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Monday, August 20, 2018 3:02pm

Cello Spotlight: Bruch's Kol Nidrei


Bruch's mysterious and beautiful Kol Nidrei is a well-loved work in the cello repertoire. The composer, who was intrigued by the folk music of different cultures, borrowed from melodies of two Jewish prayer chants (one of them being Kol Nidrei, which is sung on the eve of Yom Kippur) when he wrote it in 1889.

Max Bruch
Composer Max Bruch (1838 - 1920) 


ASO Principal Cello, Simon Cobcroft performs the work as part of Classics Unwrapped 3: In The Still of the Night on Wednesday 12 September 2018. We asked him a few questions about the work and his beautiful cello. 


Kol Nidrei is a well-loved work in the cello repertoire, when did you first get to know this piece?

I learnt it when I was 14 for my high school string competition, which through some fluke of fate I accidentally won. Probably because I was already good at making dramatic faces 😝😫😨😊

Simon Cobcroft in performance at the Adelaide Town Hall


Did you ever play it at a contest or competition? Have you performed it much?

Yes, the last time I performed it was in a church in North Adelaide in an arrangement for Cello and Organ with Andrew George. It is often performed with piano and this is in fact the first time I will be playing it with an orchestra, a prospect that excites me very much.


What do you love most about it?

The beautiful soaring romantic melodies and the deep burning spirituality at its heart.


It is said that out of the instruments of the orchestra, the cello sounds most like the human voice. Considering Bruch used the melodies of two Jewish prayer chants, do you imagine ‘singing’ it with your instrument?

I have even gone as far as listening to the melodies sung in their original form by a Jewish cantor. Which was actually very revealing. I always try to play in as vocal a way as I can. Both for this piece and in general.



What goes through your head when you play the piece?

Well to be honest, I have to concentrate on making sure that I am playing the cello as well as possible, because if I do become overcome with emotion, then the results might not be terribly pleasing. Sadly, it is at times as the great Janos Starker said ‘excite, don’t get excited’, but I can’t help but get a little bit emotional.


Is there a recording that has shaped how you see the piece?

Jacqui Du Pre, her immediately recognisable sound is able to communicate the deep emotional heart of the piece at once. Have a listen here.

Or here, with the Israel Philharmonic and Daniel Barenboim conducting:


If you were to nag (or perhaps you are!) a composer to write you a piece for the cello, who would that be? And if you could go back in time, which composer do you think are we missing a cello work from that would have been amazing and why?

Well, I’ll borrow from Rostropovich to answer both questions, Franz Schubert. As far as contemporary composers go, I would be amazed to see what American composer John Adams might come up with. And we’re all eagerly awaiting the premiere of Brett Dean’s Concerto in Sydney on 25 August, with former ASO guest soloist Alban Gerhart in the hot seat. It will be very exciting indeed.


What is it like to play within the orchestra for this concert and then step into the soloist chair? Do you have to adopt a completely different mindset for your playing when this happens and how do you do that?

It’s a real challenge. I think it probably mostly requires keeping a very level head and making sure that I pace myself, so I have enough energy left to play the solo. I am also a little bit worried that Guy Noble is will make me laugh so much during his interview beforehand that I won’t be able to concentrate. Let’s remember that this is the man who wanted me to scull a Martini on stage in front of the ASO at our James Bond concert.


Tell us the story of how you ‘met’ your cello!

Well, I had been looking for a new cello for some time and I had been playing full time with the Malaysian Phil for a number of years. I had given up on finding an old cello in my price range because the really good ones are so obscenely expensive. So I’d found a modern cello by the same luthier who had made a cello for Jacqui di Pre and it lived in Chicago. I travelled there to try the cello out and then set eyes on this beautiful old English Kennedy and ten minutes later it was love at first play.

They asked me how much I could afford, I lied and before I knew it, we had negotiated ourselves a slightly terrifying deal. Ten years later I have no regrets, although I do sometimes get the impression that people think I bought it for its unusual colour rather than the beautiful sound it makes.


Purchase your ticket to:

Classics Unwrapped 3: In the Still of the Night 

Wednesday 12 September, 2018

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