Christine Newland began her cello studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto at age 10. Her audition was in front of Igor Stravinsky who was in Toronto and sitting in at the auditions. She was appointed principal cello of our orchestra in 1976 and has frequently delighted our audience in performances of the major cello concerti, ranging from Bach, Beethoven and Brahms, to London’s own Oliver Whitehead. We sat down with Christine to chat about her interests, both on and off the stage.
Q: The relationship between performer and instrument is very special, but perhaps for a string player a ‘good match’ can be even more synergistic. Can you tell us about your instrument and how you came to own it?
A: I found my Giovanni Celoniatus cello at Moennig’s string instrument shop in Philadelphia. It was made in 1730 and has a rich golden colour and equally rich golden tone. I could feel the vibrations go through me when I played the bottom string, and I fell in love. I found it somewhat difficult to play at first, but soon learned that the sound needed to be coaxed out, rather than approached in a more direct way. It was made from black Italian poplar, which is a softer wood. I later discovered my cello was a rare and special instrument with a ‘twin sister’ in the string instrument collection at the Royal Academy in England. My Celoniatus is now in the Canada Council’s String Instrument Bank listed as “1730 Newland Johannes Franciscus Celoniatus Cello.” Every three years talented young professionals compete for the privilege of playing it. I suspected that my $12,000 cello might one day be worth $500,000, and that is exactly what happened. It is currently appraised at $750,000.
Q: Working with contemporary composers is an important part of keeping our musical tradition alive and current. Londoner Oliver Whitehead’s piece was written for you, was it not?
A: Yes. Uhuru Peak is an African work about the diminishing snows of Africa’s highest mountain peak. Oliver is a friend, composer and guitarist who performs with the Antler River Project. I commissioned him to write and African-themed work as I have always had a fascination with Africa. I love the rhythms, colours, wild landscape and animals. I wanted him to write a work that told a story and brought a part of Africa to me. I performed it at a special environmental-themed concert that I organized at The Grand Theatre, here in London.
Q: You are always fun to work with – you must be fun to study with. Have any of your students made a profession of music?
A: Yes, I have several students who are now professional musicians. I love teaching all ages and all levels. I think it must be having a studio full of wonderful “fur kids” that makes lessons with me a lot of fun.
Q: “Fur kids?”
A: We have three dogs and two cats and we prefer to call them our “fur kids”. Bear is our long-haired Shepherd; Moki is an Eskimo Spitz; Tashi is our Papillon; Mitsu is our Himalayan cat and Tika is our little Bengal cat. I had an Arabian mare for 21 years but, sadly, she died two years ago.
Q: Art is in your life in many forms, not just cello. Your pastels have been sent all over the world. Any of which you are especially proud?
A: In my late teens I loved art and music equally, but I had to choose which one to pursue. At that time I was more focused on my cello playing. A few years ago I decided to resume my portrait work. I work in acrylics, watercolour and graphite, but my passion is charcoal and pastels. I have done portraits for many of the artists who have performed with our orchestra and Jann Arden has several of my portraits of her little dog ‘Midi’. I particularly love painting animals for people whose beloved pets have passed away. I try to capture the spirits of the pets and Burton Cummings loves the one I did for his dog ‘Toast’. I was proud to be asked to participate in the orchestra’s Painted Violins fundraiser at Museum London. My violin was an acrylic with John Lennon and Yoko Ono on the back and a sleeping Calico cat on the front with mice scurrying down the fingerboard and out of the sound holes. It sold for $2700! Working on portraits is a very emotional experience for me. Painting is therapeutic and good for my soul in the same way music is. I frequently donate works to causes close to my heart.
Q: What do you feel the orchestra experience brings to the community of London?
A: A live orchestra provides a very exciting and emotionally charged experience for the community. London is fortunate to have one of the finest orchestras in the country. We have been privileged to work with many wonderful conductors and have grown so much as a result. We perform all kinds of music to appeal to every taste – from early Baroque to contemporary pop and rock. We have been inspired time and time again to reach down deep and give our very best performance. Hearts are touched and beautiful memories created. The children in our community have been fortunate to hear wonderful interactive concerts in their schools and to receive instruction from professional musicians. Orchestra concerts bring people together, and develop a strong sense of community.
Q: If you had time to study another instrument, what would you choose?
A: It is hard to pick just one, but I would have to say guitar. But I do relax by playing a little guitar, Djembe, Native American flute, ukulele and keyboard.
Interview by Margaret Voorhaar