Leonard Elschenbroich heads to the Festival of Chichester with Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Elgar’s Cello Concerto is probably the piece that Leonard Elschenbroich has performed most in his career – and he will perform it again with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra at this year’s Festival of Chichester (Chichester Cathedral, Thursday July 7, 7.30pm).

Leonard Elschenbroich © Felix Broede
Leonard Elschenbroich © Felix Broede

But that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier.

It is not, he says, the most technically challenging piece; the challenge is more to capture the spontaneity of first playing it. That, of course, plus the fact that it is the most extraordinary piece.

“I think there is a huge sense of just how important it is to the composer.

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    "There is something about its place in his own life and its moment in history. You feel very honoured that you get to play a piece that has such a personal significance to Elgar and you also feel a great responsibility that you are really trying to embody not only a work of art but something very much an intimate and personal confession.

    "That's one of the great things about a solo concerto, that it is very much a personification which is not quite the same as you would have perhaps in a symphony. It is not the most difficult piece technically but it has such a profound place that you just can't rely on experience.

    "You just can't recall it. It is not enough that is just in your fingers.

    "You have to be really in it, really inside the piece.”

    It comes at an interesting time for Leonard who used the lockdowns as a chance to develop his interest as a conductor.

    “I have been back performing since February really and things have picked up and it is good to be back but I can't say that I necessarily missed the performing so much.

    "I started studying conducting four or five years ago and the pandemic meant that I really had time to study and learn a lot of different repertoire as a conductor, to learn different approaches that I just wouldn't have had the time to do. I've always wanted to be a conductor.

    "I just wanted to wait for the right time to really get into it. Four or five years ago I started and now was just the right time when there were no concerts.

    “I think it's the repertoire that I wanted really.

    "There is not enough cello repertoire to fill a lifetime though there is certainly great repertoire. You want to keep discovering new things that will last a lifetime but there is not an infinite number of pieces that you can play on the cello. If you're conducting, you open up so many more possibilities.”

    And inevitably, conducting and performing do feed off each other: “I do want to keep doing both. Obviously it is a different perspective. The players tend to think of themselves as having an overview and of course that's part of what you do but when you are conducting you really do have that overview and you see it all very differently.”

    For the Festival of Chichester, aside from the Elgar, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, under conductor Gergely Madaras, offer an exciting programme of masterpieces including Beethoven’s Overture to Prometheus and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 Pathétique. Tickets £30, £25, £15. 50 per cent concession for students and under-18s.