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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b052my2r/the-british-academy-film-awards-2015-08022015 (her performance begins at about 00:55)
Laura is on tour in March around the UK, performing Shostakovich’s Cello concerto No.1. Full details of where and when are on her website, here.