpoint and the musical language around them, ready to transfer that understanding to an instrument, still early in its existence as a solo instrument, but able to show the public what the cello was capable of.
What are you up to at the moment? Are you still studying?
Currently, I’m doing my masters at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague where I am having lessons with Jaap ter Linden. Jaap is incredibly generous and caring in his teaching methods, and surprises me every time I see him, so attentive at every moment, carefully but clearly taking apart every note I play to him. I leave each lesson with new ideas that affect my approach to my practise and the way I present each piece of music that I perform. I am also surrounded by many other amazing musicians, students and teachers included, that I may not have met, had I have stayed in London for my masters. It’s always a breath of fresh air, experiencing something different, and I don’t believe I am missing out on anything I still want to be involved in London during my time here, in The Hague.
What have been the highlights of Handel House Talent so far?
So far, we had a really successful meeting at the beginning of the scheme, where we were introduced to everyone else on the scheme and all of the people at Handel House who are making this all possible. It was great to spend time with the other musicians, most of which I was happy to discover that I already knew and have played with before, but also to get the chance to listen to everyone play, so that we understood what we are all like, on stage, as performers. I’m looking forward to my first recital at Handel House this week with a harpsichordist on the scheme, Marie, who I know, and have played with during my time at the RCM. I’m glad that Handel House talent has given us the opportunity to play together again and I look forward to performing in this intimate space again with my programme of French-baroque cello sonatas.