How We Met: Matthew Barley & Sally Potter

'When you begin to know someone who is an artist, you never look at their work in the same way'
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The Independent Online

Matthew Barley, 44, is an internationally renowned cellist, improviser and arranger. He is also the artistic director of the performance and education group Between the Notes. In 2007, he was the music director of BBC2's widely acclaimed 'Classical Star'. He lives in west London with his wife, the violinist Viktoria Mullova, and children

Sally and I met at a dinner about 10 years ago. It was a strange occasion in some ways – a mutual friend had introduced us partly because Sally's husband had survived a serious illness and my wife's father was unwell at the time. I know instantly whether I'll get on with someone, and the minute I met Sally I thought, "This is a wonderful woman. I'd really like to be friends with her."

She is one of the most creatively intelligent people I have ever met. So you find yourself up against this incredible mind straight away, but at the same time she has a terribly relaxed attitude. Sally loves to laugh and is brilliantly bubbly in social situations. She has the kind of intelligence that sparkles.

Since then we have seen a lot of each other over the years. Sally always comes to my concerts and those of my wife. A lot of people come to hear me play and then come backstage and say, "Thank you very much, that was lovely." But Sally will come with a package of insights about the music, how it was presented and the nature of the performance on that particular day.

She has an incredibly in-depth musical knowledge. She is like a Renaissance woman in fact – she directs, writes, acts, and is also an incredibly gifted dancer. She is comfortable in so many branches of the arts, which is probably why she is such a brilliant film-maker, since it is an amalgamation of all of those media.

When we do catch up, we discuss our individual work and new ventures – I find it fascinating to hear about her creative process as a film-maker. I see something of Sally in her films now. It's a strange thing when you begin to know someone who is an artist; you never look at their work in the same way once you know the personality behind it.

We get together as often as we can for dinner or for a wander around the flower market where she lives in east London. We have a huge amount in common in the way we live. Sally and her husband really look after themselves and they got me and my wife into Pilates and Alexander Technique. Sally had recommended a couple of teachers and I had them in my address book for years until a shoulder injury meant I couldn't work and so I finally gave it a try. It was a life-saving introduction, for which I am hugely grateful.

Sally Potter, 60, is a director and screenwriter best known for the award-winning film 'Orlando'. Her latest film, 'Rage', starring Judi Dench, Jude Law and Lily Cole, is the world's first film to première on mobile phones and the internet. She lives in east London

Matthew and I met through the pianist Katia Labèque. I had been to one of her rehearsals where she was playing with Matthew's wife, Vika, and through that I was invited to dinner at Vika and Matthew's place. I think there was an immediate affinity and a sense of shared purpose between us, albeit in parallel fields. I have quite a few musician friends and have a huge respect for what they do, as I believe that all the arts more or less aspire to the condition of music.

When you meet other people whose lives revolve around their work as mine does, there is a mutual understanding that the so-called rhythms of life don't apply. The life of the touring musician is a very specific kind of life and it's one I had myself for a while, although I gave it up many years ago. The camaraderie and thrill of live performance are things I miss, so I enjoy hearing about that through Matthew.

It's not a day-in, day-out relationship, but it is of high quality. Our friendship is a recent one in my lifespan but it is lovely to make friends later on. So many friendships are based on habit and familiarity. It takes some courage to step out of that and decide to get closer to somebody new.

Matthew and I are both great fans of gypsy music and have sat and listened to a lot together. I had the pleasure of introducing him to some music that I knew and there was a lovely coincidence when his record The Silver Swan came out and we found that he had chosen three pieces of music to adapt which I had also chosen to adapt for one of my films. They are such specific pieces it indicates a real collision of tastes – beyond coincidence, really.

I'm not sure whether he has the same passion for film that I have for music. But he has an eagerness and an openness, and can recognise something important when he sees it. Again, it is a quality one searches for –a dimension beyond the material.

Part of the reason we met was because my partner had recovered from an illness, and Vika's father was ill – so we swapped notes about the nature of health and illness. I think we are both conscious of the need to take responsibility for your body.

Matthew has an irrepressible enthusiasm. There is too much cynicism around, so it's a rare and beautiful gift.

'Dance of the Three Legged Elephants', with Matthew Barley and Julian Joseph, is out now. 'Rage' is available on DVD; go to for details