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Interview: Strings attached with Laura van der Heijden

Crowned BBC Young Musician of the Year in 2012, aged just 15, Laura is now an international cello soloist. Performing at Kettle’s Yard next month, the 21-year-old is also a final-year student at the University of Cambridge. Jasmine Watkiss chats to her

How old were you when you started playing cello, and how did you get started?

I started playing the cello when I was 6. A close family friend in our village, Marina Logie, happened to be a fantastic cello teacher for beginners. I think the combination of my father being an amateur cellist and my personality led my parents to the idea that the cello might be right for me. I had started the piano and recorder the year before and had clearly taken a liking to making music!

How did you become so accomplished at such a young age?

I was very lucky because I started off - and continued -with very good teachers. No matter how much you practise as a child, if you’re not taught well then it’s going to be quite difficult to become comfortable with your instrument. My parents encouraged me to practice, and my mother often sat with me and helped; they knew the hard part for me was starting, but once I got going I really enjoyed it.

Who or what has been influential in your musical career?

Many people have helped shape my career hugely: my parents, of course; my teachers Marina Logie and Leonid Gorokhov; Alison Rhind, who coached me for several years; and the BBC Young Musician Competition played a very important role in the development of my career.

Laura van der Heijden (7664783)
Laura van der Heijden (7664783)
Laura van der Heijden (7664785)
Laura van der Heijden (7664785)

What has studying at Cambridge been like? What have you enjoyed most about it?

Studying in Cambridge has been a total whirlwind. The pressure of balancing my work, music and social life is intense, but meeting incredible people and being around buildings steeped in history has been amazing. The musical culture here is so diverse, and I’ve been involved with projects that I wouldn’t otherwise have come across – including playing regularly with the St John’s College Choir and recording their 100th CD Locus Iste with them, which is coming out on April 26. I feel very lucky to be here, and also very sad that it is coming to an end so quickly! I’d love to do it all again.

How have you managed to juggle your academic work with international concerts?

It has been a real challenge, not only due to time constraints, but also because concerts require such a different mindset; I find it very hard to switch from practising to writing an essay. But I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way, because playing and performing is a huge part of my identity, and without it I don’t feel quite myself. Coming to Cambridge has made me question many things that I have previously taken for granted. The decision to devote my life to music was a natural one, but I wanted to make it actively. As much as I have enjoyed exploring the academic side of music, it has also helped me realise how much I miss playing the cello when work pressures pile up.

What have been your favourite moments from your professional career so far?

There have been so many; seeing Tokyo when I performed there last summer was amazing, as was playing in Australia and New Zealand. I have also really enjoyed collaborating with inspiring musicians, including Krzysztof Chorzelski, Tom Poster, Elena Urioste, Savitri Grier, Juan-Miguel Hernandez, and many more! One particular highlight was the process of recording and producing my CD 1948 with Petr Limonov. The experience was a challenging one, but very satisfying – we both really put our heart and soul into it.

Laura van der Heijden (7664814)
Laura van der Heijden (7664814)
Laura van der Heijden (7664790)
Laura van der Heijden (7664790)

Do you get stage nerves? How do you cope with them?

I get quite nervous before almost every concert, which I think is very normal and also healthy. I make sure I am breathing well, focusing on good posture, and feeling comfortable in my body. A banana before the concert also helps.

You’re about to leave Cambridge University – what are your plans for the future?

I’m excited and curious to see what the next chapter of my life will bring. Finishing university is a bit of a scary time for everyone: it feels like it’s finally time to begin your ‘real life’. The music world is ever-changing, so throwing yourself into it isn’t as secure as getting a nine-to-five job, which is both exhilarating and terrifying! At the moment, my main plans are to continue playing concerts and travelling around the world.

What other interests do you have? What do you do in your down time?

I love cooking and eating with my friends, in particular Japanese food, going for walks, watching movies, reading books. . . and panicking about deadlines!

I often go through phases of listening to music on repeat. At the moment I am listening to a lot of jazz and funk, but I will always have a soft spot for Bach, Schumann, Beethoven, and Brahms. I can’t really imagine my life without music.

• To find out more about Laura’s debut album ‘1948’, featuring Russian works for cello and piano, visit lauravanderheijden.uk

Hot Ticket

Laura will be performing at Kettle’s Yard on May 9 as part of the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective, with Tom Poster on piano, Savitri Grier on violin, and Juan-Miguel Hernandez on viola. The quartet will perform a wonderful programme of works by Fanny and Felix Mendelssohn and Robert and Clara Schumann. For more information and to buy tickets, visit kettlesyard.co.uk/events/kaleidoscope-chamber-collective

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