The Handel Institute
The Handel Institute

Issue 11: January 2004

Interview with Tatty Theo
(cellist & director of The Brook Street Band)

Introduction: Cellist Tatty Theo (TT) is director of The Brook Street Band. The ensemble’s debut CD has recently been released by AVIE and features several works by Handel. Tatty spoke to David Vickers (DV) about her abiding love for Handel’s music, The Brook Street Band, and her edition of a chamber version of The Water Music.

DV: How did you first become acquainted with Handel's music, and how did your perception of him and his music develop? 

TT: I first became aware of Handel’s music as a small child. My uncle is the baroque cellist Anthony Pleeth, and he was one of the founder members of the English Concert, so I went to a lot of their concerts. The first time I remember being really powerfully affected by Handel’s music was at a Prom performance of Solomon, when I was about 12 or 13. I was mesmerised. This was the first Oratorio that I remember hearing.

DV: What do you like most about Handel from a cellist’s point of view?

TT: Handel’s bass lines seem to me to be perfectly constructed, so that they are intensely satisfying to play. The harmonic framework is so strong, yet not always predictable, so you can be surprised by the wonderful rich lush harmonies. I find his music incredibly romantic and sensuous.

DV: What are the challenges of playing continuo cello in Handel's music?

TT: Challenges include swapping between a lyrical, melodic and often virtuosic performing style in many of the obbligatos and then returning to the safety and structure of a rhythmic bass line, shaping and pointing the harmony for the melodic parts above. I feel that the bass line provides the heart-beat of the piece and love being a part of that, sharing it with keyboard or other continuo instruments. I love the fact that the bass line is vital, yet often understated – if performed well, it should support without an audience really realising just how vital its role is.

DV: Does it vary between chamber works and bigger theatrical pieces?

TT: The challenges can vary between chamber works and the bigger theatrical pieces, simply because often you are more exposed in the former. You can only rely on yourself and your continuo partner, rather than a whole bass section, although the satisfaction from playing amongst this huge sound is always wonderful. Handel composed some of best baroque bass lines that I know, and it is hard to beat playing something so beautiful and well-crafted.

DV: What inspired you to take up the cello in the first place?

TT: I am the 3rd generation in my family to become a cellist, so in a way it was sort of the family business! Cellos were always there throughout my childhood, although for many years I was a little reluctant to learn. My grandfather William Pleeth never forced me, although every Saturday morning we played cello duets. That was his way of keeping an eye on my development and teaching me the basics without me really realising that I was having formal lessons. He loved baroque music and most of the music we played was from that period – Cervetto, Marcello, Geminiani, Vivaldi and just about everything published by Grancino Editions, whose editor was a friend and gave us copies of the music.

DV: Why did you start to play on a baroque cello? Did you study it when you were at Oxford University or at music college?

TT: I started baroque cello when I was 15, although until that time I had had gut stings on my modern cello and refused to use a spike (which looked very odd in school orchestra!). Since the only music I enjoyed playing was baroque my parents finally gave in to my requests and I acquired my first baroque cello – a Rubio. I had lessons all through University and then did an ARCM (PG) and an M.Mus at the Royal College of Music, studying with Anthony Pleeth and Jennifer Ward Clarke. Later, I returned to my grandfather for lessons on the Bach suites and for period-instrument string quartet coaching.

DV: Was it while at Oxford that you first became acquainted with the Christchurch manuscript containing an arrangement of the Water Music?

TT: I first became acquainted with the Christchurch arrangement of the Water Music whilst at Oxford. I had to prepare editions of several pieces of music as part of my degree and my tutor - knowing I was a huge Handel fan - pointed me in the direction of the manuscripts.

DV: When did you form the Brook Street Band, and why did you choose that name?

TT: I formed The Brook Street Band in 1995 and we gave our first concert under that name in 1996. I liked the sound of the name as it alliterated nicely and also brought in a reference to Handel. I like the informality of Band (which is an eighteenth century term anyway) although every so often I do have to explain to non-classical music lovers that we are not a jazz band.

DV: What sort of range of Handel stuff does the Brook Street Band get up to?

TT: The Brook Street Band performs a wide range and scale of repertoire. The majority of our concerts explore chamber repertoire, usually with Handel at their core. We are embarking on a second disc of unusual and unpublished Handel repertoire, due for release next year. We have also been working with the renowned composer Errollyn Wallen who is writing us a song cycle called The Queen and I. This is due to be published by Peters in the next few months ,and we have performances (each one with a new World Première) lined up over the next year, together with a recording of this work.  

DV: Do you also work with singers on larger projects?

TT: Every year we perform at least one large-scale Handel work and over the past 4 years have developed a relationship with the wonderful Petworth Festival; we are gradually increasing the scale of the works we perform for them, hopefully working up to either Orlando  or The Occasional Oratorio.  We have also formed a partnership with The Keswick Hall Choir, who are based in Norwich (where several members of the Band have links). We have performed large scale repertoire such as Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Magnificat and Handel’s Coronation Anthems  and Judas Maccabaeus with them. We have also developed a relationship with the theatre director Richard Williams and the Vanessa Ford Production Company and last summer mounted a lavish fully-staged production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. A revival of our fully-staged production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea is planned for 2004-2005.

DV: You have also been involved with education projects with the Handel House Museum in London…

TT: We are also extremely committed to education work, and over the past few years have worked extensively in schools and hospitals, including Guys and Great Ormond Street, for projects developed and funded by the Handel House Museum and the National Foundation for Youth Music. We regularly give period instrument workshops and are also involved in a children’s Water Music composition project.

DV: How do you feel about recording for AVIE? Of course, the company already has a strong Handel connection with its first release being Pinnock's Tamerlano, the recent addition of Sonnerie to its impressive baroque roster, and its co-owner Melanne Mueller having strong ties with Nicholas McGegan and the Göttingen Handel Festival.

TT: The decision to record with AVIE was taken for several reasons. Firstly, finances came into things of course, but I was also impressed with their commitment to Early Music, as well as their rapidly expanding range of artists.

DV: Do you have any long-term Handelian wishes to fulfill?

TT: I have two unfulfilled Handelian dreams: the first might be a bit tricky to realise, but I long to time travel and spend a day with Handel in his London, rehearsing and performing with him. I think my cello might have known and worked for Handel, so now I would like to do the same. The second is slightly more realistic: I am on the hunt for the missing Handel solo cello suites, or at least a cello concerto or two. He used cello for many of his most beautiful obbligato parts in the operas and oratorios, so I live in hope that he might have taken this one stage further, and the works are somewhere around, just waiting to be discovered!

Relevant Links:

The Brook Street Band’s website:

AVIE Records website:

Handel House Museum:’s review of The Brook Street Band’s ‘Oxford Water Music’ CD

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