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WNO Cellist Rosie Biss talks International Concert Series

1 October 2019

We sat down with Rosie Biss, Section Principal Cello in WNO Orchestra to chat about the upcoming International Concert Series.

What’s your favourite thing about playing in WNO's Orchestra?

In an opera orchestra, you get an incredible amount of time with each piece of music – both in rehearsal and repeated performances. As a result, the ensemble knows the music in its bones. My favourite moments are the really sparse arias, where the celli/bass group simply punctuate the line with pizzicato. We can allow the singer to be totally free, yet the 10 of us know exactly where to place the note together. It’s magic.

When did you first hear the Dvořák concerto?
I can’t remember the first time I heard the Dvořák concerto. We certainly had a tape of Rostropovich which often came out on long journeys in the car so I feel like I’ve never not known it. I learnt the second movement when I was 14, and the first and last over the years following. At that age, you don’t really understand how hard things are technically and I was certainly more fearless as a teenager. I played it with the Cambridge University Orchestra in my final year, and I think it was that moment that I realised how much more work I needed to put in to be a professional cellist. I last performed the concerto a few years ago, and loved revisiting it as an adult, especially with the breadth of musical knowledge I have now.

What’s involved in preparing for a live a performance?
As with everything we play, the performance is a speck of time in comparison to the amount of preparation to get there. It includes a huge amount of slow detailed practice, work with the score away from the instrument, and building up stamina. The concerto is wonderfully scored so that the cello can always be heard, but the skill of the soloist is to be able to make every note carry right to the back of the hall, however quietly they choose to play.

What would you say to someone who hasn’t gone to an orchestra concert before?
I always advise people to listen to the pieces before they come – even just in the background when they’re cooking, or in the car. I think people are intimidated by the length of classical works but if you recognise what you hear, it’s easier to listen to, and you find yourself humming along. Sit as close to the front of the balcony as they can, or in the raised stalls, so you can really see the expressions and interactions of the players in the orchestra. It’s a fascinating study in people watching as well as a chance to hear something that you might well fall in love with. And remember that there’s no amplification at all – it’s incredible the sheer force of sound that comes out of an orchestra and you have to witness that for yourself.