Laura van der Heijden has won an Edison Klassiek Award
The cellist joins a line of previous winners that includes Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim.
The cellist Laura van der Heijden has just won an Edison Klassiek Award for her debut album ‘1948’, which focuses on music for cello and piano from the Soviet era. The former Young Musician of the Year Winner (2012), together with the CD’s pianist Petr Limonov, was presented with the prize on Sunday November 11th at Amsterdam’s De Hallen, in a ceremony which was broadcast live on Dutch TV.
‘It is not often that a 21-year-old music student receives an Edison Klassiek Award, but we could not ignore the cellist Laura van der Heijden,’ said the jury statement. ‘Equally rare is that a cellist fills a debut album predominantly with Russian repertoire from after the Second World War.
We know Sergei Prokofiev, but who has heard of Yuri Shaporin? Laura van der Heijden places the two composers side by side and adds Myaskovsky and the 19th-century Lyadov. … Together with the Russian pianist Petr Limonov, Laura van der Heijden delves deep into the Slavic soul. We will doubtless hear a lot more from this cellist in times to come.”
Awarded annually for outstanding achievements in the music industry, the Edison Award is one of the world’s oldest prizes. Past winners across the Classical, Pop and Jazz/ World categories include Pierre Boulez, Daniel Barenboim, Igor Levit, Janine Jansen, Maxim Vengerov and Jean-Guihen Queryas.
Van der Heijden’s performance can be viewed here:
BBC Music Magazine
Recording of the Month
Why did you decide to wait a while after winning BBC Young Musician before recording?
There was quite a lot of expectation for me to start recording immediately after the competition, but I feel that recording is such a special and specific thing – the CD is around forever. I felt I needed to develop as a cellist, and I wanted to find a programme that really meant something to me. That’s what has happened. I feel very passionately about the music on this disc.
What is the appeal of Russian music in particular to you?
I started studying with the Russian cellist Leonid Ghorokov when I was 11, and my teacher before that was Marina Logie, whose father was an amazing Romanian-Russian cellist, so perhaps I feel close to Russian culture because of my teachers. I’m very interested in Russian literature because it’s so intense and colourful, and I’ve been learning Russian for five years. Then there’s the Russian school of playing: Daniil Shafran is my ideal cellist. So I don’t know if this was building up in my soul, or if there’s something about Russian music that draws me in.
How did you adapt to the recording process?
It was intense, but I was lucky enough to work with the Russian pianist Petr Limonov who has done so many recordings and was very supportive. He has a huge amount of knowledge about this repertoire. Another thing I love about working with him is that we quite often disagree. I find disagreements lead to a much deeper and more thorough interpretation of a work. It’s healthy and interesting.
30 SECONDS INTERVIEW: LAURA VAN DER HEIJDEN
Since winning BBC Young Musician in 2012 at the age of 15, cellist Laura van der Heijden’s career has gone from strength to strength.
Following her appearance on the long-running BBC competition, there’s been no shortage of accolades. In 2014, she was awarded the Landgraf von Hessen Prize at the Kronberg Academy’s prestigious international masterclasses, while the following year she was named Young Artist in Residence of the London Mozart Players.
Praised for her mesmerising performances and poised expression, Laura’s toured all over the world with the likes of the New Zealand National Youth Orchestra, BBC Proms Australia and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and kicked off 2018 with the release of her critically acclaimed debut recording, 1948.
Currently studying for her Bachelor’s Degree in Music at the University of Cambridge, the emerging talent splits her term-time between study and performance, and is gearing up for her Tokyo debut this August with the Dvorak Concerto.
Ahead of that, we catch up for a quick-fire round of questions to get to know her…
What was the first song you developed an obsession for?
When I was very little I listened to a CD, which had Let’s Twist Again on it, over and over again, whilst dancing, of course.
What’s the first gig you went to?
At about three months old I was taken to hear our local chamber orchestra, the Jupiter. I must have enjoyed it, since I didn’t cry or cause any problems.
What’s the first instrument you ever got hold of?
I started the recorder properly at four, but when I was two, I tried out my dad’s full-size cello and was quite excited by the scratchy sounds I was making!
What is your worst musical habit?
I procrastinate a lot, so starting practice is always a bit of an ordeal. Once I get going it’s fine!
What’s the best piece of musical advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s very hard to choose one piece of advice, as over the 15 years I’ve been learning the cello I’ve had lots of it! Different pieces of advice have been extremely helpful in different stages of my development; at the moment, the focus on trying to make the cello speak and sing is propelling me forwards.
Where do you discover new music?
The wonderful thing about music is that you come across it in every situation. I love finding out what other people listen to when I get to know them, and often ask them to make me Spotify playlists. I also enjoy going to concerts where I don’t know the music, and getting involved in projects to learn new pieces (ranging from choir to baroque cello).
