Profile: Matthew Cooke, teacher, pianist, organist and horn player

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

My teachers passed on their enthusiasm, and demonstrated that graft is required to succeed as a musician. My parents were also crucial in supporting me and establishing the basic routine of practice.

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

Uneven workloads – I’m either looking for work or too busy.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

The spontaneity soloists often show at a concert can be both a pleasure and a challenge. Quite often things may go very differently in performance from how they went in rehearsal.

Which composers do you especially admire?

A difficult question. As a horn player, I love playing Romantic symphonic music. I enjoy composers with a easily distinguishable style such as Poulenc, Rachmaninov and Richard Strauss. The latter was the son of a horn player, and the orchestration for his Alpine Symphony includes a large horn section and is a real tour de force. I also enjoy playing chamber music as it is more direct form of communication, and is by its nature a social activity that need not lead to a public performance. As an organist, I love Mendelssohn, the wide range of moods in Vierne’s music, and of course J S Bach. His exuberant chorale prelude In Dulci Jubilo says to me that Christmas has arrived.

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why?

Lyrical Romantic music, as opposed to “show pieces.” And I much prefer a live performance to doing a recording.

What are your most memorable experiences, either as a performer, composer or listener?

Playing Baroque repertoire on historic organs in Saxony, Germany and Groningen, the Netherlands. They are generally hard to play: they were designed for a time when people were smaller, they have straight pedal boards and heavy action – but they really bring the Baroque repertoire to life and generally lift the spirits.

Accompanying John Rutter and Bob Chilcott in choral workshops at the Petworth Festival.

Three years ago I took part in an Anglo-Russian Christmas concert of choral and orchestral classics in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory with an Anglo-Russian orchestra and a Russian choir, and conducted by Graham Wili.  I played harpsichord in The Four Seasons and Cavaille-Collorgan for the rest of the programme. Everyone was dressed up in eighteenth-century costumes, reflecting Russian interest in history, and we finished with three encores of ‘Let it snow’!  It is sad that such an occasion is unlikely to happen again for the foreseeable future.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

You need to be really determined to succeed, and not be that interested in any other career. Don’t expect to get rich from it, but you normally get out what you put in. Take the work when it’s offered, and be prepared to be flexible. Most of these qualities are applicable to any self-employed occupation.

How would you define success as a musician?

When you change people’s lives, either by encouraging an enthusiasm for music in one’s pupils (more important than which exams are passed) , or when a live performance fully engages an audience.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Perhaps a little less busy, and able to be more selective over the work I take on. Most musicians never retire fully.

What is your most treasured possession?

My 1940s Alexander french horn.

About Matthew

Matthew was a Music Scholar at Hurstpierpoint College before taking music at Durham, where he studied the organ with James Lancelot at Durham Cathedral, and the piano with Catherine Miller. Following posts at Cranleigh Prep School and Ampleforth College he returned to his native Sussex to pursue a career as a freelance musician. He currently teaches piano and brass at Westbourne House, Dorset House, Seaford College and St Edmund’s, Hindhead. He’s accompanied the Shopwyke Singers for more than twenty years.

Matthew is Director of Music at St Mary’s, Petworth, and is in regular demand as a piano and organ accompanist. Recent engagements include concerts in Edinburgh and Salzburg, Ahoy by L’Estrange for the 40th anniversary of the raising of the Mary Rose and, in 2019, an Anglo-Russian concert of choral and orchestral classics in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. As a conductor he has directed the Cranleigh Choral Society and the Petworth Festival Choir. He also enjoys fundraising, having recorded a CD in aid of the organ fund at Petworth, and he has also busked in aid of Chestnut Tree House Children’s Hospice. He is a past Honorary Secretary of the West Sussex Organists Association.

As a Trinity College London music examiner he has travelled all over the United Kingdom. He is an Associate of the Royal College of Organists and also holds diplomas in piano and horn. In his spare time he enjoys playing the horn in Horsham Symphony Orchestra, and has also walked several sections of the SW coast path.

Watch Matthew’s online organ recital from the recent lockdown.

Playing chamber music last summer at York University
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