Plenty of strings to talented Cork cellist’s bow

Variety and versality have marked this Cork musician’s journey to date, writes Cathy Desmond

Yseult Cooper-Stockdale plays at the Aula Maxima, UCC, on Thursday.

YSEULT Cooper-Stockdale is one of Ireland’s most talented cultural exports. The young cellist from St Luke’s Cross in Cork City has just moved to London to play with the Southbank Sinfonia, a cutting-edge chamber orchestra formed from the world’s most promising graduate musicians on the cusp of international careers.

Variety and versatility have marked her musical journey to date. A passion for new music has seen her premier new commissions with Irish contemporary ensembles but she is a leading light too of Fishamble Sinfonia, an orchestra specializing in early music. Be it new music or old, it is her virtuosity that has garnered her a clutch of coveted Irish and international prizes marking her as a bright rising star. Her beautiful tone will be heard on Thursday when this young emigrant appears as soloist with the Cork Fleischmann Symphony Orchestra to play Robert Schumann’s cello concerto.

When we speak, she is buzzing after the first rehearsal. The Schumann, she explains, is one of the three big concertos in the cello repertoire.

“I’ve been fortunate to have played the other two, the Dvorak and Elgar concertos during my student days but this is my first time to play this work with an orchestra,” says Cooper-Stockdale. “It is musically complex — there is lovely dialogue between the soloist and orchestra that you don’t get a sense of practising unaccompanied. It is a late work and Schumann was losing his mind when he wrote it. The cellist Stephen Isserlis explores this in his fascinating documentary on the work.”

She credits the British cellist as being one of her inspirations. She also name checks Pieter Wispelwey, a Dutch cellist introduced to her by her former teacher Gerda Marwood. “I keep coming back to his recordings of the Bach cello suites.”

Cooper-Stockdale grew up in a musical family in St Luke’s Cross in the north side of Cork City.

She followed in her mother’s footsteps playing cello and piano. Her uncle Tim Cooper is a piano teacher in the School of Music and accompanies her at her Cork recitals. She played her mother’s old cello until she acquired her own instrument. No, she says, a Stradivarius is not on her wish list. She plays a modern instrument made in Cork by luthier Bertrand Galen in his workshop in Naylor Street.

“I am delighted with it. It was made for me in 2006 and it has served me very well.”

Like Schumann she studied for a while in Leipzig, a city she describes as a “special place with a wonderfully stimulating environment steeped in classical music”.

There will be a bittersweet resonance to the performance of another work on Thursday’s programme. Declan Townsend‘s Songs of Farewell was premiered in Spain in 1989. Adrian Petcu conducted the Cork School of Music Symphony Orchestra at a performance in Valencia with the late Tomás O Canainn on uilleann pipes. Played as an encore, it was a musical farewell to the city.

The composer, writing about the work said: “The Song of an Emigrant was written in response to attending an American Wake in West Cork in the late 50s … and recalls the plaintive nature of the time and the occasion”. A section titled ‘Il u e il dos’, he describes as the Valencian equivalent of ‘The Banks of My Own Lovely Lee’, “a reflection of the joy and sadness of living in a big city”.

Declan Townsend was, for many years, a classical music reviewer, for this paper. Dr Townsend has also worn many hats in his career at Cork School of Music. Many of the musicians in the orchestra playing on Thursday were colleagues of his late son Finbarr, a valued member of the viola section until his untimely death in 2013. The performance will be a special tribute to him.

Cork Fleischmann Symphony Orchestra: Thursday, March 15, Aula Maxima, UCC

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