As part of my Mills Williams Junior Fellowship at the RCM I was going to give a concert in March with music for cello piccolo by Bach and composition students of the RCM. The instrument I was going to perform on is very special: a Girolamo Amati ‘Amaryllis Fleming’ from 1600, that would have been lended to me by Florian Leonhard Fine Violins and the Amaryllis Fleming Foundation. It was postponed and has now been rescheduled for October.

A cello piccolo is a cello with 5 strings (the extra string is a top E) and is often a little bit smaller than a normal cello. In the baroque period it was usual to write for all members of the cello family: basse de violon, cello piccolo and the violoncello, the instrument that is now known as the cello. Through time the violoncello became the standard instrument to write music for while the other two drifted to the background. As there wasn’t much demand less and less cello piccolo’s were being build and it became a rare instrument, some 5-stringed instruments were even converted to 4 stringed cello’s. An original cello piccolo therefore is very rare and valuable, and this particular instrument is also special because of its famous maker. Furthermore this cello was owned by Amaryllis Fleming, a renowned British cellist, alumna and later also professor at the Royal College of Music in London. The concert hall in the RCM is named after her and me being a almuna and performing with this cello in this hall completes the cirkel.

Bach composed his 6th Suite for Cello solo for the 5-stringed cello, but other than that we barely have any repertoire for it. I was interested in changing this and started a collaboration with the Royal College of Music’s composition department. 6 Young composers stood up to the challenge to write a movement of music for this unusual instrument, together it forms the ‘New Suite’. In conversation with the composers we decided to keep a link to the Bach by sticking with the dances, but otherwise they worked in their own style and with their own approach. The process was for both me and the composers very interesting and educational: How to keep the benefits and ‘period’ treats of this cello piccolo (gut-strings and baroque bow) but at the same time combine them with contemporary ideas and techniques.

The premiere should have taken place on the 23rd of March and the recording day on the 24th of March, but it was cancelled due to the Covid-19 crisis. Luckily we have now managed to reschedule this project with a recording day, a concert in the Museo del Violino in Cremona and a concert in Groningen (see concert diary). The RCM is going to make a film, part documentary and part registration of the performance and it will be published end of October.

The cello piccolo programme:

JS Bach (1685–1750) Suite for Cello solo nr. 6 in D major

  • Prelude
  • Allemande
  • Courante
  • Sarabande
  • Gavotte I, Gavotte II
  • Gigue

New Suite for cello piccolo (2020)

  • Reza Kholosi – Prelude
  • Jae Hyun Lee – Wave’s Dance
  • Darren Sng – Co uRa ntE
  • Lara Poe – Sarabande
  • Owen Ho –  Gavotte Enigma
  • Tymon Zgorzelskivi – Gigue