James Beck’s unsexy cello

James Beck’s unsexy cello

As a teacher of the cello, James Beck can never quite understand students who don’t practise enough.

I presume the cello’s the most important thing in their life. I mean these are girls that walk to school with like, 15 different bits of equipment, they’ve got bags everywhere: cello, tennis racket, hockey stick, says Beck.

When they go, -˜Oh no, I’ve only done four [practices]. I had rhythmic dancing on Tuesday,’ it’s like, -˜Say no to rhythmic dancing! It’s cello all the way!’

A teenage James Beck rarely missed a practice. He would forge sick notes and break his own hockey stick to make more time for the cello. Eventually, of course, it paid off.

Beck will be performing on the baroque cello as part of The Tempest series for the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, under visiting guest director and soloist Marc Destrub?Works by Rebel, Rameau and Haydn including Les Bor?es (Storm Music) and Le Soir -“ La Tempesta (Evening Storm) promise a dramatic evening at the City Recital Hall.

It might be all in a day’s work for some musicians, but Beck’s seam-bursting enthusiasm for the music seems exceptional. This may be due in part to his second job with the ABO as music researcher, which provides added insights into the work the ABO performs. The Suite by Rameau, for instance, was written in 1764 but not performed until 1987, thanks to Madame Pompadour, the French Revolution and the catty machinations of French composers. Beck laps it up.

When we look at dots on the page, it’s such an inadequate way of conveying sound, explains Beck. So you really have to know what was going through the minds of the people at the time, to conceptualise how to execute it.

I think part of discovering what makes that music so passionate, is finding out about the people who played it and what went on in their lives.

By the same logic, it’s fun to discover the passion behind James Beck. He moved here from Perth two years ago and plays with a variety of orchestras, although the Brandenburg is his first love. A typical day involves teaching until midday, practising in the afternoon and concerts at night -“ a balanced diet, laughs Beck. Occasionally, there’s some recording work, which has included playing the cello on two Powderfinger CDs.

Home is Potts Point, which is great, according to Beck, because of an antique bookstore called Hordern House, which sells amazing, amazing, amazing 18th century original music manuscripts. One calfskin volume was only $200 -“ You’re laughing, says Beck, and then he does.

The laughter is frequent and delightful, a sign perhaps of a person who’s truly optimistic or slightly obsessed. He simply doesn’t stop smiling, even when mentioning the only negative aspect of the object of his affection. He admits that it’s a shame the cello isn’t seen as sexier, noting the trend in popular culture of sexy female cellists, rather than blokes. (He loves the cellists of Truly, Madly, Deeply and The Witches Of Eastwick, but hated the Bond girl cellist in The Living Daylights. The coffee keeps flowing, as the interview starts getting a little silly.)

It’s the cello shape and size. It’s an idealised romanticised sort of body shape, really, says Beck. An excellent friend of mine, Sally, is an amazing cellist and you’d just drop dead looking at her. We’ll be playing the cello next to each other and people will be like, who is she, and I’ve got to work twice as hard! Because she’s a girl, she’s got hair and she’s wearing black velvet. You can’t compete with that.

Still, the love of his beloved instrument hasn’t faded, nor are there any competitors for his affections: Beck is happily single. I’m just happy celloing away. Making the cello sexy, grins Beck.


The Tempest Series by the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra runs 7pm nightly on 6, 7, 11, 13 and 14 September at City Recital Hall and may be booked on 8256 2222.

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