Profile: Rebecca McNaught, cello, and the Petersfield Musical Festival

Rebecca will be playing the cello at the Festival Lunchtime Recital on Tuesday 19 March at 1pm in St Peter’s Church.

What are you looking most forward to when performing at the Petersfield Musical Festival this year?

I spent a long time with Emily Hoh, my amazing pianist, discussing a programme that we felt reflected our personalities and our musical influences the best, so I am really excited to see this programme pulled together. It consists of three very different 20th century works, with three very different characters, so switching between these moods and atmospheres is the fun (and challenging!) part of this kind of repertoire. It’s also great to be performing works (such as the Macmillan and the Boulanger) which are not so regularly heard within recital settings – knowing much of the audience is hearing a piece for the first time pushes me to really explore the piece in as full a sense as possible.

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

All of my wonderful teachers, which I have been so lucky to work with and have had guidance from over the years. My first teacher, Robina Sabourin, I had for 10 years and she set me up with a real passion for playing. Emma Denton then started to ask the difficult questions and allow me to explore outside of my comfort zone. Then when I was at the Academy, I was so lucky to learn with Hannah Roberts, who has supported me into the step from student to professional with such care and compassion.

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

I graduated from my Professional Diploma in 2020, therefore attempting to launch a career into an empty space where all musicians were struggling to understand what the best pathway could be for them. I also had to give back the amazing cello I had been borrowing from the RAM, and cello shopping at that time was not an option! It took a few months for me to reframe what my next steps would be, and how to make things work. I am very grateful to the Michael Hurd Fund for supporting my purchase of my current cello, as this instrument allowed me to continue seeing a path forward within the music industry.

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

Collaborative music making is my favourite way of making music because it allows us to become more adaptable, to continue to learn from each other, and to share ideas. Whilst individual practice time is very important, I find I am able to explore my ideas more fully when I am working with a chamber group. Of course, the challenge is then agreeing on which ideas to implement!

Are there any composers for whom you feel a particular affinity?

I can’t not say Elgar – his concerto has been in my repertoire since I was a teenager and it has taken me on so many journeys. I’ve spent the last few years exploring more and more 20th century repertoire, hence my entire programme being from that century at this festival!

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

As a listener, I was watching a trio concert recently where the performers ended with an encore of La Vie En Rose – it was such an exquisitely formed arrangement that you felt like the only person in the audience. Any concert with an intimately set encore I find very moving.

As a performer, my last concert before lockdown was a cello ensemble concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall with Guy Johnston and Sheku Kanneh-Mason. I will be forever stuck in my memory as it felt so poignant – we were only a few days off schools shutting, and, despite the concert being a sell-out, we ended up playing to only a half-capacity audience. However, it felt like the most enormous out-pouring of love for music, and especially for live music!

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

The key for me would be that it is ok not to be sure exactly what you want to do. I’ve spent the last few years chatting to mentors who have had incredibly successful careers, but who have changed path multiple times within that. It’s ok to try things out, and found out what works for you. We are taught about “portfolio careers” at conservatoire, building lots of different strands together such as orchestral work, teaching, solo performance etc. It feels scary to be balancing all these different aspects, but ultimately that’s what makes it such a fulfilling career.

How would you define success as a musician?

Success for me personally, is being able to do what I love and still be able to pay my bills! It is also being free to self-analyse where you want change within your life, and having the confidence to make that change.

What would you like to be doing in 5 years’ time?

I’m at a huge crossroads in my life right now, as I’m about to start my new job in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – my first full-time orchestral job – so looking ahead to 2029 feels a bit terrifying. I’d like to be doing much the same – balancing orchestral work with still playing some solo and chamber music concerts, and keeping my education work alive.

About Rebecca

Rebecca McNaught is a dynamic young British cellist who has performed internationally as a soloist and orchestral musician. In 2024 she began a full-time position in the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, performing across the south-west, whilst continuing to perform as a solo and chamber musician around a busy orchestral schedule.

​She is especially passionate about Elgar’s Cello Concerto, which she has performed across the UK at Merton College’s Passiontide Festival, St. John Smith’s Square, Gloucester Cathedral and in Tewkesbury Abbey.

She completed her Professional Diploma in 2020 at the Royal Academy of Music where she explored post-romantic solo and duo sonatas by composers such as Britten, Hindemith, and Crumb, under the tutelage of Hannah Roberts. Performances of this repertoire included at the Two Moors Festival, Knighton and District Concert Series, and in Guildford Cathedral.

She graduated with a Regency Award for distinguished studentship, along with the Vivien Joseph Postgraduate Cello Scholarship and the Rhoda Butt Award. Before starting at the BSO, she has been working as a freelance musician, recording with the Manchester Camerata, in a cello ensemble with Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and as a soloist at Milton Keynes International Festival.

​Born in Cheltenham to a home alive with classical music, Rebecca began learning the piano at a very young age, and, although the piano remained a big part of her upbringing, it was the cello that became her focus and she has been playing now for twenty years.

Drawn to both academic and practical music, Rebecca studied for a BA in Music at Merton College, Oxford University where she obtained a first-class degree. Alongside her studies, she explored a wide variety of chamber music, and performed the Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets with the Holywell Quintet at St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and the Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford.

During her Masters at the Royal Academy of Music, she continued to enjoy expanding as a chamber musician. At Cowbridge Music Festival, Rebecca participated in the Chamber Seminar Week, where she performed Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello with Elena Urioste, and Mendelssohn’s C minor Piano Trio, with pianist Tom Poster.

​During her Masters, Rebecca performed as principal cello of the Academy Symphony Orchestra, including in Shostakovich Symphonies 8 and 10, Bruckner Symphony 4 and Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances with conductors Sir Mark Elder, John Wilson, Robert Trevino and Edward Gardner, and performed at the BBC Proms 2019 in The Rite of Spring with Edward Gardner.

She also toured Japan in June 2018 with the Academy Chamber Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock, taking Beethoven and Mozart to locations in Tokyo and Koriyama. Earlier that same month, she was privileged to participate in the Kyoto International Music Student’s Festival, exploring a different region of Japan. She performed solo repertoire by Schumann and Chopin with pianist Richard Gowers, as well as uniting with musicians from ten different countries from around the world in chamber music and as principal cellist in the orchestra. She also enjoyed expanding her outreach work as an Open Academy Fellow, and has created accessible concerts for people living with dementia in the Wigmore Hall and Leighton House, providing varied programmes of short works and providing spoken information for the audience.

Education and learning participation work has always been an enormous part of Rebecca’s musical output. She feels very lucky to have created a groundbreaking new pathway whilst working as Music Partnerships Coordinator at Westminster School, bringing music to the wider community of Westminster, and introducing the students to different ways in which music can become more accessible. She also worked as Head of Strings at King Edward’s School, Witley & Barrow Hills School, and as a cello and chamber music tutor at the Royal College of Music Junior Department before she began the role at the BSO.

Visit her website.

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