Cellist Thomas Bertolotti to make solo debut at Hull City Hall
Thomas Bertolotti’s musical life began on his mum’s knee. The cellist – who makes his professional solo debut tonight – first discovered the power, though maybe not the melody, of music at the family piano.
“When I was a baby and my brother was a baby, mum had a piano,” said Thomas, 19, who is now a second year student at the Royal Academy Of Music.
“We would sit on her knee and whack the keys. My brother later decided he wanted to learn it properly and when I saw he was doing that – maybe it was jealousy – I wanted to play too.”
While Stephen, his elder brother, is now a computer programmer in Melbourne, Thomas had found the interest which was to shape his life.
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On Saturday at Hull City Hall, the former Hymers College pupil will be playing Elgar’s Cello Concerto – which, written in the aftermath of World War One, was the composer’s response to the losses of the conflict.
“My teacher said you can never properly play the concerto until you have experienced those sort of emotions,” said Thomas, who grew up in Willerby.
“Last year, two of my grandparents died – it makes it that much more poignant for me and makes it touch my heart even closer than it otherwise would have done.
“It is just a beautiful, heartfelt concerto.”
Thomas’s appearance, as part of a Classics In The City performance by Hull Philharmonic Orchestra, marks the latest stage in a fascination which began at the age of eight.
Having begun to play the piano – prompted by his brother’s lead – Thomas became intrigued by the cello.
“I thought it was the most beautiful sound – and that if there was any instrument I’d love to play besides piano it had to be cello,” said Thomas.
“It seemed the right fit for me, I started piano at four, cello at eight and I got my grade eight at cello before the piano. I just had an affinity with it – the cello has such a lovely rich tone.
“I am very emotional person - and it has reflected my choice of instrument, it is very easy to be emotional on the cello.
“When I get out on stage I am in my own world – my playing is a present for the audience. The way I make it as good as I can is by being completely free and loving the music.
“I never quite felt the same way with the piano. While I love the piano, it was hard work – people thought my playing was impressive, but they never felt the same emotional connection as with the cello.
“With my cello so many people have said they could tell I love that music – somehow, I can show so much more on it.”
A former pupil at Carr Lane School in Willerby, Thomas began to focus on his cello playing while at Hymers College. It was while he was there he started lessons with Sue Sidwell and became involved in the school orchestra. Saturday’s concert will reunite Thomas with Hull Philharmonic musical director Andrew Penny, who was on the music staff at Hymers College when he was a pupil.
“Andrew would throw in small but important snippets of info about orchestral etiquette, such as looking after your section – I lead the orchestra for two years. As you go on, you get these snippets that you do not forget and, over the years, Andrew has given me plenty,” said Thomas.
“When he asked me if I’d like to do this concert, I said yes straight away, there was no question.
“It is sounds like a Hollywood cliché, but to make your debut in your home town is something quite special.
“It is going to be the biggest concert I have done yet – I have not played un a hall this size before, with an orchestra like Hull Philharmonic before.
“It will be fantastic fun, Andrew’s a fantastic conductor.”
While at Hymers, Thomas also began performing with the East Riding Youth Orchestra and, once a week, attending the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester – marking the end of his school days with a farewell concerto.
“I’ve not had a more emotional concert,” he said.
“It was the culmination of nine years – there will be another concert like that again for me.
“I’ve moved on, my life’s in London now, but I will never forget what Hymers did for me.
“Coming back to Hull will also be emotional. I’ve had two years nearly in London, being there does make me realise how much I love Hull – I relish coming back.”
The concert will be attended by Thomas’s friends and family, including his mum, Angela, and dad Martin.
Now two years into a four year course at the Royal Academy Of Music, where he is on a full scholarship, Thomas has begun to think ahead to the next stage of his career.
“Once you are in, it is not a signal that you have made it, it is a signal you can make it,” said Thomas.
“It is a signal you have got to work very hard and grasp the opportunities.”
He’s considering the possibilities of a post-graduate course, but unlike one friend at the Academy, who took a sideways step into law, his future is on stage with his cello.
“I can’t imagine in a million years doing anything but music,” said Thomas.
“I am music through and through – nothing touches me more.”
• The concert takes place on Saturday, at 7.30pm, at Hull City Hall, Queen Victoria Square, Hull. Tickets £7-£22. Call 01482 300300.