Classical: `I'm on earth to play the cello'

At a distance from the frenetic hype of modern music marketing, Sandy Baillie's playing and teaching carries conviction through its quiet passion. By Sue Fox

INTERNATIONALLY RECOGNISED as one of the finest cellists of his generation, Alexander (Sandy) Baillie, is hardly a household name in the UK. Why? "I haven't been packaged by a major recording company, which isn't to say my schedule isn't packed, because it is. It's just slower. I've never taken a carefully planned career path."

In this age of the much-hyped wunderkind, Alexander Baillie was a late starter. At 12 he could "just about play the piano". One evening he came home to find his parents slumped in front of the television. The programme which had sent them to sleep had a profoundly life-changing effect on their son: Christopher Nupen's legendary film of Jacqueline du Pre.

"I watched, spellbound and just wanted to play the cello. Nothing else was as important to me." He obviously had bags of talent. When he came back from Vienna, after studying with Andre Navarra, friends said he should play for Jackie, who loved meeting people. Their friendship is something he treasures, but Baillie is essentially a very private person not given to trading his name on the back of the famous.

One can only feel the deepest admiration and respect for a man who is quietly reticent about others, but who says, without the slightest hint of arrogance or vanity that, just as Schubert said he was put on this earth for the sole purpose of composing, "I feel that I'm here only to play the cello. It's what God sent me to do.

"I do many different things, because I believe passionately that musicians have to be available with a capital `A'. We have a great role to play in the next century because we represent something affordable, accessible and full of the feel-good factor. Listening to music is a great way of spending the limited amount of free time people have today, but I think we have to be much more inventive."

If Baillie had the money he would open a kind of 24-hour classical music version of Ronnie Scott's, which he believes is something London needs. "And I'd love to be able to schedule concerts to start later so that people could spend time relaxing and eating before, rather than, as happens now in London, most of the audience arrives exhausted and hungry after battling with tubes, traffic and parking. Why not two shorter performances - say at 7pm and 9pm? Why not have big screens so that the audience can see close ups of the musicians faces?"

Playing big cello concertos with major orchestras is only part of what Baillie does. Now 43, and seriously unglitzy, he pleads for the media to cherish all musicians - not just the ones who grab headlines and make mega bucks. A deeply committed and visionary teacher, he is Visiting Guest Professor at London's Royal College of Music, Professor of Cello at the Bremen Hochschule and co-founder of a part-time cello school, The Gathering of the Clans. This summer, he helped launch another summer music festival in France - one which he plans to make an annual event. It's the Festival au cote des Isles in Carteret on the Normandy coast. There is also Baillie's Berlin-based music group Alia Musica and his many recordings. He has made six Prom appearances and appeared with many of our finest orchestras.

Over the years, Baillie has made an extraordinary contribution to contemporary music. He premiered Colin Matthews' Cello Concerto in 1984 and next year performs three new works written especially for him. "I've never felt ghettoed by playing first performances, but there was a time when I started to feel that I was being typecast. I certainly would never play a piece I didn't love."

A couple of years ago in Boston, Baillie, the conductor Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic performed the Dutilleux Cello Concerto. Dutilleux told Zander it was the finest performance of his work that he had ever heard.

On 6 December, Baillie, again conducted by Zander, will play Elgar's Cello Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra at the Barbican. All this music-making is to do with his Baillie's fundamental belief in fulfilling his role as a musician and as a teacher. "It's beyond entertainment. It's much more to do with sharing and crossing boundaries."

In a true spirit of community, Straight after playing the Elgar, Baillie will join the orchestra as a member of the cello section, for a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No 3, "Eroica". "In London, probably everybody in the audience will know the Elgar, which is an added bonus. In Germany, where I've played the Concerto on tour, audiences find the closing pages self pitying, but, in my experience, the effect of Elgar on an English audience is something very different. The ending melts even the most hardened listener.

"Without being gushy, Ben and I will be performing it in a very moving way. There's something disarmingly simple in the Concerto which Ben has captured. He was a cellist so he knows the piece incredibly well. In a way, I feel this concerto, unlike any other, is like the film Eyes Wide Shut. What Kubrick sought to do there was what Elgar did with this music - offer the chance for people to come right up close to the innermost part of themselves. To bring whatever they wanted of themselves to the performance."

As it happens, Baillie met Kubrick and, on occasion, he played for him. But he'd never tell you that. Just as he's reticent about the fact that he will be playing the Elgar Cello Concerto using Du Pre's bow. "I'd much rather you didn't mention it," he says quietly. Unlike many people in the business, you know he means it.

Alexander Baillie plays the Elgar Cello Concerto on 6 Dec, Barbican (0171-638 8891) with Zander and the Philharmonia

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing