Nelson Cooke

Friday, 28 June 2013

The former principal cellist of the London Symphony and Royal Philharmonic orchestras offers his words of wisdom

It is nearly impossible to stop the big talents from succeeding because they have this hunger

The best piece of advice I’ve ever heard is something that Pablo Casals said: ‘Don’t just play the cello, say something with it.’

If an audience doesn’t like your playing, it’s your fault not theirs. You should know what’s wrong – otherwise you wouldn’t be there in the first place – so go home and fix it.

As a principal cellist, you should know that it’s not the ‘I’ but the ‘we’ that matters, and that a performance is a joint exercise with the conductor and every other section.

The secret of giving a great performance is to be thoroughly prepared, to be mentally and physically fit, and not to rush about on the day of the concert. Arrive well before the performance, talk to no one and go over the music slowly and carefully. And have your big dinner after the concert!

I tell all my students that learning the cello will take a lifetime, and that it might even mean forfeiting their youth. It is nearly impossible to stop the big talents from succeeding because they have this hunger. It is something they are bound to above all else.

I have known a lot of fine musicians in my time, and the greatest of them have been the most humble and down-to-earth people. Their character has been self-evident not just to me but to audiences because the performance of music is a mirror of the musician.

First published in The Strad, September 2011. Download the issue here, and subscribe to the magazine here

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