What’s your favourite venue?
That’s very hard to choose. I just performed a BBC lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall, and the acoustic and atmosphere there is really wonderful to play in.
Who is your current favourite band/artist?
It depends in which genre! I am listening to a lot of jazz, funk, and chill-hop at the moment, but in the classical genre I tend to gravitate towards the ‘old greats’ like Daniil Shafran, Nathan Milstein, Fritz Wunderlich, Henryk Szeryng, Gregor Piatigorsky and many more.
What inspirations outside of music impact your playing?
I love finding inspiration everywhere; in nature, literature, films, relationships, even food!
What’s next for you?
I am in my second year of studying music at Cambridge University, so I have one more year left. During the holidays (and terms too) I am playing concerts. I’m especially looking forward to my debut in Tokyo, Japan with the Dvorak Concerto in August!
A tale of two cellists: Meet Laura van der Heijden and Sheku Kanneh-Mason
What are the chances? You wait years for debut albums by cello-playing former winners of the BBC Young Musician, then two come along at once.
2012 winner Laura van der Heijden was first out of the gates with 1948, an album reflecting that year’s purge of musicians in Stalinist Russia.
A decree by the congress of composers denounced the likes of Prokofiev and Shostakovich for writing “inexpressive, unharmonious” music that “smells strongly of the spirit of the modern bourgeois music of Europe and America”.
“You don’t really know about the effect of a decree like that if you just hear about it in history books,” explains van der Heijden. "But several composers were crying that day in the Moscow conservatory.
“It had a really huge effect on the musical community in Russia.”
Her album includes compositions by Prokofiev and Myaskovsky, while Shostakovich appears on Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s album via the cello concerto he performed to win 2016’s Young Musician competition.
His record, called Inspiration, also features interpretations of Bob Marley’s No Woman, No Cry and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah (which the cellist memorably performed at last year’s Bafta Awards).
“I put a lot of time into thinking about what I wanted to record,” he explains of the eclectic track listing. “I wanted to pick pieces that I’ve loved for a long time.”
Coincidentally, both musicians were educated in state schools, fitting their musical tuition around regular school hours.
“It was definitely the right decision,” says van der Heijden, “because if you’re a musician it’s so easy to end up only in music circles, which is perhaps not the best way to have a very open mind.”
Kanneh-Mason agrees: “I had a lot of time to play football at school, as well as doing maths and physics. It was wonderful to have that broader experience. I’m very grateful.”
The two musicians spoke about the challenges of making a debut album, and reflected on their experience of winning the BBC Young Musician title, in interviews with BBC News.
LAURA VAN DER HEIJDEN
It’s six years since you won BBC Young Musician. Why did you wait so long to put out a CD?
I felt it was really important to wait until I was ready, and that I had found a repertoire I was really passionate about.
This Russian repertoire means a lot to me because I’ve had many links with Russian culture through my cello teacher, Leonid Gorokhov, and I’ve learnt Russian – I’m still learning it!
What made you choose these works?
The subtitle of the CD is “In the shadow of 1948” because all of the pieces, apart from the Lyadov, are influenced by that year. My aim with the CD was to show the turbulence of that time, and how easily you could be in favour or out of favour with the government. Because Myaskovsky and Prokofiev both went from being incredibly popular composers to people who’d been banned from writing.
It’s so hard to imagine what that must have been like.
Something I’ve found really interesting is how different their responses were. Someone like Shostakovich – you can really hear the torment in his music. That cold oppression. Whereas in Prokofiev’s music, it’s slightly more subtle and hidden.
One of the things we actually struggled with in the interpretation of the Prokofiev sonata was knowing to what extent his writing was ironic or satirical. His melodies can be so sunny and naive and childlike – but [we had to decide] whether they were written with this undertone of “this is what we’re being forced to feel”.
Obviously, you can’t interrogate these composers on their intentions, so how did you approach that?
Partly research. You have to approach it from all sides – exploring different phrasings, different interpretations of certain lines. But in the end, you have to play what feels most natural to you.
Did you play them in concert first?
Absolutely. That’s another really important part of the recording process – because in performance, you change your view of pieces. There’s only so far you can go in a practice room.
You recorded the album with pianist Petr Limonov. How does he affect the way you play?
That was really wonderful – to play these [pieces] with a Muscovite, who knows this culture inside out, and who has this inherent knowledge of the Russian soul.
For example, his grandfather fought in wars in Russia and he’s had this experience of the turmoil of that time. As an outsider you can read about that, but you can never have direct experience. So playing with him was a great inspiration.
What’s your working relationship like?
