There are many cellists who use the internet and social networks in an intelligent way, but among them, David Johnstone stands out for his desire to share and disseminate useful materials and information for cellists. A desire that MyCello shares with him. Therefore, I decided to contact him and ask him if he wants to answer some questions. He accepted the proposal with enthusiasm.
When, in your life, did you first see and hear a cello and why did you decide to choose it as your instrument?
Well, first of all, thanks so much for inviting me, and I will try to be very transparent and honest in my replies!
The truth to your first question is that I can’t really remember hearing a cello for the first time; apparently, I asked to play the violin at aged 6, but there weren’t any music lessons taking place at my village school at that moment. Then, soon after, we moved to the regional capital (Reading, Berkshire, England) and there yes there were many instruments available; I choose the cello and liked it a lot from the very beginning.
My parents didn’t play at home when I was a young child, but my father had once been an almost semi-pro jazz drummer in his youth and my mother also had quite a number of years of piano lessons and was able to play some ‘easier’ Chopin pieces; in turn, her father was the lead trumpet player in the town band. So, I suppose there were some musical genes passing from generation to generation.
Which of the teachers that you met during the years of study most influenced your training and from what points of view?
I grew up in the pre-internet age, so we didn’t have the advantage of seeing marvelous videos on YouTube, it was all face-to-face. At about 13 I was suffering a bit; I sensed that something was not right with my playing, I didn’t seem to be progressing like I wanted – I didn’t know at that moment that in fact my teacher was…very poor! However, the conductor of the local youth symphony orchestra where I had recently started playing fixed me up with a change to the cello professor at the local university – a then semi-retired German cellist called Martin Bochmann. This was like an answer from heaven! He was quite strict but very analytic (anecdotally he was almost the last student of Hugo Becker, and he was playing as orchestral principal cello in Germany/Austria in the 1940s), but just the sort of approach that I connected to. For example, when I started with him, he hated my circular-motion ‘croony’ vibrato and fixed two wooden blocks (tied by tough string) on top of and underneath my left arm to restrict unnecessary movement – it hurt a bit, but I loved doing it as I could see it was working!
The proof is that in just two years I went from the UK Grade 6 level to being accepted into the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain.
After school, I went to the Royal Academy of Music – for the first three of the four years I could have done much more, perhaps, but I was a bit overawed in London; not with music but learning how to cope for myself (and I’m not sure I did!). Musically I did not feel pushed enough, although my teacher Derek Simpson was a wonderfully kind man with whom I covered an amazing amount of repertoire which well served me later, so it was not a bad choice at all.
Towards the end of my time at the RAM I saw that cellists with a glorious tone such as Lynn Harrell were those who I most admired, and so I contacted him personally. I almost went with him to Juilliard, but anyway he would occasionally receive me in London and invited me onto his masterclasses. A definite big influence for me.
Finally, occasionally I sought a specific performer for specific works; for example, I worked on Rubbra and Enescu works with William Pleeth, or the Finzi Concerto with Christopher Bunting.
You studied in England, but now you work in Spain. What are, in your opinion, the main differences between the world of music in these two countries? Which of the two offers the best opportunities for students? Which offers the best job opportunity?