I became hugely excited when I first saw and heard the 2Cellos, Stjepan Hauser and Luka Sulic. I was transfixed by the broad scope of their appeal - their playing, hugely emotional, passionate and lyrical, their presence on stage, oozing a sensuality overlaid with a sexual charge and flirtatious manner . . . All this, coupled with their youth and considerable beauty and their free and almost animal indolent ease of playing. . .was a knock-out. I just had to re-create the glorious experience of them and their playing in paintings. And so I have made a Diptych of the two of them.
The 2Cellos play a wide variety of music, ranging from so-called ‘Classical’ to popular, including film and dance music. The two pieces that really set me alight were, firstly, a setting of Oblivion, by Piazzola, for two cellos and orchestra, and also, most bewitching of all, their interpretation of Ennio Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe. These two gorgeous young men can also be hilarious and wickedly funny in a music / comedy double act.
Yo-Yo Ma played all six of the Bach Suites at the Proms last year. It was a mind-blowing feat. I recorded most of the concert and have watched it so many times since. I have become totally enthralled by Yo-Yo’s performance. I adore Suites 5 and 6. I love them all, but the last two have an almost surreal beauty and complexity. I have drawn Yo-Yo performing part of number 5, which is imbued with sadness, even despair . . . The Sarabande, so apparently short and simple - its notes take up less than half a page(!) - bestrides life’s vast chasms, gazes, unflinchingly into those depths and across incomprehensible distances. This music speaks so eloquently of what moves us most and that, which is impossible to put into words, yet, on some such strange level, leaves us with the sense of a greater knowledge and understanding.
In this small painting of Nicola Benedetti performing the violin concerto by Max Bruch, I portray her, wrapped, in the romantic slow movement. Parts of her are brightly lit and parts in violet tinted shadow. It is a rhapsodic portrait of beauty - Nicola, so lovely in herself - bright, vivid, dark . . . The music, the spirit of these same emotions.
JACQUELINE DU PRES
Jackie du Pres’s star was in the ascendant when I was studying the viola at Music College in London in the 60s. I was captivated from the outset. She won all the prizes and was the envy of all. She had beauty, strength, grace and sensuality. She had a huge spirit. But, most striking of all, was her total abandon to the music she performed. In my portraits of Jackie, and of those that follow, it is this musical, spiritual and physical abandon that I try to portray in my portraits. In these portraits she is playing the Brahms E minor cello sonata with her soulmate and husband Daniel Barenboim.
Sir Simon Rattle
I have made these three studies of Sir Simon Rattle conducting Mahler's seventh symphony. As Mahler creates an infinite number of moods changing and developing during the course of one symphony, so also does Sir Simon recreate them, with his whole being. It is breathtaking to watch the music, in all its complexity, coursing through his blood and body, with a physical focus as intense and focused as a dancer, as bewitching and beautiful as well.
Joshua Bell, who plays sometimes together with Steven Isserlis, also has the ability to lose himself utterly in the music. I portray him here playing the Sibelius violin concerto. Like Steven, his playing is nuanced, subtly coloured, considered yet, at times, totally abandoned. As in all great artists his energy and vitality are supercharged and he radiates joy.
ALINA IBRAGIMOVA BACH CHACONNE FROM BACH’S PARTITA NO 2
I first came across Alina Ibragimova playing at the Proms last summer. She performed all the unaccompanied work of Bach. I have portrayed her in what seems to me to be the deep spiritual centre of this great work, the ‘centre’, itself, of the Chaconne from Partita no 2 in D minor and one of the most still and sacred moments in all music. Alina’s interpretation is personal and idiosyncratic, scholarly yet impassioned in perfect balance.
This new drawing, and the painting that will follow it, will represent a complete contrast to most of my existing work. Usually I am drawn to movement, emotion and extreme moments, whether in the lives of animals, or, in my present series of performing musicians. This new portrait of Yo-Yo, expresses, instead, the utter stillness that follows the end of the performance of the 5th Suite in C minor by Bach. This C minor Suite is devastating. A bleak sadness - at times despair - permeates the work. Strange alterations of speed and mood, dark harmonies, interruptions, pauses and extreme intervals - particularly in the bleak Sarabande - suggest bottomless chasms and unanswerable questions. The whole idea of dance, the typical Suite, is stretched to its limits, with the final Gigue tripping and faltering as though breath and life itself almost ceases, before wearily resuming its fearful path.
Yo-Yo, still utterly immersed, body and soul, in this music, leans back in silence, moves the cello a little away from him. His bow, still in a bow hold, is stilled in mid air. His work is done but he darkness of the C minor Suite but slowly lightens as he, and we listeners, return to this world.
Original Artwork & Prints
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