We disagree quite a lot – and I think that’s very, very helpful for a working relationship because it means you dig deeper. The most interesting part of rehearsal begins when we start to argue our point of view. And usually at the end, we come up with something that neither of us had considered beforehand.
You started playing when you were six – and within four years you had a grade eight distinction not just on cello instrument but also the piano. How did you do it?
First of all, it’s quite a long time ago so I can’t really remember! But I’ve been incredibly lucky in my life to have a huge support system and a really fantastic first teacher [Marina Logie]. That’s so important – because so often people get to my age and move on to another teacher and have to start everything again.
Also, my parents were really supportive and encouraged me to practice – sometimes when I didn’t want to!
Now that you have your first album out “in the wild”, what’s next?
I’d really like to record the Walton Concerto, because that’s what I played in the BBC final and I feel very passionately about the music. It’s one of the most wonderful cello concertos out there, and it’s not played a huge amount, so I’d love to record it.
BBC Music Magazine
Music to my ears
What the classical world has been listening to this month
Laura van der Heijden, Cellist
I’ve been really enjoying Henryk Szeryng playing Schumann’s Violin Concerto – mainly the slow movement. He manages to be completely honest and pure in sound, while still being incredibly colourful. The slow movement is the epitome of this; it moves from being very tender to frustrated and agitated. His playing sounds completely naked – it’s very intimate and revealing. I think Schumann should be played with no pretences, as there’s so much emotion in every note.
I go through phases with my listening, and at the moment I’m in a jazz phase. I love Billie Holiday singing ’I’ll be seeing you’. It speaks so much about an emotion we’ve all felt before. Her voice is very raw, as opposed to Ella Fitzgerald, who is incredibly refined and does so much with her voice. I find Billie’s voice more immediate and perhaps less polished and refined, and I love that about it.
In a way, I feel like all I’ve been listening to for the last few weeks is Erroll Garner. He has so many recordings of the same song, but they all sound completely different. He’s one of the most refined jazz pianists – particularly with dynamics and textures. In ‘How could you do a thing like that to me?’ on the live album Concert by the Sea, he playes so quietly when the main theme of the song comes in and the whole audience goes mad.
I first heard Richard Strauss‘s tone poem Tod und Verklärung on a fast-moving train, and had one of those vivid and exhilarating mental videos going through my mind of racing through fields on a horse with thunderous clouds above. Strauss has a way of accessing these worlds, and has the ability to really change the listener’s state. You can really trace a linear emotional shape of the piece, and you feel emotions as extreme as the acceptance of death. It’s quite hard to make someone feel like that.
Hampstead Arts Festival
60 seconds with ... Laura van der Heijden
Since winning the BBC Young Musician Competition in 2012, Laura has been building a major solo career. In 2016 she played the Saint-Saëns Concerto No 1 in the inaugural concert of the BBC Proms Australia. In addition to concertising, she is currently an undergraduate at St. John’s College, Cambridge, and is an Ambassador for both the Prince’s Foundation for Children & the Arts and Brighton Youth Orchestra. Laura has performeded at the Hampstead Arts Festival in two previous seasons and, in November 2017, will appear as part of the Elie Ensemble.
How old were you when you first started playing the cello?
I was 6 years old.
What made you choose the cello over other instruments?
My dad is an amateur cellist and there is a fantastic cello teacher 5 minutes walk away from us! I also think that the cello really suits me more than other instruments.
Who has influenced your career most and why?
It’s impossible to name one person, as my career has been influenced by everyone involved! However, beginning with my teacher Leonid Gorokhov could be considered the real start of my desire to become a cellist.
What is the best piece of advice you could give a budding classical musician starting out?
Surround yourself with helpful, supportive people whom you trust and know will be honest with you. Never forget why you are doing what you are doing – it is a privilege to play such wonderful music as a job!
What is the largest and smallest audience you have played to?
The smallest audience would probably have been 1 animal – my dog, and the biggest has (I think) been at the Royal Festival Hall.
What is your favourite relaxation activity when not working?
I enjoy cooking, walking, reading and chatting to my friends!
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about the power of music in education and about chocolate! (And many more serious things too..)
If you were to have a dinner party, which 3 people who would you invite (dead or alive) and why?
I would invite my paternal grandmother and her father because I never got the chance to meet them. My great-grandfather was a conductor and I would really love to sit down with him and hear all his stories and how he felt about music. I would also love to meet Johannes Brahms and get to know his personality. Of course there are many more people that I would like to have at a dinner party – 4 is not a very big group!
Do you have a favourite gadget, if so what is it?
I hate to say it, but it would have to be my phone. I use it a lot to keep in touch with my friends as I don’t see them often and they are spread around the globe!
In an alternate universe, if you were not a classical musician what other profession would you go into?
