Abel Selaocoe on Music Pieces Every Cellist Should Play
There are few musicians who can move seamlessly between headlining the BBC Proms with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales one night and jamming at the London Jazz Festival the next. Abel Selaocoe is one of those musicians – able to master virtuoso performance with improvisation, vocals and body percussion. But what are the pieces of music that helped him become the player he is today? He has selected some of the essential works that every cellist should master during their musical career.
Pieces of Music Every Cellist Should Play
Cello Sonata No. 7 by Platti
Platti’s Cello Sonata No. 7 is one of those pieces that compels you to sing along while making you admire the singsong and soulful qualities that the cello possesses. I love music that feels improvised and sung, and Baroque music inspires me to do just that.
Improvisation is often synonymous with folk or other musical genres, but it’s such an apt term for this Platti Sonata. Platti gives us the body of the music: melody, bass and a suggestion of harmony. It is up to the performer to embellish or decorate the melody in their singing style in the same way that you would teach a folk tune to a singer and they would simply sing it in their own way. This freedom comes with responsibility because it is important to learn the art of embellishment and harmony. The continuo, played on an instrument like the theorbo, interprets harmony in such a way that it makes every moment spontaneous.
Sebastian Hess and Axel Wolf
Britten Cello Sonata
It is a play with a story to tell. Often, tall tales have incredible timing with tension and release. This sonata begins with a tense, almost frightening, hushed conversation between cello and piano.
Britten wrote his Cello Sonata for legendary cellist Mstislav Rostropovitch. He pushed the boundaries of the cello through rhythm, new techniques and lyricism. In the second movement, it takes pizzicato (string plucking) to a whole new level, requiring the cellist to pluck the string with both hands making a tremolo sound on each string. It inspired me as a composer to explore those possibilities, because it was a technique that worked so well with African rhythmic music. and it was a welcome technique in the world of African music.
It’s a great piece to help you connect to a modern way of playing. In the final movement, Britten explores ricochet, bouncing the bow off the string. There is such incredible rhythmic power. Reminds me of the song by contemporary/folk/rock cellist Rushad Eggleston C-Funk.
Johannes Moser (cello), Paul Rivinus (piano)
Deep down by Ernst Reijseger
The cello has many homes, both as a solo instrument and also as an accompanist. Playing bass lines is just as important as the melody. One of my favorite cellists, Ernst Reijseger, leans into this form, playing with a five-string cello tuned to the notes of F, C, G, D and A.
In In depth, the cello form alternates the roles between percussion instrument and double bass. It is used as a resonance box that can produce different tones rhythmically, so it is played like a slap and suddenly played like a slap bass. Finally, it is a real pleasure to see the cello at ease in an unusual voice and piano trio. This cellist inspired me to create my own ensemble called Chesaba, with cello, African percussion, voice and electric bass.
Ernst Reijseger (cello), Harmen Fraanje (piano), Mola Sylla (multi-instrumentalist)
LB files by Giovanni Sollima
Cellist and composer Luigi Boccherini was a rockstar of his time – and it was he who inspired this virtuoso concerto. LB files quotes Boccherini’s Cello Concerto and his Guitar Quintet No. 4 “Fandango”, while showing that Sollima is also a rock star. He is a lively storyteller, pushing the limits of the instrument, but he is also able to evoke a vulnerability within his audience.
When I was preparing this piece to perform at the BBC Proms, the learning process involved developing an understanding of how to use the bow in new and inventive ways – from harmonics that sound like a whistle to excessive sulpot (playing close to the bridge), which approximates the sound of a rock guitar.
Giovanni Sollima (cello)
The protective veil by John Tavener
It is deeply spiritual music that transcends the traditional concerto form. The inspiration for the piece comes from the Orthodox feast of the Protective Veil of the Mother of God, which commemorates the spiritual intervention of the Virgin Mary at the church of the Palace of Blachernae in Constantinople. It is a miraculous act of powerful prayer aimed at overcoming oppression and war. Again, the cello is presented as this powerful source of vocals. It is the voice as a universal concept that transcends genres. Steven Isserlis is an incredible cellist who brings this music to life in the most spectacular way, with a sincere and searing sound.
BBC Radio 3’s Abel Selaocoe: Cello Storytelling is now available to stream on BBC Sounds. The three-part series explores cello music and how the instrument is performed in various musical traditions around the world.