Kate Gould cellist

Kate Gould, cellist & artistic director

Ahead of this year’s Winchester Chamber Music Festival, a short series of interviews with artists appearing at the festival, beginning with Kate Gould, cellist and Artistic Director of the Festival

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My older sister and wonderful violinist, Lucy Gould, was my most influential and inspiring figure throughout my childhood until I established my own standing in the profession. Slightly embarrassingly, I followed in her footsteps all the way: gained a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music and founded a trio there that went on to be the springboard for everything that followed (mine was the Leopold String Trio, hers the Gould Piano Trio). I suppose she showed me the routes to take but we shared an early passion for chamber music. Our trios won many of the same competitions, such as Young Concert Artists Trust. We also both became members of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and developed part-time careers in guest-leading orchestra sections. As a mother, later on, Lucy also showed me it was possible to maintain a touring career whilst bringing up children and I thank her for that.

When I was a student I would usually choose cello recordings played by Steven Isserlis as I
loved his expressive, lyrical style. I remember becoming obsessed with the Borodin Quartet’s
late Beethoven quartet recordings and used to play the tender, pure slow movement from opus 132 over and over in my room at the Academy halls. I would also buy chamber music CDs recorded by Domus and the Florestan Trio, with particular admiration for the cellist Richard Lester (now my husband) and the sheer quality of their playing and interpretations. These days I gravitate toward soloists and chamber groups who are sensitive to historical performance style but big on expression and imagination.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

When the Leopold String Trio disbanded in 2012, after 21 privileged years of international touring and constant appearances at Wigmore Hall and on BBC Radio 3, I had to rebuild my identity as an individual cellist and find other areas of the profession that interested me enough. Thankfully, I was already playing in another chamber group with Daniel Tong, the London Bridge Ensemble, which soon morphed into a piano trio. I relished the challenge of a more soloistic role than playing cello in string trios, finally having the chance to play Romantic trio repertoire and sing on my A string!

We were already running the Winchester Chamber Music festival and I had been a member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe since 2000 but nevertheless, I had time on my hands and felt I needed a new avenue. I chose leading cello sections when they need a guest to step in and whereas now, 10 years on, I feel confident in that role, I did sometimes experience ‘imposter syndrome’. Many guest leaders of orchestras refer to this when leading a section that has its own established way to play together and yet you’re at the front being boss. They have years of experience playing repertoire that is often new to me, but I have come to enjoy the challenge and I realise I am there for good reason.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

In terms of recording quality, technical polish and prestigious partnerships, I am proud of my
early Leopold recordings for Hyperion, eg. Beethoven complete String Trios, Schubert Trout
Quintet and Mozart Piano Quartets with Paul Lewis, Brahms Piano Quartets with Marc André Hamelin [Hyperion / Leopold String Trio]. However, I feel most pleased to have made the later recordings with London Bridge in which piano trios, particularly from the Romantic and early Twentieth Century, allow the cello a greater chance to shine with more emotional involvement. I think I became a bigger personality at the cello as I moved away from the cello role in a string trio. Our most recent discs were the Leipzig Circle Volumes 1 and 2, with trio by Robert and Clara Schumann and Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn [Somm / London Bridge Trio]

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I think that singing and shaping a phrase with a beautiful tone is probably one of my best qualities (but surely every cellist must believe that!). It’s very hard to say, but I possibly perform Mendelssohn chamber works best because there is much opportunity for lyricism, combined with the energy I love to inject into accompaniment textures and the subtle nuance that Mendelssohn demands. Mendelssohn String Quartets could be my ‘Desert Island’ chamber works at the moment, although I adore playing the Faure Piano Trio. Hopefully, the amount you love a piece reflects how well you play it to some degree..

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Music is all about feelings so the more alive and receptive you are to the world around you –
especially nature and art for me – the more you can transfer your experiences into your
interpretations and try to inject as much imagination as you can into your music making. We
don’t tend to put classical music on to relax at home but when I do listen to other players, whether on Radio 3 or on tour with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, I am always learning
from them. I recently toured with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Janine Jansens playing Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto for two weeks. The memory of her whole body and soul being part of the music stayed with me for a long while and inspired me to strive for that level of commitment to bringing the notes on the page to life.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Throughout the year, I play at other chamber music festivals, attend concerts and listen to Radio 3. I come across pieces I’ve always wished to learn and pieces that are new to me, pieces by neglected women composers that I’d like to share, pieces by contemporary composers I find interesting, as well as being reminded of those that deserve to be dug out of my music shelves. I like to give the audience a balance of well-known works and those that might challenge at first but have a voice really worth hearing.

As we have to put the pieces together very quickly in the festival setting, I’ve become increasingly keen on repeating repertoire within the same few years. This enables more ambitious programming, especially string quartets which I no longer feel need to be preserved for the full-time groups. My circle of colleagues that I invite to Winchester have all had so much experience that most people have played the pieces before with different people. This year at the Winchester Chamber Music Festival I am introducing the Festival String Quartet with my regular guests and we will perform pieces we’ve played elsewhere in recent years. I recently played Mendelssohn’s Opus 80 Quartet at a festival in Argentina and was blown away by the experience, having only heard full-time quartets play it before. It will be sure to appear in my programmes soon, but meanwhile go to winchesterchambermusic.com to see the fantastic players and pieces visiting Winchester this April!

