Mar 25 2009
It was my pleasure to re-discover the music of Cheryl Grice Watterson recently. Cheryl rose to musical prominence in late 1970′s, starring in a Julian Bream Masterclass playing Albeniz Sevillia, and was awarded joint second place in the prestigious Segovia competition, 1981.
Cheryl gave up guitar in 1983 to raise a family, only to re-discover her love of music and guitar once again. Later she and her family emigrated to New Zealand. She very kindly took time to talk to me about her rise to musical stardom, retiring from public spotlight, and her joy of finding music again, to resurrect her career…
Cheryl, can you give us a general background of your early professional life, please?
”I studied the guitar from the age of 8 with Gordon Crosskey, and began to play 20 minute concerts at various guitar societies around Britain from the age of 12. My first concerto performance was Rodrigo’s Fantasia Para un Gentilhombre with a local amateur orchestra around the age of 14 or 15.
At 16 I was awarded a Scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music, and continued my studies under Gordon who was Professor of Guitar there. John Williams came up from London regularly to give Masterclasses to the students, and I also had regular private lessons with him at his house in London.
In 1974, when I was 19 years old, I shared joint first place in the Lanchester International Guitar Competition and later that year won the Allesandria Competition in Italy. I went on to give a performance on Italian television. I gave many solo recitals around Britain at this time, also Radio and Television performances (including the Black and White Minstrel Show!!)
I think it was in 1979 that I appeared on the Julian Bream Masterclass on BBC2, and the following year he invited me to take part in a televised lesson with him on French television.
In 1981 I took part in the Segovia competition at Leeds Castle in Kent, where i gained joint 2nd place.
I then married and curtailed the performing whilst I brought up 5 children under the age of 7! Though I did throw myself into teaching at the time which I found gave me great satisfaction. I love to teach!. Also I did tour with a flautist before emigrating to New Zealand in 1997.”
I recall you took part in a Segovia competition in the early 80′s…What are your recollections of that?
“I remember the high calibre of musicians who entered! We were all in the same hotel and it was very hard to be confident in your own ability, when you could hear everyone else practising! My room was next to Paul Galbraith’s, who I saw recently in Adelaide. We were reminiscing about the event and were amused to realise that both of us at the time were feeling undermined by the other persons brilliant playing in the next room!
I remember Leeds Castle being stunningly beautiful, and the whole process a combination of great fun, and nerve-wracking performances. I was unfortunately underprepared for the competition, due to other important recitals in the previous week, including 2 different concertos!
During the competition, I was apparently the ‘favourite’ to win, but I have to admit had hardly looked at the final test piece, which was yet a 3rd concerto, and so wasn’t at all surprised when the 1st place went to someone else. In fact being so underprepared, including radically changing my right hand technique that year, I was surprised to have gotten so far in the competition in the first place!”
Am I correct in remembering that a Japanese player won that competition, who later cut the top of his finger off, so as never to play again, or was that a different competition? As best I can remember, playing pressures got the better of him…
“You’re right, it was a Japanese student who won. I think he was only in his 2nd year of study in London. He only entered the competition for the experience, and was not prepared to take on the numerous recitals that were part of the prize. The pressure became too much for him, and the story I heard was that he cut off the tip of his left hand little finger to avoid the dishonour of not keeping his commitments. I also heard that in later years he tried to play left handed, but was not successful in the attempt. But I can’t confirm this as a fact.”
Regarding the Julian Bream Masterclass, how were you selected to play in that?
“I think the Professors at the various Music Colleges selected students to take part. Richard Wright and Forbes Henderson, were also there from the Royal Northern College of Music.”
When you look back at the masterclass, what are your main recollections of it? Were you in any way intimidated to play in front of such a renouned artist as Bream?
“ I was definitley intimidated! I was also freaking out that I would have to get up completely cold, with no warm up, and play Sevilla having sat in the room all day watching the Masterclass! They didnt stop recording between players, so everyone had to come straight up cold and play. So I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I was due to go up, and they called for a break whilst someone rushed off to catch a plane, and Julian had a short break – which gave my 5 mins to warm up thank goodness!
I was very nervous but it went really well, and Julians initial comment on my playing was brilliant. It was unfortunate that there were technical problems with the camera at that point which necessitated his comment to be re-recorded 3 or 4 times. Each time this happened his enthusiasm was a little more watered down.
I wish I could remember what his initial comment was! Sevilla was of course transcribed from piano, so a lot of the comments he made were about possibly changing the notation to fit the original score a little better, which was interesting.”
What was it like recording with him? You were personally invited to do this after the masterclass….
“You probably mean the recording of a ‘private’lesson with him on French television? He rang me the following year and asked if I would like to take part. There was also a Belgium guitarist involved too. It was recorded in Paris, in a room where we were surrounded by mirrors (an interesting visual effect)and was great fun. Very relaxed. I have never seen the recording, and I have no copy of the BBC one either. If anyone out there has a copy, please let me know!
I remember the TV company originally placed me in a hotel used by ‘ladies of the night’, and rushed me out of there very fast when they realised their mistake. It was so funny. They were most apologetic!
I loved Paris, and the lesson with Julian was very helpful, as he knew what I was playing beforehand, and so we were able to go into quite a lot of depth. I remember it was a Bach piece, but I dont remember which.”
Interview part 2, where Cheryl relates her story of retiring from music, only to experience joy at her re-discovery of her love of the guitar and music all over again…