I am tempted to say I would like to be/ could be an astrophysicist but that would be lying. I am very interested in psychology, so that would be my other option.
Laura van der Heijden’s progress from wunderteen to young professional has been achieved at a relaxed and steady pace – and it is only now, five years after her BBC Young Musician win, that she feels ready to release her first CD, writes Phillip Sommerich
Five years on from being shot to fame by winning the BBC Young Musician competition as a 15-year-old, Laura van der Heijden getting round to making her first recording.
Interviewers and critics invariably note the maturity and thoughtfulness the cellist displays in her words and music, and that applies to her choice of repertoire for the sessions with the Champs Hill label.
The repertoire for the album – Prokofiev’s cello sonata, Yuri Shaporin’s Five Pieces, Myaskovsky’s second cello sonata and Lyadov’s Prelude in B minor (that last an opportunity for her recording partner, pianist Petr Limonov, to take a solo spot) – underlines those qualities. ‘I have had a strong link to Russian culture and russian people’, she says.
‘My cello teacher, Leonid Ghorokov, is Russian and I felt very close to Russian music through his teaching. I felt this CD should have some kind of personal meaning.’ She has even learnt Russian – meaning she can now converse in four languages.
A veteran now of a string of international competitions and platform debuts, van der Heijden admits she was still apprehensive about going before the recording mics. ‘It is very different thing to playing in a concert. In a concert you get so much inspiration from the acoustic and the audience. It’s all about the flow of the music and your performance as a whole, not just your cello playing, the atmosphere you are creating.
‘With recording that’s much more difficult to do, but you get into the swing of it and the producer, Alexander van Ingen, was fantastic in making us both feel very comfortable and understanding what I wanted to say musically.’
Typically, she agreed to record only after much thought. ’It is something I had to make peace with. For a long time I thought I am not ready yet to put down something that will last to the end of time.
But then I thought it is just a snapshot of where I am in my development as a musician and I feel quite passionately about this repertoire and feel I have something to say about it. I would hope I will be a lot better in many years’ time and look back and say that’s where I was then in my development, and be happy about it.’
When interviewed for Classical Music magazine nearly three years ago, van der Heijden was looking forward to the transition from school to university, but has taken a gap year which, unlike most teenagers’ breaks, was filled with debuts in Australia, New Zealand and Germany, concerto, chamber music and recital dates, and learning new repertoire, before beginning music studies at St John’s Cambridge.
It was a break from balancing the demands of classroom, concert platform and rehearsal space, a stress she knows will only intesify at Cambridge. ’My school was very lenient. Cello was always my priority but I also wanted to get good grades in my GCSEs and A-levels, so there was an element of precise planning.
Then there were the social sacrifices – I did have to decline birthday parties and not see my friends as much as I would have liked, and being out of the loop.’
Inevitably she was wooed by record labels immediately after the BBC win and is now beginning to consider recording concertos. The Walton, which took her to victory in 2012, is on the wishlist, but she also loves the Schumann concerto.
She has been playing on a range of cellos recently, having been given on loan by a family from near her home in East Sussex a 1780 Joseph Hill instrument, alongside the Arcellaschi she has had for some years.
Having recently played a Baroque cello at St John’s, she is also mulling other ideas. ‘I would at some point in my life like to do a project with the Bach suites. That is different to recording a sonata or concerto because it is wonderful to hear every cellists’s interpretation of the suites, because they are all so different.’
Looking back on her journey so far she says: ‘The balance for a young person between playing enough and playing too much is very difficult, but I feel I have been very lucky.’
Interview: Laura van der Heijden
The 2012 BBC Young Musician competition winner talks to Frank Au about her musical development and her plan to study at Cambridge.
The University of Cambridge is full of musical talents, but not many prospective students have made regular appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO). Last week, the 18-year-old cellist Laura van der Heijden performed Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations with the RPO at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. This was her sixth performance with the RPO since 2012. I asked Laura about her experience as a soloist with the orchestra.
“The biggest thing I’ve done with them was the Elgar concerto in the Royal Festival Hall. That was an amazing experience – also nerve-wracking, because it was a huge hall, and a serious occasion. But the orchestra members were very supportive and friendly; it’s so nice to play with them.”
Elgar’s cello concerto is famously associated with another British cellist, Jacqueline du Pré, whose 1965 recording with Sir John Barbirolli and the London Symphony Orchestra has inspired generations of musicians and listeners worldwide. How does Laura approach this concerto?
“If you’re an English girl playing Elgar in England, you have to be so careful – you want to listen to a great recording to get inspired, but there’s also a need to stay away so you don’t start copying things.
