THE BIG INTERVIEW - Violinist Sophie Mather

Sophie Mather
Sophie Mather

GOODNESS knows how many air miles Sophie Mather and her trusty violin have clocked up in the last few years.

Her musical talent and its melifluous tones have taken them all over Britain, Europe and even to China to perform in chamber recitals and with some of the world’s greatest orchestras.

And so in demand are they that there’s often not much of a breather for them even when they’re back home in Wigan either.

It’s a case in point this Saturday (Feb 15) when the 27-year-old and the highly-acclaimed Berkeley Ensemble, of which she is a member, are the guests of Wigan Music Society.

They are presenting a typically enterprising programme of mainly British music - repertoire with which the group has become synonymous since it was formed by members of the South Bank Sinfonia six years ago (Sophie arrived later).

That includes music by the late Sir Lennox Berkeley after whom the ensemble is jointly named alongside his equally illustrious son Michael, who is one of its trustees and recently wrote a piece for it.

Sophie, who these days lives with her violinist partner Ed McCullagh in the Forest Hill area of South East London, will in Wigan be catching up on the latest news from her parents Colin and Alison.

They too are musicians and it was they who set a four-year-old Sophie on the road to success when she began violin lessons with Marion Fletcher.

It was soon clear she had an aptitude for music, and while she attended Bolton School right through from four to 18, she also enrolled at the Royal Northern College of Music’s junior school from the age of 11 where she studied violin with Helen Feltrup and Richard Deakin and came on so well that she successfully auditioned for the National Children’s Orchestra and later the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, Sir Simon Rattle being one of the giants of the classical scene under whose baton she played as a member of the latter body.

After her A-levels Sophie took a joint music course during which her time was divided between the RNCM and Manchester University. Thereafter she completed an MA at London’s Royal Academy of Music where she mainly studied under the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s leader Clio Gould before going out into the big bad world of freelance work and teaching.

Sophie said: “I owe a lot to all my teachers but I gained a massive amount from Clio, particularly in terms of having the drive to go through with what you want to do. It’s a belief that we hold to in the ensemble too and we do a lot of educational stuff, going into schools to introduce youngsters to the various instruments of the orchestra.

“I do teaching as well. That’s my day job if you like - a regular source of income. There’s not a huge amount of money to be made from chamber music these days.

“I don’t think I ever thought I should give up at a career in music, though, because I could see my parents had made a success of it, although I was under no illusion as to how difficult it might be.”

While the teaching has its financial and educational rewards, there are plenty of more dramatic musical moments to have already savoured too.

Since turning pro, Sophie has played with the Royal Philharmonic, London Symphony Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and the Scottish Ensemble and been conducted by such luminaries as Edward Gardner and Sir Andrew Davis, as well as the aforementioned Sir Simon. The orchestra with which she most regularly appears is the Manchester Camerata.

Her association with the Academy of St Martin has taken her on several January tours of Europe as well as a trip to Turkey.

Membership of the Berkeley Ensemble took Sophie and her friends to China in 2010 where western classical music is enjoying boom times. It was such a successful visit that they have now been invited back.

The venues at which she has played is also a roll call of great British concert auditoria and include The Royal Festival Hall, Wigmore Hall (at which she took part in a performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet) and the Royal Albert Hall.

But in particular the Berkeley, which currently boasts seven instrumentalists for use in various combinations, takes up a lot of her time at the moment.

They are launching a new CD, including the specially-written piece by the eponymous Michael, next month and are due to plug it on BBC Radio 3’s popular teatime show In Tune on March 3. And they have together established a chamber music festival in the picturesque Somerset village of Chaffcombe which takes place in May.

Sophie’s violin is a modern instrument dating from 2006 made by the revered craftsman Glen Collins.

It is insured for £10,000, which is a relatively modest sum compared to your top-rated Stradivarius, but still enough for Sophie to be extremely careful with it - at least most of the time!

She said: “I spend a lot of time travelling, particularly up and down the country from London to Manchester for Camerata concerts or up to Glasgow for concerts with the Scottish Ensemble and I usually keep a close eye on my violin. It is my livelihood after all.

“But on one occasion I had arrived home in Wigan and had so much luggage with me that I didn’t realise I hadn’t picked up the instrument too.

“It was a while before I realised it was missing and dashed back to the station in a mad panic.

“I count myself very lucky because the train had terminated there it and the violin was still where I had left it too. I don’t know what I would do without out it!”

Saturday’s concert (inadvertently advertised as Friday in this week’s Wigan Observer) takes place at Trinity United Reformed Church, Milton Grove, Wigan, at 7.30pm,

Admission is £10 to visitors and £8 to Wigan Music Society members.

For further information ring 01942 238520 or visit www.trinityurcwigan.co.uk.