In Conversation: Catherine Hewgill

In Conversation: Catherine Hewgill

Contributor Tim Hannah catches up with SSO's Principal Cello.

Catherine Hewgill
Sydney, Australia

In Conversation: Catherine Hewgill

Contributor Tim Hannah catches up with SSO's Principal Cello.

Congratulations on the album! This new release features works by Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov - what drove you to record an all Russian program? 

The repertoire was Vladimir Ashkenazy's choice and I wasn't about to argue with him! It was amazing for me just to have the opportunity to record with him and of course, he is a huge champion of Russian music. I remember learning the Shostakovich Sonata when I was relatively young so I have very fond memories of this piece

On the album, we hear some of Prokofiev’s most lyrical work and music by Shostakovich in the wake of a period of intense professional and personal uncertainty for the composer. There is something complex and intimate about these pieces and I wonder how they differ for you personally when compared to performing larger orchestral works by the same composers?  

I have just performed Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony this last week with the SSO and Ashkenazy conducting, and there could be nothing more intimate or moving than the slow movement of this symphony. My playing changes when playing the sonatas only in the way that I am responsible for all the variations in colour, as I do not have all the instruments of the orchestra with me, and of course the interpretation is mine. I find all this music very emotional and physically intense, despite whether it is in the larger or smaller for.

You also have a busy schedule performing with the SSO. Is it important for you to have other creative and musical projects outside of your orchestral work, like this album

I find it extremely important to play as much solo and chamber music as possible as it really keeps your sound and technique in order. Sometimes things can get slipped under the rug in orchestra and bad habits can develop. Other forms of music are also extremely inspiring!

Speaking of busy schedules, what was your rehearsal and preparation process for this album? 

We only rehearsed together for the first time the day before the recording as Ashkenazy was overseas prior to that. Of course, I was super prepared and had actually been to Europe for a short period of intense study on the repertoire. You're never too old for lessons!

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Having worked with Vladimir Ashkenazy during his tenure as principal conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, what has it been like returning to work with him as a chamber musician? 

Working with Ashkenazy as a chamber musician was an unforgettable experience. We had the sort of musical dialogue that you could never have in orchestra. He is so inspiring and there are no doubts about what he wants. He has an extraordinary ability to sweep you along with his playing.

This album has been commissioned and supported by Tom Breen. How important is it to have individuals like Tom that support the recording and creation of classical music?  Philanthropy is the future of classical music and without individuals like Tom Breen, we would be lost. It's also people like this with ideas and the ability to make them work that are invaluable in our industry.

Many of our readers are students and early-career musicians. Do you have any tips from your time in the studio for those aspiring to record albums in the future?

Make sure you have the best recording engineer possible. Sound is everything. Also, if you are using piano, make sure you keep a piano tuner permanently on hand. I learnt this the hard way!

8. Finally, you worked with Rostropovich during your early studies abroad. What was it like working with such a household name and how important is a good teacher to your overall musical development? 

Rostropovich was really a musical genius who taught me many important things towards the end of my period of study in America and most importantly taught me to question what I was doing. He seemed larger than life. I really believe that having a great relationship, mutual understanding and respect for your teacher is so important. And of course, a good one helps ... I was very lucky in this respect. Your teacher is your most important asset on the road to becoming a professional musician.

From Darkness To Light is released on Decca Classics Australia and is available now.