“You have to develop your own ideas. Jacqueline du Pré plays in a way that is very energetic and outward-looking. I see this concerto as more inward-looking. I just feel that this piece is so noble, and there’s something very painful deep down in its nobility. So I play it very differently, but I still get comments that I’m so much like Jackie! Her sound is so much in people’s heads that they almost superimpose it onto what they hear.
“While it’s flattering to be compared to her, I would rather be known as ‘the new Laura’ than ‘the next Jackie’.”
Laura started learning the cello when she was six; her father is an amateur cellist. By the time she was ten, Laura had gained ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) grade 8 distinctions on both cello and piano. How did she do it?
“My mum helped me a lot with practising. I often needed someone to help me start, because I didn’t like starting to practise – I still don’t. I found practising quite daunting. It can be so frustrating, when it takes so many attempts to achieve what you’re trying to achieve.”
Anyone who has tried to learn an instrument would understand Laura’s frustration: it is the reason why many young people quit. Why didn’t she?
“I didn’t like practising, but I have always loved music. My parents and I would have these talks – ‘am I practising enough’, ‘do I really want to continue with this’. I always carried on with it because I wanted to be able to choose one day. If I had given up, I would no longer be able to choose. I would want to have that choice when I’m 18 or 19, and I knew that I would regret it deeply if I couldn’t make music.
“Cello happens to be my instrument and it allows me to express my music. If I had given it up, I would be devastated now.”
Laura’s persistence paid off in 2012, when she won the BBC Young Musician competition. This biennial competition, broadcast on BBC, was billed as a “search for UK’s best young musician”. Winning was a major turning point.
“I had just turned 15, and wasn’t really thinking about a career in music. But the day after the competition I suddenly had new expectations of myself, and I was no longer content with the way I was doing things.” Laura had a new goal: “To become the best musician I can be.”
For many maturing artists, the transition from childhood to adult life can be difficult. How was Laura’s experience?
“It’s been tough. I think it was Picasso who said it takes a lifetime to paint like a child. In a way, that sort of child-like openness and just playing what comes out without any walls or boundaries is actually very hard to achieve once you become conscious of how you should play. For me it’s a day-to-day struggle to be connected to that raw emotion. I think every musician struggles with it.”
In her quest to “become the best musician I can be”, Laura is currently taking full advantage of a gap year, performing at different venues in Europe and elsewhere (including a scheduled performance at the BBC Proms festival in Melbourne). But in October 2016, she will come to Cambridge and study Music at St John’s College.
“I want to explore the academic side of music, because my focus so far has been on the performance side.”
It might have taken Picasso a lifetime to paint like a child, but along the way he produced many interesting paintings. Laura believes that learning music is a lifelong project, but as those who attended her concert last week can attest, she makes beautiful music along the way.
The Amati Magazine
YOUNG ARTIST OF THE WEEK: Laura van der Heijden, cellist
The British cellist Laura van der Heijden won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2012 and has been making waves ever since in the concert scene, while also studying for her A levels. In March she tours the UK performing Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No.1. Here she tells AMATI about juggling workloads, her new cello and why it is vital that the music and the arts maintain a strong presence in our schools…
Laura, please tell us about some of your earliest musical memories. Is your family musical? And how and when did you realise you wanted to be a musician?
My dad is very musical and plays the cello for fun- we have always had music on at home, classical and other genres too. I started learning the cello when I was six, and was lucky enough to begin with a great cello teacher, Marina Logie, who lives five minutes walk away from us. I have never made the conscious decision to become a musician, but I can truly say that my love for music, and the life of a musician, is growing all the time.
What would you say were the most vital factors enabling you to start a career in music?
Winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year has really given me a career – before the competition I had to ask people whether I could play for them. None of what has happened in the last three years could have happened, however, without the support of my family, community and, very importantly, my teacher Leonid Gorokhov. I have also always been lucky with my schooling, both my primary and secondary schools have been supportive regarding my musical commitments. The truth is that achieving a successful career in music requires a ridiculously large amount of factors, and even if the support is all there, luck still plays a big part. All we can do is try our best.
The nation fell in love with you when you won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition. What was it like to take part?
The BBCYM Competition was an amazing experience. I learnt so much throughout the process. The competition is unique because, including the preparation time, it spans the best part of a year. Usually competitions are over within a month (or less) so there isn’t much time to grow as a person and as a musician. I also really appreciate the effort that the BBC have put into making the competition child friendly – it could very easily have been a stressful, pressured and scary experience but it was fun, exciting and very interesting.
How have you managed to combine a busy performing schedule with schoolwork and exams? Has it been difficult to strike the right balance?
The most tricky time for balancing the two is right now, I have a lot to do cello-wise and am trying to finish my A levels this year. All things considered, though, I think the balance has been pretty good. I have very organised teachers who make sure I’m always on track.
