The GSO were scheduled to perform the passionate Lalo Cello Concerto at its Spring Concert on Sunday 29th March with Yoanna Prodanova as our soloist. Sadly this was cancelled due to the Coronavirus situation. An award-winning graduate of the Guildhall and Royal Academy of Music, Yoanna’s professional career has seen her perform across the UK, Europe and Canada. She is also the cellist of the Barbican String Quartet and a veteran of prestigious concert venues such as the Wigmore Hall. Last year she released a successful recording of Brahms’ Chamber Music as part of a trio. Her appearance with the GSO is a double debut – both with the orchestra and playing the Lalo Concerto. We recently spoke to Yoanna and this is what she told us.
Firstly, let me start by telling you about Lalo.
This would have been my first time performing the Lalo cello concerto. It’s always special to play a piece for the first time, especially one that isn’t so often heard. I think it gives you more space to really discover it by yourself entirely without prejudice. What strikes me the most in this piece is its incredible vocal quality. Every single theme can be sung or recited, and I almost feel more like a singer rather than a cellist. It’s a wonderfully dramatic work, and the way it is orchestrated really makes it seem like the cello is telling a story, sometimes emphatic and prophetic, sometimes tender and melancholic, sometimes filled with joy and carefree. It’s a wonderfully exciting piece, and I was so much looking forward to sharing it with you!
So how did I start to play the cello?
I am the first musician in my family. My father’s father was a wonderful poet at heart, and also taught himself to play every traditional Bulgarian instrument. My dad also is a self taught guitarist and sings beautifully, so there was music around me when I was growing up, but almost never classical. I first heard the cello when I was eleven years old. At that time I played the piano, and really wanted to become a musician. I have always loved music, and when I was very little I would spend hours and hours on my swing at my grand parents’ house making up songs and singing as loud as I can. Anyway, when I was eleven, although I knew I wanted to be a musician, I kind of knew I was never going to be a pianist – I just was not good enough, and early on my love for the instrument was broken by a rather tyrannical Belorussian piano teacher. So, at the recommendation of someone my parents came to know, and by some incredible serendipity, I went to my first classical music concert where I heard the cello and absolutely fell in love with its sound, shape, everything! I am very lucky to have the most supportive parents who found me an instrument
Then there’s my very special cello.
I am extremely lucky to have my current cello – a late 18th century instrument by the Italian luthier Giuseppe Gagliano, which is on loan to me by the Canimex Group in Canada. I’ve been playing on it for almost two years now, and I really feel like it has a become a part of me. What I love about this instrument is that it lets me really search for the sound that I want, in the utmost detail. It is incredibly flexible and I feel like I can extract as much depth or sharpness as I want, and there is never a limit to the colour palette that it offers me. I think an instrument really influences the way you play and the type of sound that you want to make, but also it goes the other way around. An instrument can develop completely differently depending on who is playing it. I love to search for as many overtones and richness in the sound, and the ultimately perfect sound point, and what it does in return is it continues to develop and open up to me more and more each day. It’s a real love story.
Actually, what’s really funny is that for years I used to play on what felt like a wooden box – a red tinted cello that was made in the Soviet Union. Its fingerboard was not even ebony, but some kind of painted wood, so by the time I was about 15 years old it was almost white, and my fingertips were constantly black from the paint… Although I loved my cello (I didn’t know what playing another one was like) at some point it really started limiting me, especially in the sound production. But I never gave up and I still remember my teacher at the time Denis Brott encouraging me to find the most beautiful sound possible on it because “if you can make a wooden box sound good, then you can do anything.”
These change all the time, because I fall obsessively in love with pieces, especially the ones I am playing. A composer that is really, really very special for me is Faure. I’m incredibly lucky because later this year I’m going to record his cello sonatas and piano trio. Working on his music is very special and feels deeply personal for me. Schubert is also a favorite – every single thing he wrote is simply perfect. I find Janacek very close to my heart, his music really speaks to me – perhaps because of the slavic language! Bartok moves me very deeply and I love his use of folk elements. Naturally, Beethoven is always there for me. In the last year I’ve started enjoying Bach’s cello suites. It’s been a love and hate relationship for many years, and I feel really happy that we’ve finally agreed to love each other (for now).
First there’s the sea. I grew up in Varna, one of the most beautiful sea side towns in Bulgaria. Having moved and immigrated to Canada when I was 14, it is really what remained home for me. Basically, when I’m by the sea, I feel at home. Another thing I’ve started doing regularly in the past year is Yoga. It really helps me reach my inner balance and stay healthy, especially when travelling a lot. When it comes to books, I’m finishing Solzhenitsin’s Gulag Archipelago which is incredible, but also one of the most difficult reads I have done lately, from an emotional perspective. It’s an awful part of history, which it’s so important to learn about, and to really think about what human suffering is. Lately, I have also read Narcissus and Goldmund by Hesse, and Zweig’s Beware of Pity. I also really love the Little Prince which I read when I was eight and it’s been with me ever since! Finally, there’s the world of films – particularly Tarkovsky, Kubrick, Tarantino and Bergman. My favourite one is probably Stalker… Also, from the recent ones, I have just seen Parasite which I thought was truly exquisite, suspenseful and thought provoking, on top of being absolutely gorgeously filmed.