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

I love the acoustics and atmosphere of the Wigmore Hall, although there is so much stigma attached to it that it’s hard to feel completely at ease in the concerts. I also love playing in the Queens Hall, Edinburgh. Our main venue in Winchester now is St Paul’s Church which has really great acoustic from the performer’s perspective. St John the Baptist Church is resonant but intimate, so I love that one but it only seats 100 audience members.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

Some people just catch the bug and love classical music – maybe throughout their lives, having been exposed to it through their school or parents. It does require real stillness and focus and, if it’s a new experience, it may be challenging, especially compared to the huge amount of stimulation one gets now from a smartphone or drama boxset on Netflix. I live in the hope that, although our audiences are dominated by the older generation, it does not mean audiences do not regenerate themselves as life slows down, children fly the nest and they find life allows them the time and space to turn on the classical radio stations or dedicate an evening to a concert.

Classical music needs to be valued at a systemic, governmental level and regularly shared with young children in the classroom. Just as we would never let Shakespeare disappear from education, we should never let the great, genius composers become neglected by the mainstream. This is why I crave to take classical music into as many schools as I can. Culture
seems to be at the very bottom of the pile from a government perspective and yet it brings so
much to people’s lives.

I sometimes hear newcomers worrying they don’t understand classical music, assuming there
are things everyone else gets but they don’t. I do agree that the more you listen to classical
music, the more things you may hear, notice and enjoy, as if it’s a language with sounds that
need to become more familiar. Switch to Classic FM in the car! I would love to get the message across to the wary that the process of listening to music doesn’t have to be a cerebral one at all.

Sitting in a concert is very similar to gazing at a painting and letting it wash over you, with a
general emotional response rather than analysing the compositional techniques involved. One person might choose to visit a Kandinsky exhibition while another is inclined toward
Rembrandt, perhaps depending on the way abstract colours or textures make them feel, rather
than appreciating exquisite techniques portraying something more real. I find it very hard to
predict which type of composer someone will most naturally respond to. Some will relate to the balance and beauty of Mozart whereas their sister might find that boring and predictable but love the edginess and drama of Shostakovich or bold challenges of a whacky contemporary composer. I often explain this to encourage newcomers to give a concert a go and discover for themselves which style they enjoy the most.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing the Tippett Triple Concerto at the Barbican with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, live on BBC Radio 3. It was the Leopold String Trio’s swan song and I doubt I will ever practise something as much in my life. It was a huge challenge but supremely rewarding.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being in a position where you are invited to do the very type of work that you enjoy the most.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Individual practise is important but in balance with playing with others. My 12-year-old son
started loving the violin once he joined a string quartet, went on music courses like Pro Corda
and MusicWorks and, now we’ve moved to Winchester, joining the Hampshire County and
Winchester Youth Orchestras. Playing with others isn’t just more fun – it hugely develops your ears and trains your flexibility at the instrument. I think things become most fun once you get to Grade 6 and beyond, so don’t give up before that!

I wish my teachers had helped me more with the challenges of performing in public as, in
retrospect, I can see that nerves used to hold me back as a student. I was fine when playing in
groups but it took me years to use nerves to my advantage and enjoy the benefits that a bit of
adrenalin can bring, once you’ve learned to deal with the negatives like affected concentration and physical tension.

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

I think both performance anxiety and physical tension are being talked about and addressed
now on courses and at music college, so I don’t have an extra wish these days.

What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?

Still running this festival!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My family being healthy and happy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cello. It was made in 1711 by the great Milanese maker, Carlo Giuesppe Testori. It backs me up in every situation and I feel very lucky and honoured to own it.

What is your present state of mind?

Hanging in there but somewhat stretched. Basically very happy with my life though! I am combining being a good mum and wife, practising my cello enough for my weekly engagements whilst spending vast amounts of time running the festival. Next year I need to organise things better so there are volunteers helping with the nitty gritty like distributing flyers around the town!

Winchester Chamber Music Festival runs from 28 April to 1 May. Full details/tickets here

Kate Gould is Artistic Director of Winchester Chamber Music Festival. Founded in 2008, the Festival continues to attract sell-out audiences, supported by a loyal Friends and Patrons network, an esteemed board of trustees and generous volunteers. Concerts take place in various venues around the centre of Winchester, including the Theatre Royal, Discovery Centre, a selection of exquisite churches and the private chapel of Winchester College.  

In 1990, Kate won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, where she formed the celebrated Leopold String Trio. They recorded for Hyperion Records and soon became BBC New Generation Artists and ECHO ‘Rising Stars’. Kate used their Borletti‐Buitoni Trust Award to curate a series at Wigmore Hall and Turner Sims and the trio went on to win the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for Chamber Music. From 2012-2022 she turned her focus to the London Bridge Trio, most recently recording piano trios by Schumann and Mendelssohn in their ‘Leipzig Circle’ series. She has been a member of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe since 2000, working regularly with conductors Simon Rattle, Yannick Nezet Seguin and Antonio Pappano.

Recent concert highlights include Wigmore Hall, a London Cello Society concert at the Royal Academy of Music’s Duke’s Hall and performing Isabel Mundry’s ‘Le Corps des Cordes’ for solo cello in a Chamber Orchestra of Europe concert at the Wurzburg Mozartfest, Germany. This season Kate makes return visits to the Festival de los Siete Lagos, Argentina and the Ironstone and Corbridge Chamber Music Festivals in the UK.

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