ED2018 Chris Meets ED2018 Interviews ED2018 Music

Peter Hudler: Cello On Fire

By | Published on Saturday 18 August 2018

When cellist Peter Hudler played at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, our reviewer noted that “his acoustic instrument had that rich, chocolatey resonance essential for a traditional solo repertoire – no electronics or gizmos required”. As for his playing of it, it wonderfully “blurred the boundaries between genres and instruments”.

Peter is back this year with a new show called ‘Cello On Fire’, which again blurs the boundaries between genres as he uses his cello to play a plethora of musical styles. We wanted to find out more.

CC: Tell us a little about your background and your career to date.
PH: I trained as a classical musician in Austria, which is where I am from. I studied in Vienna and Salzburg and played in many of the orchestras there. Then I went abroad. I had jobs in different orchestras and ensembles in Ireland, Norway and Denmark, and subsequently decided – a couple of years ago – to return to Vienna to start a freelance career with my own creative projects and to try to find my own voice as a musician. So here I am! I also teach in a conservatoire and play in different groups, but actually – because of my experience at the Edinburgh Fringe last year – my solo work has become much more extensive.

CC: You now perform the cello in a number of different styles. What has motivated you to do this?
PH: I felt confined within the rules and restrictions of the classical music business and I wanted to expand and develop myself by exercising more artistic freedom and musical courage. I still love and play the classical repertoire, but it has also been a really great experience to get out of the “box“ and explore new styles and to get to know the whole free world of music making, not just the closed circles of elite classical playing. I wanted to play music that will connect and resonate with many people, not just the regular concert goers.

CC: What are your favourite genres or styles to play on the cello? What are the most tricky?
PH: I really like the pieces that turn an old or archaic theme into something modern – like many pieces by Giovanni Sollima – but also those small charming jazz pieces that just make you smile. And, of course, the baroque world. This music still really works on the cello and says something to the people, amazingly, across all these centuries. The most tricky genres are those complex contemporary jazz pieces and surprisingly – at least for me – I had to work really hard on the rock arrangements that I am playing. I guess to reproduce the groove that everyone remembers from the actual recordings of a famous rock band is quite a challenge. But fun!

CC: Tell us about ‘Cello On Fire’, what can we expect?
PH: A burning mix of styles from baroque to rock with very cool pieces and arrangements. Some of which were written especially for the show, like a piece by the famous Swedish jazz cellist Svante Henryson. Or which aren’t published – yet – and are in the hands of only a very few cellists. So it’s a unique opportunity to hear music you cannot hear on the cello anywhere else.

I called it ‘Cello On Fire’ because it has a couple of really passionate and intense pieces in it and takes the idea of my last show even further. The musical journey goes from baroque – I play a beautiful piece by Italian composer Giuseppe dall’ Abaco – to rock – I open with ‘Little Wing’ by Jimi Hendrix in an arrangement by jazz cello legend Mark Summer – and I also play a very fun arrangement of ‘Helter Skelter’ by Luna Pearl Woolf, who is a very well known and successful contemporary composer from the US.

I also sing in a couple of places, like in Pieter Vasks’ ‘The Book’, which works really well in the fine acoustics of C Too in St Columba’s by the castle. I was really surprised how many people picked this – actually contemporary classical! – piece as their favourite of the show. I also play a traditional Celtic set, because people asked about it last year and, of course, because it’s great music!

CC: You mentioned last year’s show. We loved it! How does this one compare?
PH: Oh, thank you! I think I have matured a little over the last year and I have found an even more personal voice. The idea is the same, to bring together the most diverse styles and genres, find the connections and create an interesting and fulfilling musical journey. And for myself, to expand the boundaries of the instrument and myself even more. I have picked demanding pieces, even more intense and strong – on fire! – but also others that are very poetic and intimate, like a really beautiful Scottish air.

CC: How do you go about selecting what pieces to perform in a relatively short show like this one?
PH: I just pick the best ones! The highlights. But also those that fit together well and form some kind of a story or musical journey that makes sense to the audience. The music can be very intensive – full on – if it’s a relatively short show, and that’s an advantage I think. Of course I try to present the music I feel most comfortable with and where I can show off some skills. You never know who stops by at the Fringe! Anyway, it does feel a little short to me as well, although that’s a financial thing!

CC: What first attracted to you to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe?
PH: A friend who lives in Scotland recommended it to me and said my programme would really fit well here. Then I started learning more about it and just loved the idea of being able to play so many shows in a row and experiment with the music and the situation, and to be able to experience the creative freedom that this Festival is so famous for. Also it was a chance to visit Scotland for the first time and get myself noticed a bit here and generally in the UK.

CC: And what persuaded you to come back for more?
PH: I wanted to come back this year because I felt I could continue building this show where I left off last time, which is working I think! It’s been such a good run with so many happy people and one happy cellist. And I like Edinburgh as a place and, of course, all that craziness around the Festival is really fun and inspiring!

CC: The Edinburgh Festival has a great music programme, but it tends to get over-shadowed a little by the theatre and comedy. How have you found it attracting an audience for a music show at the Fringe?
PH: Well, it started out OK last year, with a very tough second week but a nice third week that made up for it. This year has been quite a lot better. I am absolutely happy with the audience numbers, but there are still some seats to fill. I do think that you need a really good and convincing show that has something special in it and you have to know where to find your audience.

Flyering the Royal Mile, for example, doesn’t seem to be so effective for my kind of show. I think with music shows, you have to be very targeted with the promotion. My impression though, is that it’s possible to build a reputation at the Festival for this kind of performance, and that will attract people on a regular basis in the long run. And then a bit of flying can – hopefully – bring in some new people. That can make for a nice crowd.

CC: What would you say to a Fringe-goer who wouldn’t normally come to a show like yours?
PH: Give it a shot and be surprised! There is something in it for almost everyone. It is very approachable, I explain all the pieces and make it fun and worthwhile to listen to. I have received quite a lot of audience reviews from people who say that they were rather skeptical at the beginning and weren’t so sure what to expect, but who then really loved it in the end and got something out of it for themselves. Also, the church is a very nice venue with good acoustics, and people have said that the show is like taking a break from the craziness of the crowds on the streets.

CC: And finally, what’s next for you after the Festival?
PH: Holidays, definitely. And then I will go back to Vienna, where I live at the moment, and work on new projects, including a new album. And I will work on my own concert series called ‘Cello Expansion’, which will start its first season this autumn in Vienna. And I will spend time with all the people I have neglected during my Summer festival craziness!

‘Cello On Fire’ was performed at C too at Edinburgh Festival 2018.