Some musings on Jane from the Winchester period by Charles Medlam
Recognizing that many of the contributions so far describe the Edrom era, Richard asked me to write something about the Winchester/London period, which came before it. I left the circle in a little bit of bad odour (I think..), so I was initially hesitant about contributing anything but then, reading John’s piece with all those familiar names, I was encouraged to put finger to keyboard. I played for Maurice Eisenberg in Cascais, went on the courses in Breiteneich and Altenburg, and had a few lessons with Bernard Michelin, to say nothing of almost three years with John and Jane in London, so that much of what I was reading was ringing quite loud bells. As it happens I can’t help very much with the Winchester time, since I only started the cello in my last term there, having wasted the ready availability of all those wonderful Cowans and Gwilts with the inanities of pop music. But finally having a cello in my hand obviously made a big impression. Soon after my first lesson with John at the age of seventeen, I announced to all concerned that I was going to be a professional cellist! After London I was sent to Hong Kong to play quartets and trios with David Gwilt. There, a televised Beethoven recital convinced me to return to Europe and acquire some technique before it was too late. Jane (and John) had of course been wonderfully inspiring and charismatic but - probably my fault - I was still not quite sure how to change bow or position. There had been a connection with Bernard Michelin some time before, so I duly inscribed for his class at the technique factory which is the Paris Conservatoire, and got through the first round of the concours. By the time of the second some weeks later, I had listened in on Maurice Gendron’s classes and convinced myself that, in breach of Cello Centre guidelines, his high-octane “artiste” approach was what I needed. Bad odour or not (probably not), I never really reconnected with the Cello Centre much after that, except for meeting John at the odd concert in the Midlands, Lucy intermittently over the years and Maeve, after a gap of many years, (great fun!) in Vienna. But of course it’s all in the blood by then, and you never forget Jane’s challenging, trenchant pedagogy, nor her joyous laughter. She once sent me home without playing a note because I had failed to read up about Sammartini before my lesson! I never made that mistake again.
After Paris I went to the Hochschule in Vienna, where I only lasted six weeks with Navarra (open strings for six months - no thanks!) before studying with a Philharmoniker, and thence to Heidi Litschauer in Salzburg with ever more frequent visits to Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s performance practice classes. I can’t help wondering whether Jane’s love and promotion of all things Austrian, with Maeve and Lucy’s example, served to point me in the same direction. Suffice it to say that I learnt German, found a violin-playing wife and now have a violinist son who lives in Vienna. Quite a coincidence!
Jane’s insistence on gut strings had two effects: 1) we all leant to draw a straight bow near the bridge and 2) we were halfway there when the “period instrument” thing struck. How many Cello Centre people have had successful careers on gut strings? And Jane in part had only herself to blame, since she perfectly prepared us for the early music approach with the right sort of relentless curiosity, always returning to the sources, never trusting the received wisdom. How many teachers of that time had Dolmetsch to hand, let alone knew about things like the Hotman passage, quoted by Richard in his piece.
Throughout my life I often wondered what Jane would have made of my bass viol playing, my cello playing on both gut and metal strings (I was an early and zealous convert!), and indeed of the book I wrote about the Bach Cello Suites with its inescapable conclusion that all that wonderful music was not written for what we call a cello at all. I like to think that, as in all things (well perhaps not quite all…), she would have kept an open mind and accepted solid, evidence-based arguments.
I remember lots of things about my time with Jane but, most importantly of all, I leant that music is both deadly serious and fantastic fun. Amen.