Love the sound of the cello and voice together? Want a chance to take part in a wonderful virtual performance? To do all this and learn about a virtuosic and versatile cellist, Keiran Campbell, read on.
Recently one of my dear friends from Oxford, Dr. Kathryn Whitney – the artistic director, conductor, and founder of Sing the North – introduced me to a choral piece with a gorgeous cello solo: Imant Raminsh’s “In the Night We Shall Go In” for SSAATBB chorus, solo cello, and string ensemble.
A Stonkingly Gorgeous Piece
I have loved the blend of the human and cello voices ever since my high school days accompanying choirs and playing in opera orchestras. As soon as Kathryn told me about what she described as a “stonkingly gorgeous piece,” I immediately wanted to learn more about it. Even better, I learned it is based on a poem by one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda.
An Amazing Cellist – And a Chance to Sing This Piece
Sing the North (STN) is a Canadian-based global virtual choir that welcomes singers from all around the world. One of their upcoming projects is to sing Raminsh’s “In the Night We Shall Go In.” They will be joined by fantastic string players, all members of Toronto’s Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra – including Keiran Campbell, who will be performing the cello solo.
Singers from around the world can join the choir and sing this beautiful work. Cellists – although the cello solo is already taken for this performance, there’s no reason you can’t learn the solo on your own . . .
Kathryn has generously offered our Cello Museum readers a 10% discount off this STN project. Take advantage of this opportunity to be part of “In the Night We Shall Go In” by Imant Raminsh featuring cellist Keiran Campbell, by using the discount code: cello.
Meet Cellist Keiran Campbell
Kathryn introduced me to Keiran Campbell, and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us.
I’m always thrilled to meet great cellists, but I was especially interested in learning more about Keiran as he is a cellist after my own heart. He plays both the baroque and modern cello, and he is so profoundly connected to the instruments themselves that he is learning to make them! In a surprise twist, I learned that we grew up about an hour away from each other in North Carolina (though separated by a few years).
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Discovering the Cello
Visiting Keiran’s website, I was reminded of 10-year-old Emily’s discovery of the beautiful cellos in her grandmother’s attic in Kittie Lambton’s delightful novella, The Cellist’s Notebook. Like the fictional Emily, Keiran, in real life:
“was drawn to the cello after he stumbled across one in his grandmother’s basement and was baffled by its size.”
Cello Museum (CM)
I love the story about how you discovered the cello in your grandmother’s basement and how that inspired you to want to play. How did you get started playing the baroque cello?
Keiran Campbell (KC)
I think I really started getting interested in the baroque cello when my cello teacher in high school, Leonid Zilper, gave me a DVD of Anner Bylsma playing the 5th Bach Suite. Something about the freshness, the freedom, and the openness of the way he played Bach just completely made sense to me, and I really tried to emulate that on my modern cello.
I ended up staying at Juilliard to get my master’s in Historical Performance, and it opened up a world of colors and expressions that make life interesting, every single day!
Amusingly, I did try a baroque cello when I was about ten or eleven, and I absolutely hated it, since gut strings do take some getting used to. I’m really glad I gave it a second chance!
Master of Both the Modern and Baroque Cello
How does it feel to move between the modern and baroque cellos?
It took some getting used to switching between modern and baroque cello. During my master’s degree, I was also studying with Timothy Eddy, and sometimes I would have baroque and modern lessons back to back!
All I can say is that I am grateful that both Tim and Phoebe had plenty of patience . . .
I’ve found that switching back and forth is easier when you have two cellos that are very different from each other in terms of the spacing of the left hand, so you can sort of flip a switch and say, “Okay, I’m playing this one now.”
Playing on Gut Strings
In other ways, I’ve found that I want to make my modern cello a little closer to my baroque cello, which means that I’ll often play modern with an unholy combination of plain gut A and D, and Spirocore G and C.
Gut has such a wonderful depth to the sound, and you can get so much more articulation and variation in shapes and dynamics. I really do think that gut strings are part of why a lot of the “old masters” from the first half of the 1900s had such personal and unique ways of speaking when they played.
Please tell us about your cellos.
My baroque cello was made by Tim Johnson in 2018, and my modern by Grubaugh and Seifert in 2005. I absolutely adore both of them, and they both are very different.
