ACO UP CLOSE - Melissa

Get to Know Melissa Barnard, ACO Cello

Melissa shares her weekend routine, the go-to recipe that helps her unwind, and the story behind the cello she plays.

My go-to recipe to unwind involves... anything over the fire.

I’m a bit spoiled in that my partner, also a musician, is genius at cooking with fire, so we cook over the wood fire or charcoal grill most nights that we aren’t performing.

We have a glass of wine – we particularly like Artemis from the Southern Highlands at the moment – or a local Darkes’ Forest apple cider around the firepit while we cook, and we use good produce cooked simply.

The aim is to make anything reminiscent of time spent in Sicily and the Greek Islands.


On my perfect weekend off...

I'm usually woken at dawn by our two handsome but needy German Shorthaired Pointers wanting their breakfast, copious back-scratches and a walk!

I’ll walk down the road to our peaceful beach to have a dip in the natural rockpool, the sun up over the ocean, while the dogs wade and point at fish.

Ideally then some yoga and meditation, a big homemade breakfast and a rare slow day…. maybe a bit of practice, another walk with the hounds under the escarpment, some easy time with my daughter and then we’ll all cook an early dinner.

I also appreciate a rainy inside day, baking, clearing out cupboards and if I’m lucky, reading a book.


The instrument I play is...

My own cello at the moment, although I often play the ACO’s Vuillaume cello, which is a fine, bright and brilliant-toned instrument made in Paris in 1846.

My own cello was made in 1760 in London, by Joseph Hill, who with his famous shop became the grandfather of a fine English school of luthiers – it’s a really beautiful example and has a warm and characterful tone. I particularly enjoy the richness of the lower strings and I find it a very expressive, responsive instrument overall. I feel lucky to be able to play both of these cellos with their very different personalities.

I found my Joseph Hill cello in Boston, just before Covid hit worldwide, but as I came home to Australia to think about it (after only 3 days of trying it), by the time I negotiated the sale the global travel lockdown was in place. So after I purchased it, it stayed locked up in the dealer’s vault for two years before I could go over to the US to pick it up!

So I’m still enjoying getting to know it. It’s fascinating learning to draw out sound and expression from different instruments – there is no “one way” to play – you have to find what makes them each shine, and sing.


Quickfire round:

What would your dream job be if you weren't a musician?
I can’t imagine, since I decided at 14 that I wanted to be a cellist. Maybe a writer, or in law? Probably something a bit quiet and inward involving language, words, ideas.

What's the best live performance that you’ve ever attended?
Sara Baras with her flamenco troupe in “Alma” at the 2023 Sydney Festival - exhilarating, passionate, inclusive.. and extremely virtuosic.

ACO performance highlight?
Playing alongside cellist Nicolas Altstaedt, and Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s Illumine and the always-joyous Mendelssohn Octet in Tognetti. Mendelssohn. Bach.

What would you recommend to read, watch, eat or listen to at the moment?
Read: Anything by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh
Watch: Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)
Eat: a warm bowl of soup, roasted sweet potatoes with sumac, proper chocolate
Listen: to Indian classical music, Debussy Preludes for piano (the best on rainy days), or just quiet, and the bird sounds outside

Watch Melissa perform the Courante from Bach's Cello Suite in G Major