You’re playing the Shostakovich Cello Concerto No.1 on tour in March. What attracts you to this piece and what are the biggest challenges it poses? Please tell us something about what it means to you?
This is the first time that I’m playing this piece, so I’m very excited to explore and get to know it well. I’m currently trying to memorise it – which I’m finding quite tricky! I love the power of the concerto, but the lyrical moments are stunning too.
Which musicians do you most enjoy listening to (cellists or others)?
I’m a great fan of Daniil Shafran, Jascha Heifetz, Emanuel Feuermann, Maria Callas, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Fritz Wunderlich and many more. I find it really hard to just choose a few.
What instrument do you play the moment, and where did you get it from? What qualities in it do you like?
I have just recently been lent a new cello by Louise and David Kaye (family friends and very distant relatives) – a 1906 Pedrazzini. I think it has a deeper, richer and earthier sound than my Archellaschi and I love playing on it.
What three or four pieces and/or composers would be at the top of your wish-list of repertoire?
There are so many wonderful pieces of music… There are a few particular pieces that I haven’t played yet but would love to: Schumann Cello Concerto, Brahms B major Piano Trio, Bach Suite No.6, and I can’t wait to play the Walton Cello Concerto again.
What do you find most difficult and most rewarding about being a musician?
The fact that your work is never completed – the journey never ends.
What are your plans for further study? And what concerts or other musical events are you most looking forward to doing in the next year or so?
I am hoping to go to St. John’s College, Cambridge in October 2016 to study music after a gap year hopefully filled with exciting trips abroad and lots of music courses – and maybe also recording my first CD…
Do you think classical music needs to be “saved”? If so, what would you do to save it?
I feel very passionately about including the arts more in early education, and all education. I feel that due to the importance that is put on the core subjects like maths, science, English etc., and the cuts in art funding, many children are being denied the opportunity to grow up surrounded by the arts. I personally believe – and Gallions Primary School in Newham/East London is the proof – that if you support the core subjects with music and art, or use the arts as a means of learning, then results improve and children are much happier. Music encourages self-confidence, teamwork, a good work ethic, patience, open-mindedness, and offers a safe and stable world to children who may not have the support they need at home. I feel that music has benefited me in so many ways, more than just my cello playing, and I wish that all people could be given the same opportunity.
Hear Laura play at the BAFTAs during the tribute to Richard Attenborough, earlier this month (her performance begins at about 00:55)
Laura is on tour in March around the UK, performing Shostakovich’s Cello concerto No.1.
Behind the Scenes
1. Did you grow up in a musical household?
My dad is very musical and plays the cello for fun- we have always had music on at home, classical and other genres too.
2. Could you tell us about your early cello training? What was it about this particular instrument that drew you to it?
I started learning the cello when I was 6, and was lucky enough to begin with a great cello teacher (Marina Logie) who lives 5 minutes walk away from us. I now think that the cello suits me, but at the beginning I just enjoyed it without much thought!
3. You achieved Grade 8 in both cello and piano by the age of 10 – can you remember what it was like juggling practice, school, and friends?
It wasn’t always easy, sometimes I wanted to be ‘normal’ like everyone else and to go to school full time, but whenever I could enjoy music with other people, I realised that all the sacrifices were worth it, and of course now looking back, I’m very glad that I spent my time the way I did.
4. One of your most notable achievements so far was winning the BBC Young Musician competition – what was that experience like and how did it feel to win?
During the whole competition I felt very motivated to improve my cello playing, I think competitions always add an extra ‘kick’. I really enjoyed meeting other young musicians and sharing thoughts about our lives and the BBCYM production team were lovely too! Winning was quite a shock, but of course, very exciting – since then I have had many wonderful experiences!
5. What are some of your performance highlights? Are there any memorable moments that stand out for you?
It’s very hard to name one highlight- a performance can be memorable in so many ways. There have been stunning venues, very kind and generous hosts, fun audiences, and fantastic musicians on many occasions, and sometimes even all of them together!
6. What can the Tewkesbury audience expect from your performance?
I would hope that the audience in Tewkesbury will have fun during my performance and that they will enjoy the programme as much as I do!
7. Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I like to take a short nap about half an hour before the concert, eat a banana, warm up on the cello and chant an ancient Inca proverb backwards 50 times just before I walk on. You can guess which one of those aren’t true…
8. As a young musician who has already achieved so much, do you think music, and learning an instrument from a young age, is important?
Absolutely. I think I won’t be able to list all of the benefits here but I will try:
Learning how to learn step by step
Teamwork in chamber music/orchestra/choir
Having a whole world of colour and emotion literally at your fingertips
Being able to communicate and play with other people with whom you may not share a common language
Learning about different cultures through national musical styles
Connecting progress in the history of music with developments in politics, science, philosophy, technology, maths etc.
