Carry On Clio

Written by: Colin Anderson

Clio Gould is on the move when we speak – in search of a restaurant with her boyfriend (he’s driving!). Drive is a key word in Clio’s career. She’s very busy. If she’s not leading the London Sinfonietta she’s playing a concerto somewhere; if she’s not directing the BT Scottish Ensemble she’ll be at a recording session or guest-leading an orchestra. When we speak, Sunday lunch aside, she’s looking forward to leading the LSO in Spain for Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. As she tells me the repertoire of Beethoven, Respighi and Stravinsky, I muse if the LSO might bring Frühbeck back to London where he was once a regular.

No sooner returned from sunny Spain, Clio Gould will be joining up with her BT colleagues to collaborate with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Richard Tognetti in English string music. “Richard studied in Switzerland with the same teacher that I did. He’s a violinist I’ve got such respect for and we’ve shared the principal viola – their current one was in the Scottish Ensemble and is a good friend. It just seemed an obvious marriage of two groups with a similar attitude. This is the first time we’ve worked together. I’m sure it will be a very holistic approach that we take. I’m going to direct X and he’s going to do Y, then we’re coming together and playing the solo parts in the Tippett Corelli Fantasia. I think it’s a wonderful programme with lots of threads binding it together,” says Clio of the late-night Prom concert on 14 August.

These threads include much of the music being based on earlier examples – Vaughan Williams meditating on Tallis, Tippett elaborating Corelli, and a set of variations by seven composers (Lennox Berkeley, Britten and Walton included) on an Elizabethan tune. Elgar’s personal brand of energy and nostalgia opens the show with Introduction and Allegro. The chosen pieces also involve solo parts – a string quartet in the Elgar, two violins and a cello from Tippett, while VW not only has a quartet but a second (smaller) orchestra. Plenty of space for that in the Albert Hall, “although curiously it’s been difficult to find a suitable place because the hall is so huge. If you put the second group as far away as possible, that works fine in a normal concert hall or in a resonant church acoustic. The Albert Hall is infinitely big. It’s been hard to find a place where we can see each other and not be too far away to avoid a time lag.”

British composers seem to write so consummately for the string medium? “I absolutely agree. I think composers influence and inspire each other. A lot of the greatest string music is from the early twentieth-century when some fabulous British composers where furiously writing for strings. We’re so lucky. I think it’s Elgar, he re-started everything, a great burst of interest in the strings. It’s lucky he was a violinist!”

Clio Gould is the Artistic Director of the BT Scottish Ensemble, a re-branding of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble.
“Baroque seemed inappropriate when all the authentic groups got together. It’s been BT almost ten years now; they’re incredibly supportive, it’s a wonderful thing to have such long-term support”. A quick glance at BTSE’s mid-year schedule suggests it plays anywhere but Scotland. “That’s summer touring! We do loads in Scotland, a big winter season, about forty concerts in the main cities.”

Essentially a small group of strings, BTSE is flexible in repertoire and brings in extra players as necessary. “We have a bus and have done thousands of miles. We just pound around in our little bus, which is like another member of the ensemble. This September we’re doing an extensive tour of the Western Isles, which we really love. It’s the Albert Hall one day and then a tiny village hall in Barra where you put fifty pence into the meter before you get plunged into darkness!”

Clio’s role as director/violinist she describes as “like a super-powered quartet, a complete chamber music experience. It’s a group thing but I keep an overview, someone has to keep things moving; I’m keeping an eye on the whole process. The players make suggestions for repertoire that I shape into a season and go to meetings … there’s masses of different strands to keep the Ensemble running”. Not least education work which is a “vital part of what the ensemble does. We’ve done masses on the Isle of Arran – every child there has the chance to have ensemble input. We go to schools in the Glasgow area where there’s little or no music.”

BTSE has also made several CDs for Linn including Shostakovich (Eighth Quartet transcribed Barshai) and John Tavener. What’s next? “There’s more recordings in October. We’re always looking to add to the repertoire. We do a lot of commissioning. Rudolf Barshai has adapted Ravel’s string quartet; it’s now Little Symphony for strings. I thought the Ravel would work and Barshai agreed. There’s a textural thing in that piece that lends itself fabulously to larger forces”. Other Barshai transcriptions will feature on the CD including Prokofiev’s Visions fugitives (originally for piano) and another of Barshai’s Shostakovich quartet extensions; that of No.10 seems favourite. (Rudolf Barshai, born 1924, violist and conductor, knew Shostakovich and premiered the Fourteenth Symphony.)

The no-barriers reach of Gould’s repertoire is admirable – Johns Adams and Tavener, D.C. Heath and Pierre Boulez. Is there anything she doesn’t play? “I don’t play baroque violin! I didn’t want a career that went down one route. You get told ’you must practise hard and be a soloist’. What I find really stimulating is that I haven’t been forced to channel my energies into one area. I’ve been able to do so many things that have fed off and stimulated each other.”

  • The Australian Chamber Orchestra and BT Scottish Ensemble play at the Proms on 14 August at 10 o’clock – Elgar, Tippett, Vaughan Williams and more. Proms
  • BTSE
  • Linn

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