Francesca Gilbert, viola
When did you start to play your instrument?
I started playing aged 6 at the Junior Guildhall string training programme in London. They showed us all of the string instruments and I was immediately drawn to the rich sound of the viola.
Do you play any other instrument?
When I started, I was joint principal study viola and classical guitar but gave it up to focus on viola when I was about 10.
Where did you study?
I did my undergraduate and masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
When did you first play with Sinfonia Cymru?
I first started playing with Sinfonia Cymru in 2016. The project was with the Fitzwilliam Quartet at the Hay-on-Wye Music Festival which I absolutely loved. It was made even more memorable for me because my car broke down in the middle of Gloucestershire on the way home…
What do you like about working with Sinfonia Cymru?
I love so many things about working with Sinfonia Cymru. There is a feeling of real freedom in our music making and it really is like playing in an extended chamber music group. It is also so refreshing to work for an organisation that genuinely cares deeply for our individual wellbeing and gives us, the players, opportunities to develop and showcase our individual creativity. It results in a tangible feeling of togetherness amongst the orchestra, it feels like we all genuinely care about what we are doing and the music we are making and this is very special.
What is your favourite Sinfonia Cymru moment?
My favourite Sinfonia Cymru moment so far is probably the launch tour we did of our Birdsong/Can Yr Adar album back in 2018. It was a collaborative project with SC, Gwillym Simcock and Kizzy Crawford. It was so much fun and great to work in a totally different way with improvisation. It felt like we were really living the music every time we performed it.
What is your favourite musical moment elsewhere?
One of my favourite moments is probably in Spain with the Ensemble Vindeleia. It’s a collective which brings high quality chamber music concerts to rural villages in the La Rioja region of Spain. We spend a week rehearsing and then do a series of 3 or 4 concerts in different villages in the area. It’s rare to have the opportunity to delve into a work in so much detail. Having the luxury of a whole week to rehearse one or two pieces is incredible and means that we can explore the music in a totally different way. The villages in which we play hardly ever have any classical music performed live and people come from all around to squeeze into the little churches and listen to us. The people who we meet there are so kind to us and so appreciative of what we do, its such a special thing. We all stay in the same house and people from the village bring us food or invite us round to their’s for lunch or dinner. Many of the people I have met in those villages feel like true friends despite that fact that we don’t speak the same language.
What do you most like about being a professional musician?
I think the best thing about being a professional musician is being able to work and play with other people. We are constantly learning from each other and the inherent communication in our music means that it is possible to form a connection with someone before you have even spoken a single word to each other.
When you’re not playing with Sinfonia Cymru what other orchestras, ensembles or projects are you involved with?
When I’m not playing with Sinfonia Cymru, I play with the Gildas Quartet and freelance in and around London and the UK.
What are your three favourite pieces of music, and why?
It’s impossible to pick three definitive all time favourite pieces of music but three pieces of music that I find myself returning to over and over again are…
It’s glorious. I love a good suspension and this has some of the most epic suspensions of all time. The Bassoon part is particularly incredible.
To be honest, any of Haydn’s slow movements (or indeed entire quartets) could be here in my top three but this is one I’ve had stuck in my head recently. It’s just perfect. The inner voice writing is second to none, it also probably helps that I’ve got very fond memories of playing this particular quartet. If you’re going to have a listen, I would recommend a recording by Quatuor Mosaïques.
This piece is truly epic and full of super rich, chromatic writing. It was inspired by Richard Dehmel’s poem of the same name and I think the music mirrors the poem perfectly. It’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster; the transition from dark and turmoil to light and relief is such a journey. I think its one of those pieces that its impossible to not feel involved in when listening or playing, its just so human.