“At the moment I am obsessed with Beethoven…” – interview with cellist Clare O’Connell

Ahead of her concert with pianist Viv McLean at Café Yukari, near to Kew Gardens, on 28th April, we caught up with cellist Clare O’Connell to find out more about her musical life, her influences, and what provides inspiration for her offstage…..

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have always loved music. Singing and playing the piano and the cello as a child was part of how I defined myself, and the community of people I met and loved playing in my county youth orchestras and playing chamber music made me realise that I wanted to pursue a life dedicated to expressing myself through music.

My teacher Alexander Kok’s passion for seeking truth in music was a major influence on me, but the musicians who have influenced me the most are those I have worked closely with over the years – my great friends and collaborators who by their brilliance, imagination and bravery inspired me to challenge myself.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

The greatest challenge of my career has been in learning to understand myself and combat tension, fear and self sabotage.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of my ‘Isolated Cellist’ album  which I made during the lockdown in 2020. All the pieces are my arrangements, except one stunning piece by Alex Mills, which I’ll be performing a few times over the summer.


Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

Those that I love with a passion. You have to love and believe in what you perform, I think.

At the moment I am obsessed with Beethoven, and the works of Edmund Finnis which are stunningly spare and yet express so much.

I’ve also just commissioned a new piece from the wonderful composer Nick Martin, which I’m COMPLETELY in love with. It’s called ‘Vocalise’, and builds a simple Ukrainian folk tune into a mass of incredibly moving cello lines piled up on top of each other.

Commissioning and celebrating the work of living composers is so important.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I read a lot and talk to my colleagues. It’s important to me to have a real connection with the people I play with. I love visiting art galleries and I’ve started making an effort to go to concerts again – the last one I went to, the latest in Freya Waley Cohen and William Marsey’s amazing Listenpony series, introduced me to some extraordinary new music.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

I like to choose whatever it is I feel most passionate about, whatever is inspiring me, and what feels relevant. I also like to mix it up and keep it as stimulating, refreshing and varied as possible.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

My favourite audience to play to is the one I built up in Berkhamsted where I live – my Behind the Mirror series audience. They are so loyal and such lovely people. It feels like a community.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I feel that we need to work on getting our potential audience to trust us more, and then to keep them guessing and surprising them with new music, new juxtapositions  and  provoking thought with idea led programmes.

I want audiences to feel excited at the prospect of going to concerts where they might not quite know what will happen next, or how a piece might be presented.

We need to be really imaginative and then to back that up with beautifully executed  and passionately committed performances.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

 One of the most memorable concert s for me was Chroma’s debut performance at the Purcell Room back in 2000 – it was my first recital in that space playing with musicians I really looked up to. I was extra nervous but somehow managed to lose myself in the music and play to a level I could only achieve by jumping off a cliff. I remember how it felt vividly.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

It is very difficult to be a musician these days. So many compromises need to be made, and the odds are stacked against us at the moment with Brexit  making travel so difficult and streaming limiting our ability to make money out of our recordings.

I think if you are able as a musician to sustain yourself and live a happy balanced life doing the work that feeds you to the best of your ability without having to compromise your vision, then you are on the road to achieving success.

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Research! Read and learn as much as you can around your musical projects and ideas.

Find out what you want and go for it.

Don’t stop questioning, practising aspiring – try not to get too comfortable!

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

I think the music industry has so much covered these days diversity, inclusivity and so many new groups and organisations to promote marginalised musicians – we are looking at it all the time on social media.

I think the constant need to be seen being BUSY needs to be addressed. And the way that that consumes time which we could be devoting to our creativity. The fact that it is demanded of us by funding bodies is particularly damaging because it puts the focus in the wrong place. On pleasing our audience to get more likes, rather than creating something deep and new and challenging for the sake of it alone.

I also wonder if this incessant awareness of what everyone else is doing is actually stifling variety in our creative output.

We need space away from the noise to feed our inner creativity.

What is your most treasured possession?

My imagination

Beethoven at Café Yukari with Clare O’Connell & Viv McLean, Thursday 28th April at 8.30pm.

More information / tickets

Clare O’Connell

Beethoven at Cafe Yukari

After a wonderful, uplifting evening of spring music performed by violinist Leona Gogolycina and pianist Jeremy Chan, we return to Cafe Yukari this month with a concert by two internationally-renowned musicians, Clare O’Connell (cello) and Viv McLean (piano), who will perform a selection of sonatas for piano and cello by Beethoven.


Sonata for piano and cello in F major Op 5/ 1 (1796)

Sonata for piano and cello in G minor Op.5 / 2 (1796)

Sonata for piano and cello in A Op. 69 (1807)


Beethoven wrote his five sonatas for piano and cello at different points in his life and as such they offer a unique window onto his creative and compositional development.

The Opus 5 Sonatas are a young man’s works: fresh, vibrant, colourful, energetic, humorous. They are clever and witty – take the false cadences in fast movement of the G minor sonata – but nor do they lack depth, or emotion. They also remind us that Beethoven was a fine pianist, and the Opus 5 sonatas were composed at a time when Beethoven was carving a career for himself as a virtuoso. 

The A major sonata, Opus 69, is from the middle, most productive, period of Beethoven’s life and it marks a turning point, particularly in the variety and organisation of its thematic material, and its improvisatory nature. It was composed during the same year as the Violin Concerto and the Opus 70 piano trios, and the completion and publication of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies.

Cafe Yukari is a relaxed, convivial venue close to Kew Gardens tube station. The venue boasts a beautiful Fazioli grand piano and concert-goers can enjoy authentic Japanese food before or after the concert.