Knowing that you have something that will always be there when you need it: music.
9. What do you enjoy doing when not practising? How do you manage your time?
I love going for walks with my dog, talking to friends, listening to music (any genre), reading, watching movies, doing homework (not something I particularly enjoy but I do it anyway..), cooking and most other things that 17-year-olds enjoy doing! Time management is always tricky. I like making a plan of the day in the morning. That way I can make sure to get the most out of my day – although I always plan too much on purpose, because I know that I will manage to procrastinate enough to only complete about 60% of what I had originally planned.
10. Who are your musical inspirations/heroes?
I think that every musician can be inspiring in some way. I love listening to singers like Fritz Wunderlich, Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Maria Callas and Dietrich Fischer-Diskau. As for instrumentalists my teacher Leonid Gorokhov is a great inspiriation, and so are Jascha Heifetz, Daniil Shafran and Yehudi Menuhin, only to name a few.
11. Could you tell us something about yourself that may surprise people?
I have 12 toes.
12. Is there anywhere you haven’t yet performed and would like to?
There are many places I haven’t performed yet but would like to! I would love to play abroad more, and I’d like to play in the Barbican.
13. What’s the best advice you’ve been given about performing?
I have been given lots of great advice about performing, mainly about how to deal with nerves. One very helpful point (and even though it may seem obvious, it is easy to forget) is that people come to concerts to enjoy themselves, not to judge and criticise, so why not just enjoy yourself too?
14. What would you say to encourage budding musicians who are striving for similar success to your own?
Support and organisation are very important, a good teacher is also vital, but most importantly you have to love what you do. It is not the easiest career choice, but I consider it to be soul nourishing and one of the most exhilarating and interesting worlds to be a part of.
Celliste treedt in voetsporen overgrootvader
TVGelderland – Laura van der Heijden, Dvorak Cello Concerto with Het Gelders Orkest, December 2013. Her great grandfather was Martin Spanjaard who conducted the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra (now Het Gelders Orkest) before he was sent to Auschwitz where he perished in 1942.
A Winner's Story
We caught up with the current holder of the title, cellist Laura van der Heijden, and asked her what the whole BBC Young Musician experience was like for her…
Here’s an easy one to start with .. describe the whole BBCYM experience in three words!
Am. Az. Ing!
Why did you enter?
Well mainly as a ‘why not’, and also as a slight test to see whether all the effort ‘Team van der Heijden’ were putting into me, was worth it. My aim was to get through the first round, my dream was to get to play Rimsky Korsakov’s ‘The Golden Cockerel’, which meant I would have to get to the category final.
Bearing in mind that there can only be one winner, what is there to gain for everyone else?
A competition gives very clear goals and it motivates me to be thorough and focused, and the whole process is very exciting! You get to meet new people, experience new situations, and focus wholly on music, which is fantastic.
How hard is the whole experience? Would you describe it as fun?
Of course, the competition had its challenges, many in fact, that I, and everyone supporting me had to face. But all the thrilling situations more than made up for it!
Did it require a lot of time? Was it difficult to fit it into your life?
The preparation for BBCYM required effort and commitment, lots of practising, many lessons with Leonid Gorokhov, Patricia Calnan and Alison Rhind – and many others too, performance practice, many rehearsals, lots of research about the music I played and countless other things! I am very lucky to have had so much support from so many people, and a wonderfully organised mum who managed to juggle everything to make it work. Schedules, schedules, schedules!
What was it like, dealing with TV cameras and interviews?
It was really interesting seeing how everything is done, it makes me look at other TV broadcasts in a very different way now. Of course it was all very exciting and, if I may say so, felt rather glamorous!
When you finished playing the Walton, were you happy with your performance? Did you think you had a chance of winning the competition?
After I finished the Walton I just felt incredible, I utterly enjoyed playing with the Northern Sinfonia and Kirill, they supported me, lifted me, and pushed me to another level! Another bonus was playing in the amazing hall at the Sage Gateshead. I didn’t really think about how I had actually played, even less whether I would win or not, I just really really enjoyed myself.
What was it like, that moment when you heard your name announced as the winner?
When I realised that my name was announced, I mainly felt shocked, it didn’t sink in for quite a while- perhaps it still hasn’t!
What was the atmosphere like amongst the competitors through the competition?
I felt the atmosphere was very supportive, encouraging and well wishing – mainly in the string final and in the semi-final – for the final we were all so busy with rehearsals and filming that we didn’t have much time for contact! I enjoyed the company of Juliette, Julia, Joel and Christian very much, I hope they felt mutually!
Do you feel that BBCYM changed you as a musician? How?
