Liverpool Philharmonic cellist Jonathan Aasgaard has big plans to bring music to Edge Hill Station, he tells Laura Davis
THERE’S no shortage of noise at Metal arts centre. Housed inside former railway buildings at Edge Hill Station, it has its own soundtrack – the squeaking of breaks, chugging of arriving and departing trains, the clatter of feet on the platforms and the chatter of commuters.
Recently added to this is the sumptuous bowing of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s lead cellist Jonathan Aasgaard, who is the venue’s new musician-in-residence.
He took on the position in May but other musical committments have meant that he has been unable to throw himself into the role until now.
With his diary cleared, Aasgaard has a long list of plans for bringing music to the red brick buildings, which, he says, have fine acoustics.
“This place has been well known to visual artists for a while but for the musical milieu it’s a hidden gem,” he says.
“The plan is to do things that are interesting, perhaps new, perhaps experimental, and to bring in musicians from all kinds of musical cultures, nationalities and musical styles and try to find some common ground.”
He is currently seeing all potential collaborations as pilots.
“I have a lot of feelers out – people who might be recommended to me, people I have always wanted to work with,” he explains.
“Then we could meet for say an hour or two, play a little bit together, have a good time, fill the place with sound while other artists are working around the building and we might not see each other again in a musical capacity, or we could have further meetings and possibly even work on a project.”
So far he has improvised a score to a film about the Pendle witches and, tonight, will perform an evening of “improvisation and anything goes” with jazz saxophonist Tom Challenger (who also happens to be his brother-in-law) and composer and electronic sound creator Manuella Blackburn, who is professor of music at Liverpool Hope University. The three have never performed together before and, apart from a technical rehearsal, tonight’s concert will be the first time.
“In principle, we don’t have any particular idea what will happen soundwise,” says Aasgaard, 38.
“Manuella has some prerecorded banks of us playing and we will help manipulate these sounds by our movements using sensors.
“It’s as intriguing to me as it will be to anyone who comes to listen. It’s meant to be absolutely nerve wracking for us, incredibly exciting.
Although this sounds completely different to his work with the Phil, there are some similarities.
“At the same time, playing classical music to a very large degree contains improvisational elements,” he says.
“After all, classical music is only dots on paper which you can play like a machine but to bring anything to life, to make sense of anything – the colour of the sound, the vibrato speed – is improvisation to a large extent.”
Aasgaard will also perform a solo work-in-progress by Stephen Pratt, also professor of music at Hope, called Entre Nous, that is ultimately intended to be a duet with Blackburn.
“‘Conversational’ is the best word to describe it,” says the father-of-three.
“He works with different voices that very often disagree with each other or commentate on the same thing from different perspectives.
“It’s in three movements and the last movement is very virtuosic.”
One idea Aasgaard has for a future project would involve the trains arriving at and leaving Edge Hill Station.
“We could maybe have musicians who come and go on the trains – jump off the train, play, board the next train while somebody else comes off, and have a continuous musical journey with a group that changes personnel with the train schedules,” he says.
“That would be quite fun and would reflect that it’s a train station where people come and go.”
Oslo-born Aasgaard began learning the cello at the age of six, much to the dismay of his father, an accomplished jazz musician.
“I rejected jazz from when I was young,” he laughs.
“I was a rebel. I insisted on playing hard core classical music from an early age to my father’s chagrin. He bought me a bass guitar and tried to insist on a broader musical horizon but I wouldn’t have it.
“Now I maybe wish I had but, you know, that’s life.”
Family did influence Aasgaard’s choice of instrument however. He picked the cello because his paternal grandfather played it.
“We’d do lessons together,” he reveals. “When I first started we went to the same teacher. It was a very nice introduction.”
JONATHAN AASGAARD, Manuella Blackburn and Tom Challenger perform ConFusion at Metal, Edge Hill Station, tonight.