Player Profiles - Archive
Gabriel Amherst (cello)
How did you end up playing your instrument?
I am one of four children and grew up in South Devon where there was a wonderful music teacher called Dulce Haigh Marshall. A very small person, under five feet tall, she was inspiring, dynamic, and totally committed. She taught us all the piano and I started learning with her at the age of three. She also taught the cello, and my brother, who is now a bass player, started lessons with her. I remember seeing the cello for the first time at my home and being intrigued. I began lessons at the age of seven and it seemed like the obvious thing to do!
Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
As I get older, I am of the view that practising a piece up to the moment of walking onto the stage can be counter-productive! A chat in the green room about something completely unconnected to the music seems to help. Getting changed into concert clothes and brushing one’s hair helps one step into the role of performer.
To relax, do you listen to the sort of music you play, or avoid it completely?
I enjoy Radio 3, and listening to music I might not otherwise get to hear.
Which piece would you recommend for someone who has never listened to the kind of music you play?
Something by Rameau: for instance, the orchestral music from Les Indes Galantes. Bach’s St Matthew Passion or Mozart’s Don Giovanni would also be also excellent choices.
If you could choose any other instrument, what would it be?
As a cellist whose role in early repertoire is to play the bass line most of the time, I sometimes envy my neighbouring colleagues in the viola section, who play the inner part. There are some viola moments that I love: the opening of Bach’s B minor mass, for example. I’d love to have a go, and in my next life I will come back as a viola player.
What bothers you most about the music industry? What makes you happiest?
These days all musicians have to work very hard to earn a living wage. Young people embarking on a career as a musician are faced with impossible property prices as well as the need to equip themselves with an instrument. It is very, very tough for them.
Something I love: having been in the profession for more than thirty years, the social aspect of the musicians' community is great. You can turn up at a gig miles from home and find colleagues and friends you have not seen for years. Musicians are hugely supportive of one another, and never more so than at times of personal crisis like illness or bereavement. It really is a big family.
Do you play both modern and period instruments?
Yes. Inevitably the two disciplines are in opposition, but each can bring something to the other. I have two instruments, so from a practical point of view it is manageable, but changing pitch can be difficult. Baroque to modern is not so bad, but classical at 430 can be a tricky transition for the ear.
Who is your favourite composer?
What makes a great concert?
A receptive audience and happy performers who work as a team. I love IT&T concerts because as a group we know each other well; some of us have been playing together for many years. Also, playing close to home means you can go and have a drink afterwards and are not facing a long car journey!
How do you balance a musician’s schedule with family commitments?
My family has grown up with my irregular working hours, so they are used to it. I try to ensure that we sit down to eat as a family at least once during the weekend, and try not to work on both a Saturday and a Sunday, although weekends are often full of work. My children have learnt to cook their own suppers if I am out during an evening, and will hang out the washing when asked. Like all working parents one has to keep an eye on school schedules and not get caught out by surprise parents’ evenings and school concerts.
Have you ever left your instrument behind on public transport? Did you get it back?
I once left my cello in a car park after a very well paid recording session… I was so excited by the size of the cheque.
If you had to explain the value of arts funding to a head of state, what would you say?
The music profession would not survive without generous patronage from private donors and corporate sponsorship. In general, box office revenue doesn't even come close to covering the cost of a concert. A lot of hard work, some poorly paid and some voluntary, goes on behind the scenes. The world would be a greatly diminished place without live music. If there is any area that needs public subsidy most, it is in music education for children. All school children should be given the opportunity to learn a musical instrument, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to do so.
Which composer, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with?
J.S Bach. I would like to ask him how he manages the work/family balance. How does he manage to write so much music when he has so many children to look after?