BLOG – Helen Barclay, cello

Reflections of an Antipodean Neviser

Hello! I played cello with the Nevis Ensemble from its inaugural tour in the Summer of 2018 until December 2019; I thought I’d get down some of my thoughts and reflections on the time I spent playing as a member of the orchestra.

In my opinion, the tour we did with Andrea Baker in December 2019 was one of the best. Andrea’s ability and determination to connect with audiences in every setting inspired all of us to persevere through sometimes challenging conditions. I remember playing at Princes Square (a mall in Glasgow) and the orchestra was all spread out because of the amount of pre-Christmas shoppers around and security guards losing their minds about emergency exits being clear. We played Schmerzen from Wagner’s Wessendonck Lieder and for me it was the most moving rendition we did of the piece because the whole orchestra was so focused. It was a kind of typically surreal Nevis experience to be getting all emotional in a shopping centre.

Another particularly memorable performance for me was when we played for a group of prisoners and prison officers at HMP Edinburgh. Getting all 40 musicians and our instruments through the prison security took a long time and was a logistical feat in itself. Then, being led through the labyrinthine prison corridors gave us a small glimpse of what life must be like for people who are incarcerated. After all that it was time to set up as quickly as we could and play our little hearts out. It was Burns Night, so as part of the concert some prisoners recited poetry they’d written and a prison officer did a super rendition of Burns’ Address To A Haggis. Hearing the prisoners’ poems added another layer of shared connection to the concert and made me think about how artistic endeavours bring light to even the bleakest of circumstances.

For me as an Australian, I think Nevis was the best way to get to know Scotland, and I met so many kind people. When I was thinking about what to write for this little blog post, I kept remembering the lunches, morning and afternoon teas provided for us. Obviously, that says something about my priorities in life, but I think that the hospitality shown to us deserves a special mention. Here are some tasty morsels that stand out in my memory: the ultimate fusion of cultural cuisine that was Haggis Pakora and Irn Bru provided by HMP Edinburgh, the Tunnock’s Caramel Log that may have saved my life three quarters of the way up Ben Nevis (thank you Alannah of the 2nd violins) and the consistently excellent spread put on by the Nan McKay Memorial Community Hall.

I moved to Glasgow with, in hindsight, an alarming lack of plans and I’m pretty glad that I was around at the right time to have the opportunity to be involved in Nevis Ensemble. It was one of the best experiences of my time living overseas and I hope to be back one day to cheer the current and future Nevisers on.