Mayda Narvey, cellist

Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?

My first cello teacher, Peggie Sampson, was a huge influence in my childhood and is probably the reason I decided to become a musician. She was a remarkable a woman, a student of Pablo Casals and Nadia Boulanger, the energy behind the early music movement in Canada and generally a person who saw spirit and beauty everywhere she looked.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

Subsequently I have been most influenced by the people I encountered who thought deeply and brought insights from other disciplines to their music. One notable example is the Slovenian pianist and musical historian, Damjana Bratuz whose magical masterclasses I was fortunate enough to attend at University.

What have been the greatest challenges in your career?

It was challenging to emigrate to a new country (from Canada to the UK) and restart a career after having children. But the challenge was also very motivating and inspired creativity.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of performances where something other takes over and I suddenly feel free to respond in the moment. Unfortunately it is impossible to make that happen but is is wonderful when it does.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I am happy playing in many genres but repertoire that explores and capitalises on the upper register of the cello and on its voice-like qualities is most pleasing to me. My work with loop pedal allows me to experiment with unusual effects of which the cello is capable and I find that inspiring. And playing the string quartet repertoire is always a great joy.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?

Repertoire for Ismena Collective is always chosen as a result of collaboration. In other words, a book I am reading or conversation I’ve had might suggest a theme I theme that I would like to explore and for which I then find appropriate repertoire. Or meeting a musician with whom I click usually instigates a discussion about performing together and finding repertoire that works for our instruments.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I am happiest in venues where the audience can feel relaxed and close to the music and where the acoustic is warm. Ismena often plays in churches which don’t always satisfy both criteria! I also like performing in unusual venues where audiences don’t expect to hear live music. As an orchestral musician in Canada I became disenchanted with the traditional notion of audiences lined up in rows, afraid to move or cough and at an unnatural distance from the performers.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I am most taken by performers with natural ease and communication. I love the clarinettist Martin Fröst, who is also a trained mime artist. Thom Yorke of Radiohead is a dancer as well as a haunting vocalist and songwriter. Violinist Janine Jansen radiates joy as does the Baroque violinist Rachel Podger. As a young person I listened obsessively to Arthur Schnabel’s Schubert. He seemed to evoke whole worlds. And I am currently very taken with the Danish String Quartet. Wonderful cellists proliferate. I hesitate to single one out!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience occurred many years ago when I was studying with the cellist, Janos Starker. He was a formidable man and instilled a sense of terror in most of his students, myself included. As part of an end-of-year recital I was to perform the very demanding Martinu Rossini Variations and had slaved over them. Suddenly as I began to play them on stage I had the strangest sensation that my left hand and bow were effortlessly dancing with complete precision. I just sat back and watched in amazement as they executed the piece for me.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, success is when I can forget myself and be at one with the music. The great Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky when once asked how he contrived to leap so high, answered: ‘Nijinsky doesn’t do it. It’s when Nijinsky isn’t there that it happens.’ I aspire to be ‘not there’.

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

As for advice to younger musicians, I think it can be summed up in one sentence:

Do it because you love it.

Cellist and composer Mayda Narvey was born in Canada, studied in the United States (with Janos Starker and Bernard Greenhouse for whom she became teaching assistant) and played for some years with the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada, touring, and performing in a solo and chamber music capacity for the CBC (national radio of Canada). Since emigrating to the UK, Mayda created and developed Ismena Collective, a group of musicians, actors and writers committed to marrying words with music in different capacities. As one half of ‘Out of Time’ she performs regularly with Darris Golinski creating explorations of a given theme through spoken word and her cello with the addition of a loop pedal. She composes and arranges for Ismena which performs in a variety of genres throughout London and beyond. She also plays weekly in a small Klezmer band which will be performing for 7 Star Arts at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, Barnes on 13 August.


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