Who or what inspired you to take up the ‘cello, and make it your career?
As a young child there was a lot of music around the house and I listened to Jacqueline du Pré play Bach’s Cello Suites every night before bed. I am not sure what an attentive listener I was – I believe the aim was for me to drop off to sleep! – but I refused to accept any other interpretation of that music! As for my decision to make cello my career, I became accustomed to the life of a touring artist on a series of cruises aged five (!), during which I seemed to take in my stride the challenges of performing among top professionals, signing autographs and even being interviewed by Richard Baker before rushing back to the swimming pool!
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
I grew up attending my father’s concerts with Alexander Baillie and listening through the door to their rehearsals at home. Lately, I have been influenced more by ideas and principles of making music than by specific performers: I am not aiming to emulate any cellist in particular but to reach my own personal sound in ways I am discovering myself. Of course there are cellists whom I greatly admire and I have seen many things that interest me in the performances of Rostropovich, Miklos Perenyi and Natalia Gutman.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I have not taken regular lessons for quite some time now but just after I took the step of becoming independent of a teacher I had to learn and perform Shostakovich’s First Cello Concerto and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Rococo Variations’ in quick succession. It was a steep learning curve but the experience was very formative and I considered both performances to be great successes!
Which performance/s are you most proud of?
I try to make every performance better than the last, but rather than pride, I experience enjoyment when I play.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
When I was sixteen I performed in Cheltenham’s Pittville Pump Room for the first time, and fell in love with the beautiful domed ceiling and generous acoustic – you can play anything in there and it sounds good! I completely lost myself, staring into the chandelier as I played a Bach gamba sonata, and this performance marked a big jump forward in my development as a musician. The first time I played in the Kleine Zaal of the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, it totally blew me away.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
That is a very difficult question to answer – I am constantly astonished by the different sensations and emotions I gain from listening to a wide range of music, from Wagnerian opera to sixteenth-century vocal music, right up to the myriad styles of music in the twentieth century.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I admire those musicians who try to reach the heart of the music and do not aim to impose their own stamp on it just for the sake of it. Carlos Kleiber and Martha Argerich have been particular inspirations. The cellist whom I look up to above any other is Mstislav Rostropovich. I regret that I was never able to hear him live but even on a recording his vivid communication is unsurpassed. He was also an excellent pianist and conductor, and I intend to conduct and compose as part of my musical life.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
When I was eleven years old I was lucky enough to perform the Vivaldi Concerto for Two Cellos in G minor with Alexander Baillie. I remember being more nervous than I have ever felt (before or since) and Alexander tried to abate my nerves by assuring me that however badly I played everyone would love it anyway because I was cuter than he was! Needless to say, it was not a comforting thought, but as soon as I went on stage, as always, all my insecurities drifted away.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Approach every work with humility and love; approach every work like a composer and put one hundred per cent of yourself into it and value that input. I have also learnt that your understanding of something you take the time to discover by yourself is so much deeper than something given to you fully-formed by a teacher.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I would like to have the privilege of performing around the world, in recital and perhaps with professional orchestras as well. I also love to perform in the wonderful smaller venues and local music societies dotted around, which are often fascinatingly quirky and frequented by the best audiences!
**Special offer – 50% DISCOUNT on tickets for concert at Riverhouse Barn, Walton-on-Thames, on 7 December (telephone bookings only – 01932 253 354). Quote discount code SCHUBERT**
Joy Lisney is Composer in Residence at Cambridge University Music Society for the 2016-17 season.
Joy Lisney has enjoyed collaborations with artists including Dame Emma Kirkby, Alexander Baillie, Howard Williams, Robert Max and the Wihan Quartet and also performs regularly in duo with her father James Lisney. Venues for duo recitals have included the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, the Leipzig Gewandhaus and St. John’s Smith Square. Her most recent project was the highly acclaimed Beethoven Grand Tour that encompassed Beethoven cycles with her father James Lisney at major venues across Europe including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Edinburgh Queen’s Hall, St George’s Bristol and a sold-out performance at the Southbank Centre.
As a passionate advocate of new music Joy has commissioned two new works from the Dutch composer Jan Vriend, the first of which she recorded on her debut CD in 2012. In 2014 she performed as a London Sinfonietta Emerging Artist at the BBC Proms in a concert broadcast on Radio 3 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Sir Peter Maxwell-Davies. In 2017 Joy has been selected to open the Park Lane Group Recital Series at St. John’s Smith Square, for which she will perform a solo recital including two premieres, one of which will be her own composition specially commissioned for the occasion.
Joy is also attracting attention as a composer. Her first string quartet was premiered by the Arditti Quartet and she won the Ralph Vaughan Williams Prize in 2014. This year, she won the Sir Arthur Bliss Prize for her M.Phil at Cambridge and she will be completing her PhD at King’s College, Cambridge. She is supported by the AHRC and will be an Honorary King’s College Vice-Chancellor’s Scholar for the duration. She will also be Composer in Residence at Cambridge University Music Society for 2016-17.
Recent works include her string quartet Apparitions, premiered by the Arditti Quartet in 2014, a piano trio commissioned by the Kings Lynn Festival and Sea Interlude, composed for the Orford Lighthouse Festival.
Joy is founder of Seraphin Chamber Orchestra, a new dynamic ensemble based in Cambridge, dedicated to the performance of music from Purcell to the 21st century. (Twitter @SeraphinCO)
She plays on a Seraphin violoncello on loan from Charles Beare.
Original interview date: June 2012
(Photo credit: Nick Rutter)