Blog / My travelling companion

My travelling companion

Posted on 17 Jun 2016 by Cristina Maldonado

Melissa Barnard and her cello during the US tour in 2004.

What's it like to travel with your cello?...How did you come to play the cello? Perfectly valid questions that I've been asked on numerous occasions but which, after many years of doing exactly the above, I first thought "Really? But actual travel is so boring, I just don't really feel much like writing about that!". Probably because travelling with a cello really often involves at worst an argument, or lots of extra time spent waiting around for things to be figured out at check in/security when boarding a plane, and at best lugging a bulky instrument down a narrow aisle and fielding bad jokes about your grandmother or the flute. Years of stress in my poor student days also left me with an actual physically nervous response on approaching any airport that has only recently left me, thanks to the luxury of being looked after by ACO and our airline sponsors.

Maia (Melissa’s daughter) checking herself through security at Los Angeles International Airport.

The only fun story I really have is from way back, on a US tour in 2004 where for most of this tour we three cellists were segregated from the group as the booked airline would not take three cellos on their flights due to seating rules. So we flew Southwest Airlines by ourselves and transited back and forth through Phoenix about seventeen times. It was like Groundhog Day. We came to know Phoenix Airport well... lots of very brown and orange carpet, Native American trinkets, cheap cowboy hats. Thankfully there was, and still is, a good brewpub there, (I've been since, at midnight with my 2 year old daughter asleep on my lap) so it could have been worse. But nearing the end of this tour a moment of compensation came - a last minute charter of a Lear jet just for us. After half an hour of tactical deliberation the kind pilot emptied the tiny aircraft of all but three of its seats for us so he could fit the cellos and our bags, strapped down to the floor, and fly us from San Diego to Seattle. And so we flew, uncomfortably squished, no drinks or access to the loo, but in chrome plated, gorgeous jet setter style nevertheless, by ourselves, in a plane that felt as light and free as a bird cruising effortlessly northwards over the craggy, redwood-lined Pacific Coast. Still the highlight of all my years of flying. But of course it's not usually like that!

The Lear jet charter that reunited ACO's cellists with the rest of the Orchestra back in 2004.

Back to today though... After a week spent turning ourselves and a Beethoven quartet inside out and practically upside down alongside our talented Emerging Artists, culminating in a great concert last night, I'm feeling so fortunate. Our EA's are about the age that I was when I joined the ACO nearly 21 years ago. Their conscientious, pure enthusiasm is inspirational, the music both humbling and brilliant to play. It got me thinking back on how I've arrived here, today, what I've been lucky enough to experience along the way, and what a ride it's been. Living on the rollercoaster of a touring life has become normal and it's natural to forget in the day to day of constant practice, rehearsal, travel and home life just how extraordinary it's been. Being asked to write something has actually given me an hour to just sit and reflect on how thankful I am to have had all this.

Emerging Artists and ACO Musicians in concert at Cell Block Theatre.

Not just the grand musical highlights you can read in our brochures... Carnegie Hall, Concertgebouw, Vienna's Musikverein, Wigmore Hall or the Proms, but also hiking the Great Wall of China, drinking tequila flights in snow-laced Santa Fe, eating steaming dumplings at the first Din Tai Fung in Taiwan, breakfast sushi at Tsukiji market, Black Chicken soup at a Singapore hawker stall (never again, it had feet). Paella in seaside Valencia, playing in Bilbao the day Gehry's shiny Guggenheim opened, raucous Korean BBQ in Seoul, walking quietly in a Japanese Zen Garden, dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, champagne in Reims, beer in the midnight light in cobblestoned Tallinn. Shopping, dancing, exploring together, hiking mountains. French style expat bars in Shanghai, seeing art all around the world. The wild remoteness coupled with civilisation of Margaret River. Hot chestnuts and glühwein at the Christmas Markets in medieval Lübeck in northern Germany. The high and the low, concerts civilised and bizarre. Hot and cold, snow and sun, everything moving both slowly and very fast.

My good fortune and more than a few hours and years of practice and study and not least the good guidance of my parents ("wouldn't you rather learn the cello, ie. "the Swan" than the flute, darling?") has helped lead me here. And this above is just the extra stuff surrounding the core, which is of course getting inside the guts of great music, the range and the lively dynamic of the orchestra, my amazing colleagues and the visiting soloists from whom I learn things all the time. So while a lot of the time travelling is dead boring, waiting around is a drag, the cello can be a hassle and I often miss my little family, it's really really great. And we are so lucky.

Melissa and Maia exploring the surroundings of The Banff Centre in 2014.

Melissa Barnard joins Italian cellist Giovanni Sollima on Sequenza Italiana national tour.


MONTEVERDI (arr. strings) Lamento della ninfa
BERIO Sequenzas for Violin and Double Bass
LEO Cello Concerto No.3 in D minor
PAGANINI Introduction and Variations on ‘Dal tuo stellate soglio’ from Rossini’s Moses in Egypt
ROSSINI (arr. Eliodoro Sollima) ‘Une larme’ Theme and Variations for Cello and Strings
SCELSI C’est bien la nuit from Nuits
GIOVANNI SOLLIMA Fecit Neap 17… for Cello, Strings and Continuo