Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
I started learning the cello when I was 8 years old (my older sister played violin and Iwanted to learn the “bigger” one)… around the age of 11, I started to feel, as I think many future professional musicians do, that the cello gave me a unique expressive outlet, a voice beyond words. That really appealed to me. I think the drive to make a career out of music ultimately came from a strong sense of its expressive, often healing power, as well as its ability to cross borders and unite people.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I have been blessed to have had a number of very important mentors in my musical life; these include cellists Richard Markson, Janos Starker, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Maud Tortelier, and pianist Menahem Pressler.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Staying focused (I have a tendency to want to complete multiple projects at the same time) and allowing ideas to gradually develop and take fruition over time, rather than trying to make it all happen at once! When I was in Chicago (2009-15), I had to teach multiple hours at different music institutions to satisfy my visa requirements; throughout this time it was a big challenge to maintain a good balance between playing and teaching.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m happy to have recorded Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello (my debut 2018 album,“Escape: Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello”). It was a mammoth undertaking, but one that has allowed me to grow in numerous ways. I recently performed a solo cello concert in Chicago which included Benjamin Britten’s Suite for Solo Cello No.1, Op.72. I felt like I was really “in the zone” for that performance from beginning to end.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I love playing works for solo cello and choir (it feels like such a natural and organic combination), such as Tavener’s “O Svyati” and Rudi Tas’s “Miserere.” The Dvorak, Saint-Saens and Schumann concerti have a special place in my heart. I also really enjoy playing works for solo cello –both older and contemporary. Overall, if I love the music, I tend to feel like I can say something with it.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I like to balance the repertoire I am working on at any point in time between works with which I am very familiar, and works which are new to me. For example, I am currently working on a program of a Bach Cello Suite, Cassado’s Suite for Solo Cello (which I have been playing for about 8 months), and Ligeti’s Sonata for Solo Cello (which I started learning about a month ago).
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Oxford’s “Holywell Music Room” is near the top of the list. I grew up and went to school in Oxford, and the Holywell Music Room was one of the first really lovely venues I played in as a teenager. It is Europe’s oldest purpose-built concert hall and exudes history, as well as having a lovely intimate atmosphere. Currently, I am based in San Diego, and here I really enjoy playing at St. Paul’s Cathedral (where I recorded my debut album) –the acoustic is gorgeous!
Who are your favourite musicians?
For cellists, I am a huge fan of Pablo Casals, Jacqueline du Pre, Rostropovich, Piatigorsky, and Feuermann. In general musicianship, I love Callas, Rubinstein, Pressler, Barenboim, and Rattle, amongst many others…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
As a performer, I remember the great thrill of performing my first romantic cello concerto (Saint Saens, aged 17) at the Oxford Town Hall… the feeling of being carried to another world was addictive! As an audience-member, I have an especially strong recollection of a phenomenal performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto by Mme. Maud Tortelier in Rio de Janeiro (the concert was part of the International Cello Encounter festival, now called Rio Cello). She had the most artistic and fluid bow arm, in conjunction with a dramatic poise that I shall never forget.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Working towards fulfilling one’s potential as a musician is a lifetime undertaking, one that requires much patience, determination, and wonder! Don’t forget to smell the roses!
What is your present state of mind?
I have to admit I am currently a *little* anxious about meeting the “Bach Cello Suites Unleashed with Choir” kickstarter goal! Although this is mixed with much excitement on being so close to the finishing line for a project that I have been dreaming of bringing tofruition for around 10 years!
Sophie Webber is currently fundraising via Kickstarter (deadline 5 April) to release a recording of two of J S Bach’s cello suites with an original choral arrangement. Further information and details of how to support the project here
British Cellist Dr. Sophie Webber is an internationally accomplished soloist, chamber musician, and educator. She has received many awards and prizes for her playing, including the Sir John Barbirolli memorial prize for Cello, Indianapolis Matinee Musicale Graduate Strings Prize, Zumaia International Chamber Music Festival First and Public Prize, and Finalist for Oxfordshire Young Musician of the Year.
In January 2018, she released her acclaimed debut recording; “Escape: Six Suites for Solo Cello by J.S.Bach,” working with multi grammy-winning audio engineer, Chris Willis.