The classical music industry often views multi-instrumentalists as an artefact of the past in today’s trend towards hyper-specialisation. More so than ever, instrumentalists and singers alike are classified not only by their instrument, but by period and performance style as well. Baritone and cellist Matthew Sharp has resolutely maintained both strands of his career, and believes there are significant benefits to having a more rounded approach to music. Here he speaks about his musical life, its challenges, and his views on the role of music today.
When did you start playing your instrument?
I started playing the cello when I was six. I'd been playing the violin from the age of four and singing (notably, as a mouse in Britten's Noye's Fludde) from three.
How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
From about the age of 12, not many days and nights would go by without my listening to Daniil Shafran's recording of Kabalevsky's Second Cello Concerto – preferably, multiple times. I used to think that Shafran sounded like a cello-playing werewolf! That kind of blistering, devil-may-care, wildly precise cello playing was and has remained a huge inspiration – I continue to channel my own inner werewolf! When I was 17, my cello teacher – Boris Pergamenschikow – introduced me to soprano Galina Vishnevskaya and insisted that I sing to her. Once I'd plucked up the courage, a Tchaikovsky song was plonked in front of me and Galina preceded to prod, thump, squeeze and cajole me into a very visceral, open-hearted connection with my singing voice.
Tell us about your cello. How would you describe your relationship with it?
For the last six months I've been playing an extraordinary new cello by Robin Aitchison. The relationship with it is free, easy, functional. With other cellos that's not always been the case. Most of the time, I want – and I want my audience to as well – to forget about the cello. Cellos and cello-playing are the least interesting things about cello music.
What were your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and how have they changed over the years?
I would often try too hard – become adversarial or provocative. But I firmly believe in the right to fall on one's face! I have learned, these days, to take an audience on an unknown journey by holding its hand rather than mugging it! Another big challenge has been my allegedly unorthodox, multi-faceted career. I was told so many times to make a choice and resolve what other people called the 'dilemma' [between voice and cello].
Do you use the opportunity to speak to composers about interpretation when possible?
Talking about music can sometimes be illuminating, but I've also seen it muddy the waters. I love to get in a room and really play and explore with a composer and try to move beyond the talking. Equally, if that opportunity doesn't arise, bringing a full-blooded and full-bodied interpretation to the table and seeing what feedback arises can also work well.
With more musicians performing and recording than ever, what does this mean for you as an artist in terms of originality, especially when it comes to questions of style and interpretation?
Generally speaking, I think 'style' is a red-herring. The style will emerge if you pay attention to meaning and expression. 'Interpretation' on the other hand – yes please. If only the classical world and its training would dig deeper and take more risks in this regard.
What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion?
Carefree, laying it on the line, performing like there's no tomorrow. Knowing that this is for one night only.
What's your view on the role and function of music today – and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?
People lead busy, tiring lives. Mainly, I want to uplift those lives – create a domain for people to have a fabulous time with amazing music. Laughing and crying are my barometers. I also know music can save, rescue, transform lives – it did that for me. So, I like to go to the hard-to-reach place with music and theatre – get in a room and work with people, get back to first principles and find that, at ground zero, music and theatre are alive and kicking.
This interview is taken from a longer article by 15questions.net. The full text can be found here.