Musical matchmaking: Cellist Richard Tunnicliffe talks to us about his new Yann Besson cello

Richard Tunnicliffe with his Yann Besson cello

At Bridgewood and Neitzert we are big supporters of modern makers. Founders and owners Gary Bridgewood and Tom Neitzert have a long history of making and we understand the depth of training and commitment that goes into the process of making a wonderful instrument from scratch. Great players often come to us seeking an outstanding instrument on which to perform and depending on their requirements we will often ‘match-make’ with a modern maker.

One such successful ‘marriage’ that we made before Christmas was between the great cellist Richard Tunnicliffe and a beautiful cello by Yann Besson. Richard Tunnicliffe is a professional cellist, known widely for his performances and recordings of the Bach Cello Suites. Richard is professor of historical cello at the Royal College of Music and performs regularly with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) in fact Richard performed at the very first concert performed by the OAE in June 1986.

Yann Besson label

So, what prompts a performer, well established in their career to seek a new instrument? And how do they go about making a choice? We caught up with Richard at Bridgewood and Neitzert on Stoke Newington Church Street to find out. Richard’s staple instrument is very nice old English cello by Bernhard Simon Fendt 2 (c.1801 – 1852). Fendt 2 was the son of Bernhard Simon Fendt 1 and was trained by his father at Betts’ and contributed a quartet of instruments for the International Exhibition, London 1851. Given to him by his father when he left home, Richard describes this cello as ‘an old’ friend’. Over the years Richard has sought an instrument with ‘a bit more power’ for chamber work, and work with piano. He had tried different instruments out, but always returned to his old friend. Richard explains that with a fine old English cello like the Fendt 2 it is very hard to find one that is better without the aid of ‘bankers and syndicates’.

Close up of Yann Besson cello

This is where Bridgewood and Neitzert step in. Having been established for 37 years we are very proud of our long friendships and connections with musicians and the music scene in London and beyond. We know Richard well, having found him a Forster bow, a violin for his daughter, a viola for his brother in law, and even converted a Piccolo cello into a 5 string for him. Richard’s main baroque instrument by Leonhard Maussiell of Nuremberg, c 1720 which he used on the critically acclaimed Linn records recordings of the Bach Cello Suites also came from us. Knowing he was on the lookout for something very special, when the Yann Besson instrument came in, we suggested that he tried the instrument.

‘It stood out immediately as combining the qualities I was hoping to find’ says Richard. ‘It has a very powerful sound, very even, not ‘shouty’’. Richard explains that in other cellos that he has tried there has been a good top register and a powerful C string, but a slightly “grey” area in between. The Besson by comparison has a strong even volume and speaks clearly. According to Richard the instrument also has tremendous flexibility and unlike other modern instruments he has tried, has a low response to the bow and feels ‘very relaxed playing Bach’.

Yann Besson in his workshop

Besson himself studied at the French National Violin Making School of Mirecourt in 1991. After graduating in 1996 with a rarely given distinction, he went onto work in leading workshops in France, Hong Kong and London before setting up his own full-time making business in 2002.  He explains that the model of cello is his own Yann Besson Classical model. Rather than looking at specific historical models, Yann studies the relationship between particular dimensions on the instrument to its acoustics. In particular, he sees a critical relationship between the width of the cello and the height of the arching as responsible for the bright, even acoustic. This instrument is a medium width with long C-bout and strong archings which produce a powerful sound and fast response. The vibrating string length is also fractionally short which makes the fingering action easier and fluid and enables the lack of tension on the strings that makes it so happy playing Bach.

Yann Besson at work

Besson says ‘it is fantastic that such a player appreciates the work’ and looks forward to a long relationship with Richard as the cello matures. Like many exceptional living makers, he is driven for constant improvement and will work with the instrument’s owner over their lifetime to adjust the sound and learn from it as the instrument develops over time. He is also keen to work with Bridgewood and Neitzert as a base for his relationships with British musicians. This is founded on a professional relationship going back to 1996 and a deep rapport built from a shared respect for musicians and the musical community.

Front of Yann Besson cello

Richard Tunnicliffe picked up the cello during our interview and kindly let us record a little clip on a smartphone of him playing the Corrente from Bach’s first cello suite BWV1007. Take a listen below.  He will be playing his Besson cello this winter at two recitals of Britten, Joubert and Shostakovich at Hughes Hall Cambridge (22nd November) and The Chapel, Norwich (1st December). You can also hear him and his daughter, viola player Luba Tunnicliffe at Clun Valley Chamber Music season. Describing the cello as ‘flexible, honest and beautifully made’ Richard is clearly delighted that he has finally found the right instrument for his recital and chamber work, and that brings the team at Bridgewood and Neitzert enormous satisfaction.

We have a wide range of instruments in the shop that suit a range of players from those starting their musical journeys to professional players seeking an exceptional instrument for optimum performance. Our expert team can discuss your requirements and tailor a selection of instruments to your specific needs for you to try out in our resonant trialling room. Get in touch with us on 020 7249 9398 or call into the shop on Stoke Newington Church Street and let us find your perfect ‘musical match’.

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