Friday, August 29, 2014

Richard Boothby talks of his career as a viol player and about Fretwork

On July 28th 2014 I met with Welsh-born viol player Richard Boothby in Devon, UK. Following studies in Salzburg with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Richard Boothby founded the Purcell Quartet in 1984. He was a founding member of Fretwork in 1985. Since then, his career has been bound up with these two groups, with whom he has recorded and toured, performing the broadest range of repertoire for viols, from early to contemporary music. Performing solo recitals, he recorded the three Bach sonatas for viola da gamba with Shalev Ad-El for the Chandos label, enthusiastically received. Boothby has given many recitals of suites of Antoine Forquerey and is professor of viol at the Royal College of Music, London.

PH: Professor Boothby, what were your early musical experiences?

Richard Boothby: I suppose they were listening to records with my parents. I remember they had a recording of Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s 4th Symphony. My brother had recordings of “A Hard Day’s Night” and of Bob Dylan’s John Wesley Harding album and I became familiar with those. I started learning the ‘cello when I was at school in South Wales. In those days, the 1960s, there was free instrumental tuition for all school children. When I went to secondary school at age 11 we could choose between violin, clarinet and ‘cello. In my mind, I had confused the ‘cello with the oboe and was then too proud to say I was not expecting anything like that instrument when given a ‘cello! But I liked the ‘cello very much and carried on with it.

PH: When did you start playing the viol?

RB: When I was at Manchester University studying Music, a university course (Musicology) rather than a conservatoire course, I was given the chance to play the viol. We did a lot of playing there, all the same.

PH: Where did you go from there?

RB: I went to London and studied with Charles Medlam for a few years. He had strong connections with Salzburg and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. I applied to the Mozarteum and received a scholarship to go and study for a year with Harnoncourt in Salzburg. That was 1980-1981.

PH: And following your studies…

RB: I returned to the UK and started a career. Actually, it is very difficult to just start out just like that on an instrument as esoteric as the gamba. For many years I worked in the Early Music Shop in London. For a time I worked with harpsichord builder and restorer Mark Ransom. Learning about harpsichords and their tuning was useful as I was playing a lot of music with harpsichord. As performing demanded more of my time I worked less at these jobs, finally devoting my time solely to performing. I was doing a lot of solo recitals but my career really took off when I founded Fretwork and the Purcell Quartet. They both became successful groups.

PH: Do both groups still exist?

RB: The Purcell Quartet stopped a few years ago, but Fretwork is very much in existence.

PH: Where does Fretwork perform?

RB: Anywhere and everywhere. We have played all over the world.

PH: Does Fretwork join other ensembles?

RB: We have sometimes joined with vocal groups such as Stile Antico, Red Byrd and I Fagiolini and sometimes we have a solo singer, but mostly it is just the four of us – Asako Morikawa, Reiko Ichise, Richard Tunnicliffe and myself.

PH: In addition to the early music repertoire for viols, Fretwork seems to be interested in modern music.

RB: Yes. We started with just one contemporary piece…then a few more and, eventually, contemporary music became a bigger and bigger part of what we do. Nowadays it is unusual for us to do a program without some contemporary music in it. In fact, we sometimes do a whole concert of contemporary music. For example, we will be performing in the Vale of Glamorgan Festival, a festival focusing only on music of living composers.

PH: Has there been a changeover of players in Fretwork over the years?

RB: Yes. I am the only “surviving” founder member of the group.

PH: Do you research viol music?

RB: In the early days of Fretwork, with parts not so available, we had to copy out a lot of music we wanted to play from collective editions. But things have changed enourmously in 30 years. We do some research, but a lot of previously unknown music is now available to players. If we come across music in editions we do not like I will produce my own edition.

PH: Do you publish your editions or are they just for your own use?

RB: We started producing computer set parts and a former member of Fretwork Bill Hunt has carried on with Fretwork Editions, producing scholarly- and practical editions of a lot of viol consort music – Lawes, Jenkins, Dowland etc., a huge variety of works.

PH: Do you find there are enough audiences in the UK interested in hearing all the viol music that has been unearthed as well as modern viol works?

RB: Yes. There is a good audience for the music we play. Different programs and different soloists attract people to come and hear us.

PH: Would you like to mention your teaching.

RB: Yes. I teach at the Royal College of Music, at Dartington Hall and every year I teach at the Marnaves Summer Baroque Course in France. The latter, run by Lucy Robinson and Andrew Wilson-Dickson, is a course focusing on solo- and consort viol playing.

PH: Is the UK producing a new generation of viol players?

RB: Yes. There are a great many very good players coming up. It is very encouraging. Jonathan Manson, a wonderful ‘cellist and viol player teaching at the Royal Academy of Music, is doing a very good job at encouraging his ‘cello pupils to take up the viol while they are at the Academy. Because of that, several good viol players have come from the Academy. What is surprising is that not more viol consorts have emerged in the UK. Even in Europe, where there are many, many viol players, there are very few viol consorts. It is a shame. There is a lot of room for more consorts.

PH: Do you compose?

RB: No, I don’t.

PH: When it is not music, what interests you?

RB: I am fairly interested in politics. I like food and cooking. My wife is Italian and I spend quite a lot of time in Italy, which is always very nice.