Yeoman Interview – Sergio Serra
Cellist Sergio Serra undertook his BMus at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Richard Lester and his Masters at the Royal College of Music with Helene Dautry. He has performed at the prestigious Wigmore Hall and worked under the baton of internationally-renowned conductors including Antonio Pappano, Richard Hickox, Vasily Petrenko, Mark Elder, Sir Colin Davis and Sir Neville Marriner. Sergio has also performed at events including the Guildhall Artists Barbican concerts, the City of London Festival, Richmond Concert Society and Ryedale Festival.
How did you become a cellist and at what age did you start to learn?
Learning the cello came as a consequence of my dad being a jazz trumpeter and running his own music school in Madrid. I’d spend a lot of time after school there, and the opportunity of taking cello lessons came up. I just went along with it, and I was only 5. I think my main priority was to play football at that time and kind of still is…
What are the best and worst things about playing the cello?
There are too many good things. I meet a lot of amazing people through it and get to work with extraordinary individuals from all walks of life. There is so much good music out there and so many interesting projects to embark on. Hopefully, I get to inspire people and get them thinking, or disconnect and relax for a while. Cons? I guess the fact that it’s non-stop and it’s hard to switch off completely is somewhat negative. It can be draining. If you live in London or a busy city, carrying a cello on your back during rush hour after a busy day on a packed tube or bus full of city workers, prams and crying babies… I’ll stop now, the cello is great!
What musicians (living or dead) have most inspired you?
The list would go on and on from Beethoven to Sarah Vaughan, George Crumb to Camaron de la Isla. That said, I’d have to say my teachers and peers are probably my biggest inspiration because I work with them and they bring a smile to my face.
Do you have a standout career moment to share?
I did a fundraising concert through the Aidan Woodcock Charitable Trust to be able to stay in London and finish my masters degree at the RCM. At the time, I was struggling to find a way to stay and study as financially it wasn’t viable. I had been lucky enough to play at Aidan’s house concerts and courses in Cobham and asked him for advice in the matter. He set up two concerts for me and invited a huge number of people to come. I played with my sister, who is a jazz singer, for the first time, doing a Spanish song called Loca, and thinking about it now still makes me want to cry. My sister also did a jazz set, and then I did some solo repertoire topped off by a Brahms piano trio with Arisa Fujita and Marisa Gupta who are incredible musicians. Just having the opportunity was amazing in itself, but the reception and generosity of the audience and everyone involved was something I will never forget! I am still in London thanks to them and the WCOM for their scholarship.
What’s your favourite performance venue?
There are venues and halls that are maybe not the best acoustically where I’ve had great concerts. It all depends what the occasion is and how the audience respond. I tend to prefer smaller more intimate halls or spaces though. I think the Sage Gateshead Hall Two is one of my favourites.
You’re involved in a number of projects including the Multi-Story. What’s it about?
I have been involved in a number of projects with Multi-Story and I guess the aim is to programme great music in unusual places, such as Peckham car park where we perform each summer. There are some challenges when playing in these venues since it’s quite boomy and there can be a lot of noise from trains amongst other things. We have to deal with wind and general weather conditions, but the crowds who come to watch and listen are always amazing and the orchestra always shines. We also do outreach programmes in Peckham and go to various schools and play to them as an orchestra. They are always great fun because the kids are really up for it.
Tell me about your collaboration with the Maria Camahort Quintet.
The quintet formed at the Guildhall when we were studying there and was our way, musically speaking, of having our Spanish chitchat away from the big world of classical music. Maria Camahort arranges a lot of folk pieces and popular songs and puts her own twist on it, then the rest of us come in and twist it some more! There are a lot of different influences in there from contemporary Spanish guitar music and flamenco to very pure folk songs. It has a bit of everything, very intimate material, wacky sounds and good old passion and vitality. We recently had our album launch and it went down a treat, helped by tapas and wine!
What are your plans for the future?
I want to keep the ball rolling and keep expanding with the great projects that I’m involved in such as 12 ensemble, BitterSuite and the others I have mentioned. I like being flexible and doing collaborations outside of classical music. Taking all of this and more to beautiful halls and weird spaces where the audiences are open. I also want a holiday, which is my most immediate desire at the moment!
Where can we find out more about you?