Friday 20 May - Sunday 29 May 2016
Jo Quail ©Kit Gerritts

Bath International Music Festival talks to internationally acclaimed cellist Jo Quail ahead of her performance at Party In The City 2016…

April 29, 2016

How did you get started with your music career?

I’m a cellist, composer and mum from London. I’ve got quite an unusual musical career as I write and perform my own music largely, and travel the world to play my concerts. I also do session performances or recordings for a diverse artist base from opera to hip hop and I love it.

I never wanted to play the cello! But luckily for me, my career wasn’t dictated by a choice I made aged four and a half. I was very fortunate to be in a primary school in inner London that participated in a scheme run by the Centre for Young Musicians, whereby cello and violin lessons were offered to primary aged children, and when the initial letter came home in my bag outlining these lessons I said a resounding no. One term later a gap appeared in the cello group, and I went along with my friend in order to escape some other activity in the school day, and here I am now! Without doubt it was the brilliant, enlightened and what I now recognise as freeing approach of the teachers, especially my teacher Vicky Miller that inspired me continuously and enabled me to sculpt my own career as a solo cellist and composer.

When I first started playing my solo concerts I used to feel fraudulent standing on stage saying I was a cellist, as I’d never played a big concerto with an orchestra, in fact I’d never really played professionally at all prior to this point. Even though I was in the grimy dives of North London I still felt this inadequacy, I’d get terribly nervous and shaky-bowed, and even now contemplating my forth solo album, many EU dates and sixth tour of Australia I still have a sense of this now and then. I think it keeps things real for me though, I am more confident now in my abilities and more importantly I’ve reached this glorious understanding that there is more than one way to be a professional cellist!

What or who have been your biggest influences?

The inspiration for my writing is pretty much un-boundaried, it’s whatever moves me, with music obviously being the main point I’d say. I’m a huge fan of Bach, Debussy, Pärt, Kodály, Tavener and Bartók, and these sit happily alongside my outright love of Whitesnake, Jane’s Addiction and Nine Inch Nails to name but a few. I find poetry inspirational, certain concepts in psychology too (mainly Jung!) and art as well – especially Mucha. Another massive influence is the landscape around me. My latest album ‘Five Incantations’ (some of which I’ll play for you) is a prime example of this. ‘Five Incantations’ firmly began life in Australia, during my tour in 2015. When I am in Australia I somehow feel able to connect to a more vital or spiritual source.

Beyond Australia, back home in the UK my friends are a constant source of inspiration to me.  I have many great colleagues and  friends in both musical and non-musical careers, all of whom are constantly supportive, offering words of wisdom, unbiased opinions and direction, thoughtful comment and at times wine! All of this is part and parcel of what I do, I feel my friends make my music with me, and I feel very lucky to have their support, their energy and their time.

Have you spent much time in the city of Bath?

Not much time, but I’ve absolutely loved each visit! I have a very good friend and collaborator who lives in Bath, poet Mohan Rana. We perform spoken word and improvised music concerts together, it’s something very special indeed. I’ve actually been to St Michael’s on my last visit to Mohan, though I didn’t realise at the time I’d be playing here so now I’m really excited!

What are you currently listening to?

Right now I’m listening to music by Rose McDowall as I have two session performances coming up for her and I need to learn it all again! I’m also preparing for a classical recital in Leipzig so I’m also listening to awful practice recordings I’ve made of the Kodaly sonata and two of the Bachs. But as far as what’s in my car, ‘Warrior’ by Anilah, absolutely beautiful, breathtaking and powerful, and a relatively obscure (these days) band Saraya (‘Saraya’ 1989), great female fronted rock group. That, and a daily dose of ‘Let It Go’ (my daughter is four!).

See Jo perform at St Michael’s Church Friday 20th May 9.30pm. Plan your night at Bath’s biggest FREE party here

Picture credit: Kit Gerritts

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