Tim’s cello has a resonant, rumbling bass and a huge range of colors on the open strings, and the G&S has one of those A strings where you can just sink in more and more, and the sound just keeps coming – I am very lucky.
An Interest in Instrument Making
How did you get into instrument making? Have you made any cellos?
As a kid, I really loved building things, just as much as I loved playing the cello. Something about the form of the instrument has always absolutely fascinated me. After years of carving very rudimentary fronts, backs, and scrolls of violins (I couldn’t afford a bending iron, so I never made the ribs!), I finally started studying violin making with Tim Johnson – we actually just completed my first violin together. No cellos yet, but perhaps once we get a bigger apartment!
Luthier Skills to the Rescue
Do you maintain your own cellos? Have you ever had to do a quick fix before a performance?
I shy away from doing my own soundpost adjustments, because I know that if I start, I’ll never stop obsessing! Tim did teach me useful things like gluing open seams, which is incredibly useful living here in Toronto. Having a little bit of knowledge does definitely take a lot of fear out of things when something goes wrong on a tour.
Most recently, I had a seam open up before a concert. Usually, you want to put a little fresh glue in a popped seam and clamp it to make sure it holds, but since hide glue is water-soluble, in a pinch, you can treat it almost like licking an envelope.
I stuck a thin knife into warm water, and then carefully put it in the seam, which activated the glue. Then, since I (of course) didn’t have any clamps in the hotel room, I held the seam closed with my hands and watched TV for 30 minutes.
It has stayed closed to this day!
Memorable Cellos: an Amati and a Grancino
What is the most unusual and/or memorable cello you have ever played?
I think it’s a tie between the Brothers Amati “Amaryllis Fleming” piccolo cello from 1610 and a Giovanni Grancino from 1709. I was very lucky to have them both on short-term loans (luckily, at different times, otherwise having that many millions of dollars worth of cello in my apartment would have been very stressful!).
The two cellos are quite opposite. Of course the piccolo is small, but it has a rich tone, and the cello more or less “drove” me, rather than me telling it what to do!
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The Grancino is a glorious instrument, especially because it is in original condition. It was never reduced in size (the string length is 72cm, vs. the usual 69cm), and it growled like a double bass.
I miss them both!
Cello Solo in the Ramnish “In the Night We Shall Go In”
I’m looking forward to hearing your solo in Imant Ramnish’s “In the Night We Shall Go In” with Sing the North. Please tell us more about the piece. Do you often perform this work?
I have never played this piece before, and I’m very excited about it! It’s based on a poem by Pablo Neruda, who happens to be one of my favorites. The piece features lush strings with soaring cello and violin underneath the voices – I definitely want to play this again soon!
What are your other upcoming projects?
Concerts are slowly coming back! I’ll be playing several projects in the spring with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, where I am principal cello.
In June, I’ll be teaching at a new festival for period instruments called “Chamber Music Collective.” The focus is on repertoire post 1750, and it will take place on June 1-5 in Berkeley, CA, during the Berkeley Early Music festival.
Students will receive coachings, lessons, and will perform side by side with faculty. The festival is founded by two fortepianists, so we will have access to Berkeley’s amazing keyboard collection. Applications are open until April 1, in case anyone is interested!
After that, I’m off to New York to play at Teatro Nuovo, which focuses on period productions of Bel Canto operas, and then to Minnesota for Lakes Area Music Festival, followed by concerts with The English Concert in London and Edinburgh in August.
I can’t wait!
Links for Summer Programs
- Here’s a link to the festival I mentioned: http://
- Also, here is a link for Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute, which is virtual this year and runs from June 6-12: https://www.tafelmusik.
How to Follow and Support Keiran Campbell
Join Sing the North to Sing “In the Night We Shall Go In”
- Sign up here
- Discount code: cello
- Learn more about composer Imant Raminsh
- STN on Facebook
- STN on Instagram: @singthenorth
- Fun fact: When you join Sing the North to sing Imant Raminsh’s beautiful piece about stealing into an orchard at night to see beauty emerge, you get to be spirited off yourself to a virtual orchard of your own aboard the STN Virtual Choir Tour Bus! (Find out more on the sign-up page.)