I think that BBCYM has changed my life, me as a musician and as a person. Immediately after the final I started to have new expectations of myself, I now am no longer content with playing that may be good for my age. To become the best musician I can be will of course take a lifetime and more.
What difference has it made to your career?
It has given me the most unbelievable start to my career!
How has winning BBCYM changed you as a person?
I have had to learn how to deal with situations I had never been in before, and I have had to decide what my priorities in life are. Taking part in the competition has encouraged me to become more confident and to take more risks.
What would you say to someone who couldn’t decide whether or not to enter BBCYM? Would you recommend it?
I think BBCYM was so well organised, everyone was so supportive and kind, it was such an exciting experience. I believe every young musician should give it a go, just the experience is worth it.
And what advice would you give to those who do enter BBCYM 2014?
Plan plan plan! Even if you think you won’t go far, plan the repertoire you would play in every round, and try to start learning it as soon as possible.
Laura will be back to perform at the BBC Young Musician 2014 Final on 18th May 2014.
Britain's Got Talent: Young Musician of the Year 2012
Throughout the preliminary rounds of BBC Young Musician 2012, the judges have stressed that the emphasis is on musicianship, on looking for that extra spark that makes every performance really special, but also on the importance of enjoying music. This was the one thing that really stood out at tonight’s final, as all three soloists really communicated their love of what they do to everyone in the hall.
They also treated us to a fascinating programme that balanced the unknown and the familiar, beginning with that much maligned and neglected instrument, the recorder. Charlotte Barbour-Condini, celebrating her 16th birthday, made a huge opening statement by playing an extended improvised introduction to Vivaldi’s Recorder Concerto in C minor. At this point, I have to declare an interest, being a recorder player myself, and hearing the magical sound of a solo recorder filling Hall One of the Sage is one I won’t forget, although in style her improvisation didn’t entirely fit with the Vivaldi that followed. Accompanied by a much reduced orchestra of just 3 violins, bassoon, double bass, cello and harpsichord, Charlotte managed the tricky job of achieving a good balance with the other instruments and gave a wonderfully vibrant performance. There were some nice changes of tempo in the first movement, the Largo was poised and elegant, and and the Finale’s fiendish fast passages – full of big leaps, where the recorder mimics the sound of a double-stopping violin – sparkled with excitement.
We were then taken back into the realm of the familiar by pianist Yuanfan Yang who played Grieg’s ever-popular Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16. This was an excellent choice for showcasing his range of dynamics and colour, and the audience loved it. From the dramatic crash of the opening chords, much of the piece was played with the youthful bravado that it deserves. Northern Sinfonia, under the direction of guest conductor Kirill Karabits, matched Yuanfan’s energy, and the last movement was particularly exciting, right from its clipped and rhythmic opening. As a whole, though, this movement could have improved if Yuanfan had just allowed it to cool off a little, to let in a touch more contrast. He did this beautifully in the slow movement, where the quiet passages were wistful and tender, before the passion built up again. Yuanfan looked and sounded particularly assured, as if he’d been playing major piano concerti in front of packed houses for years, and I’m sure we will see great things from him.
The overall winner of the competition, Laura van der Heijden, exhibited incredible musicianship and maturity from the moment of her first appearance in the category finals, and her thoughtful approach showed through even in her choice of concerto. Instead of playing one of the “big” famous cello pieces such as the Elgar or the Dvořák, she opted for William Walton’s relatively unknown concerto, and made it her own. Walton’s concerto reverses the expected form, consisting of two slower outer movements, and a virtuosic second movement. This fast movement glittered with colour from the woodwind, matched beautifully by the cello solo passages. The concerto opens with a gently swinging, seductive theme, and the lyrical passages sang out beautifully. The final movement (Lento – Tema ed improvvisazioni) contrasted poised beauty with an exciting cadenza, followed by bold orchestral flourishes, before dying away to almost nothing. The beauty of Laura van der Heijden’s playing lies in the fact that she has a wonderful expressivity, but never, ever overdoes it, and the pianissimo ending of the concerto was enchanting, ending with just the solo cello, captivating the audience, just as the solo recorder had done at the beginning of the concert.
While the judges made their decision, we were entertained with a very relaxed performance of the second movement of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto by last year’s winner Lara Melda. All three finalists are to be congratulated for their wonderful performances: in a weekend where a dog won a national talent competition, these three, and all the other category finalists, showed that Britain really has got plenty of talent. I have no doubt that they will all go on to have very exciting careers, and Charlotte Barbour-Condini will be a marvellous ambassador for the recorder – but in my mind there is no doubt that Laura van der Heijden is something quite special, and her title of BBC Young Musician 2012 is well deserved. Look out for her: she’s going to be a star.