Praise for 7 Star Arts at Cafe Yukari:

“a truly uplifting evening- beautiful music and delicious food”

“What a charming experience …to listen to  first-class music and eat delicious food while outside, beyond the fairy lights, commuters pour out of Kew Gardens Station

Tickets £20

Book online or in person via the venue 020 8487 1338


Performer, arranger and curator, cellist Clare O’Connell plays as a soloist and chamber musician.

She founded and curates Behind The Mirror: her own series of intimate chamber music concerts in Berkhamsted, for which she has commissioned many new works from living composers & has made her own arrangements of numerous pieces of music for unusual groups of instruments, as well as her own compositions.

She is a member of visionary ensemble Lontano and the Storytellers Ensemble, and is a regular collaborator with many other chamber music & chamber opera projects.

Over lockdown she arranged, recorded and produced her debut solo album The Isolated Cellist, a deeply personal collection of ancient & modern music for solo and layered cello which was released by Stone Records in April 2021.

Highlights of 2022 include a performance as soloist of Cheryl Frances Hoad’s work Katharsis with the new music ensemble at Oxford University, and the world premiere of “Figures of Eight”, Edmund Finnis’ duo for cello and double bass which she co-commissioned with bassist Elena Hull. She will be one of four solo cellists performing in Laura Jane Bowler’s new opera The Blue Woman at the Royal Opera House and at Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh; and will be performing throughout the year with musicians & collaborators such as Liam Byrne (viola da gamba) , Tom Rogerson (piano), Eleanor Turner (harp), Milos Milivojevic (accordion), Viv McLean (piano), Jack McNeill (clarinet) and Daniel Pioro (violin).

She is a graduate of Wadham College, Oxford where she studied Ancient & Modern History followed by postgraduate study at the Royal College of Music & the Hochshule für Künste in Bremen, Germany with internationally acclaimed cellist and teacher Alexander Baillie. She plays on a cello by Stefan Krattenmacher.


Described by Le Monde as “possessing the genius one finds in those who know how to forget themselves”, since winning First Prize at the Maria Canals Piano Competition in Barcelona, British pianist Viv McLean has performed in all the major venues in the UK as well as throughout Europe, Japan, Australia and the USA. Viv’s concerto work includes appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Halle Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, Sinfonia Viva, Orchestra of the Swan, Orchestra of St John’s, Northern Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Concert Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra under the baton of such conductors as Daniel Harding, Wayne Marshall, John Lubbock, Christopher Warren-Green, Owain Arwell Hughes, Philip Hesketh, David Charles Abell, Stephen Bell, Carl Davis, Rebecca Miller and Marvin Hamlisch. Recent concerto highlights include Mozart K467 with the ECO at the Royal Festival Hall, Grieg with the LPO at the Barbican, Rachmaninov’s 3rd Concerto with the RPO in Cambridge, Gershwin, Bernstein, de Falla and Ravel with the Hallé at the Bridgewater Hall, The Sage Gateshead and other venues in the North of England, and Beethoven’s 5th Concerto with the Philharmonia at the Royal Festival Hall. Engagements in the coming months include a tour with the London Concert Orchestra playing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue in venues including the Royal Festival Hall London, Symphony Hall Birmingham, Bridgewater Hall Manchester, Usher Hall Edinburgh and the Royal Concert Hall Glasgow. Viv will also be doing a series of words & music concerts with the acclaimed writer, Jessica Duchen, featuring works by Beethoven and based on her new novel “Immortal”. 

Viv plays regularly with the Adderbury Ensemble and the Le Page Trio and has also performed with other leading chamber groups such as the Ysaye String Quartet, the Sacconi String Quartet, members of the Elias, Allegri, Tippett String Quartets and Leonore Piano Trio, Ensemble 360, the Galliard Wind Ensemble, the Bristol Ensemble, the Berkeley Ensemble and the Leopold String Trio. He has collaborated with musicians such as Natalie Clein, Marianne Thorsen, Daniel Hope, Lawrence Power, Mary Bevan, David Le Page, Matthew Sharp, Guy Johnston, Ruth Rodgers, Kate Gould, Alice Neary, Adrian Brendel, Fenella Humphreys and many others.

He has performed at numerous festivals including the Cheltenham International Festival, Buxton Festival, Music in the Round Festival and Harrogate International Festival in the UK, the International Beethoven Festival, the Mecklenburg Festival and the Kultur Kreis Festival in Germany, the Festival International de Musique Classique d’Aigues-Mortes, the Melle Festival and Festival de Saintes in France, the Vinterfestspill i Bergstaden in Norway and the Musik vid Kattegatt Festival in Sweden. Since 2014, Viv has been pianist-in-residence at the Glossop Festival.

Viv studied from an early age with Ruth Nye and, after attending Chetham’s School of Music, he went on to study at the Royal Academy of Music with Hamish Milne and Maria Curcio. At the Academy he held the Hodgson Fellowship and was made an Associate of the Royal Academy in 2005. He made his Wigmore Hall recital debut through winning the Friends of the Royal Academy Wigmore Award. Whilst studying at the Academy, he was the winner of the piano competition at the Royal Overseas-League Music Competition and was selected as one of the winners of the National Federation of Music Societies’ Young Artists Competition. 

Viv made his BBC Radio 3 recital debut through the BBC Radio 3 Young Artists Forum scheme and has also recorded for Classic FM, WDR Radio in Germany, Radio France, ABC Radio in Australia, NRK Radio in Norway and for the Sky Arts television channel. His commercial releases include recordings for such labels as Sony, Naxos, Nimbus, RPO Records, ICSM Records, Harmony & Imagination Records and his most recent releases are a Chopin recital and a selection of live recordings for Stone Records.


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