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Ahead of his February 2024 tour with Britten Sinfonia, Abel Selaocoe talks about performing The Protecting Veil, his early musical experiences and his desert island discs.

What early musical experience had a lasting impact on you?

My brother was a really great teacher, and he put together a band of different instruments, mainly wind players, to come together and improvise and to play the music of our culture. And this was at the beginning of my studies as a cellist, at the age of about 9 years old. At the age of 11 I joined his band and we would improvise and play every Saturday, and learned so much from that because I was always translating our language to my instrument, which was really cool.

A listening experience that had a big impact on me was a record by Yo Yo Ma and the Assad brothers playing some Tango music. And I was obsessed with that record for years and years since I started playing the cello. From that point on, I felt really excited about delving in and committing myself to the cello.

What are your thoughts on playing John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil?

It’s a deeply spiritual piece. For me, it crosses boundaries of musical genre simply because it is such a great way of telling a story, like a divine priest or someone who is a vessel for a big message, carrying it to the masses.

It’s such a beautiful stage to set the story on. And in terms of the cello, it actually becomes less about the cello but so much about the voice. It’s about trying to emulate this almost supernatural, incredible way of singing on the cello. This is the endeavour - to reach this serene but raw experience of being able to sing on the cello.

If you could only have three desert island discs, what would they be?

Throughout by Bill Frisell. It’s an incredible album of ambient electric guitar mixed with cosmic jazz. It’s calm from beginning to end but haunting as well.

Hugh Masekela - Market Place. If I could only have one of his albums, that would be the one. I’d want it to be a live recording from the Market Theatre. I’d feel like I would be in the room, celebrating with other people, which would be exciting.

And then what to choose for a final choice? I think it would have to be something intensely beautiful, like Mahler’s Adagietto, from his Fifth Symphony. Yes, that would be it.

February 2024 tour dates:

Friday 9: Norwich Cathedral
Saturday 10: Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden
Thursday 15: Barbican Hall, London
Sunday 18:  Dublin Concert Hall
Tuesday 20: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester

Britten Sinfonia with Abel Selaocoe

Britten Sinfonia with Abel Selaocoe

Star cellist is the soloist in John Tavener's The Protecting Veil
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