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Photos: Klaudia Gruszka (above); Sacha Gusov (page 3)

Reviewers seldom have anything negative to say about him, he's highly regarded in the fields of jazz, ethnic music and, as a classical musician, Bernstein remarked that he was one of the most talented cellists he'd ever heard. John Woodford went along to meet Matthew Bailey in a break between rehearsals at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where he was rehearsing for a three-night Anglo-Japanese production Amaterasu.

Although I'd spent several hours at the Theatre Royal in the past, I don't think I ever realised quite how large the stage was until I stood in the pitch black behind the curtain trying to find cellist Matthew Barley. There were many obstacles to overcome…Chinese masks, racks of long poles, a battalion of taiko drums and an army of small seamstresses ushering me this way or that. I must have come over as the veritable English lunatic: with a new-found knowledge that their English was somewhat limited, grabbing their attention by asking loudly "Matthew???", I was pushed and shoved in this direction or that, in fact anywhere away from their work! Ultimately I did find him, standing with his technical crew in a corner somewhere, having a very matter-of-fact conversation about the quality of the mikes they'd been sent. It didn't last long…my flat-footed, ungainly entrance to the scene drew attention to me, perhaps not quite in the way I would have liked, but at least I wasn't ignored. With a sigh, possibly of consternation, he led me back into sunlight, safely away from causing any more damage or upsetting any more people.

At thirty-something, Matthew Bailey's life as a musician has hardly been what might considered normal. A pupil at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester, a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and the Moscow Conservatoire, he seems to have spent most of his career trying to do the exact opposite of his training as one of Europe's leading cellists. "What about Moscow?" I asked, hoping for stories of espionage, the Lubyanka, microfilms…well, you never know… All I got was "It was a fantastic experience. It was just at the peak of Gorbachev's powers and success, just at the beginning of his decline. By the time I left, everything seemed to be on ration and people were talking about the revolution."

Musicians are rarely blasé about their first major appearances (his was with the London Symphony Orchestra in the Shell Competition of 1986), and they seldom include outreach work in their CVs. But this is something important to Barley as a musician, something which has been included in performances from Day One: "Traditionally, when soloists finish their studies, they hire somewhere like the Wigmore Hall to announce to the world 'here I am!' That was an option for me, but on looking at the brochures, I saw that so many musicians were doing just that. So instead, I hired twelve cathedrals up and down the country and did a series of solo recitals of the Bach and Britten cello suites. Before each concert, however, I would do workshops at a comprehensive school in the area, in which we wrote a piece of music which we performed together at the beginning of the second half of the concert." There was an obvious relish in his words when he described this contact: "It's important to give the kids a really good stage – hands-on experience is always the best way of introducing them to music…I can't stand the thought of anyone having to make do with a pre-concert talk, in which some academic drones on about the use of the tritone or the leitmotif in this movement or that. To me, that's not what music is about!"

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