An interview with: cellist Rebecca McNaught, Two Moors Festival competition winner

We recently revealed the winners of this year’s Two Moors Festival Young Musicians Platform competition (which comes with a top prize of £250 in cash and the chance to play alongside professional musicians in our main two-week event this October).

Now, we’re catching up with each of our four winners to find out more about them ahead of the autumn and to see how they’re preparing for this major concert. We recently featured interviews with our youngest-ever winner violinist Hannah Brooks-Hughes and cellist Willard Carter, and now it’s cellist Rebecca McNaught’s turn.

Rebecca really impressed us with her playing at the final in May, particularly her rendition of Shostakovich’s Sonata (which you can see a video of here).

Q&A

Rebecca McNaught
Rebecca McNaught

2MF: What made you first pick up the cello?
RM: There was a lot of music around when I was very tiny and my mum took me to baby music classes so music has long been a part of my life! I actually began with the piano but because my mum had played the cello there was one in the house and I began to beg to be allowed to play. My parents actually held off until I was six and I’ve never looked back since.

2MF: What was the hardest part about first learning to play?
RM: I found learning the cello very frustrating to begin with, but in some respects that was a good thing because I put more work in. There’s so much to put in place and make correct but I was listening to recordings of professional cellists so I knew what it should sound like, and it just didn’t! I remember walking into my second lesson and asking how vibrato worked – my teacher had to tell me to wait until I was ready to start things like that!

I used to have massive tantrums, to the extent that my parents had to tell me to put the cello down and come back later. I would flat out refuse because I hadn’t yet got it right, so when I exchanged my first quarter-sized cello for a half, it was sent back with tear tracks all the way down it!

2MF: How much do you have to practice in order to reach your standard?
RM: That’s a very tricky question… a lot, but not as much as I would like to because academic work sometimes gets in the way. When juggling music and school work, there are times when the school work is neglected for practising for a big concert and other times when the practice has to be sacrificed for exams – it’s all about time management! My ideal amount would be two hours a day during the week but three or four at weekends.

2MF: What’s your practising process like?
RM: I always start with some simple exercises to warm up, for example some of the Feuillard studies and then (of course!) some scales. I think it’s then important to prioritise the pieces that need the most work and focus on the most challenging areas or those pieces, taking them in sections. When approaching a concert and all the pieces are on a similar level, I try to practise them in the order that I would perform them. This means that I am feeling tired when I start to practise the pieces at the end. Sometimes it’s also good to do a run through of a programme and get a feel for the level of stamina before working on the weaker sections.

2MF: Any tips for caring for your cello for young musicians just starting out?
RM: I can’t talk, not with the tear tracks!! It’s very important to always know exactly where your cello is and whether or not you have put it in a safe place. I once had my cello kicked over at an orchestra rehearsal in the place I would usually leave it, but I now always put it back in the case during breaks. Make sure the strings are cleaned at the end of each rehearsal to prevent the rosin residue that builds up and that you have undone your bow properly to help the hair last longer.

2MF: What about any tips for first starting to learn?
RM: Put in as much work as you like when you are young, especially if you love it! It stands you in good stead for disciplined practice in the future and means you have developed your technique from a young age. And try not to get too frustrated…

2MF: Did you expect to win the Two Moors competition?
RM: This is the second year I had entered the competition, which meant I knew the system much better and felt very comfortable in the performance space. That said, I didn’t feel like I had played anywhere near my best in the final round of auditions and was therefore very disappointed coming out of the audition room so it was a big surprise to have won it.

2MF: How will you be preparing for the concert in October?
RM: I’m currently in the process of choosing my repertoire. I have had a lot of concerts recently using the same or a similar programme so I’m looking forward to spending the summer learning some new pieces that I can use in October. It’s going to be a busy October, what with starting university, so I would like to be as prepared as possible before I leave home.

2MF: What do you plan to be when you leave university?
RM: I think it’s important that I keep my options as open as possible at the moment, but music will always be there. Some options I have are to take a postgraduate degree in performance, but I am also very interested in teaching (especially primary school age) and arts administration.

2MF: Which pieces do you most enjoy playing and why?
RM: The fast, furious and cheeky pieces are often a lot of fun to perform because you can really interact with the audience and play around with the interpretation. But some of my most enjoyable memories of performances have been playing slow and beautiful pieces, and attempting to keep the audience attention entirely focused so that there is a complete stillness and tranquillity in the room when you finish. Sometimes the ensuing silence is more important and more poignant than the music itself.

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