Jo Quail, the Starfish and the German Twig

We recently had the absolute privilege of hosting a virtuoso performance by London based cellist and composer, Jo Quail. If you ever get a chance, please go and treat yourself to one of her concerts… utterly breathtaking and mesmerising, it will have you on the edge of your seat! Enjoy the read- Eisten

Contributed image for publication

Contributed image for publication

Her skeletal Starfish cello, intriguing in itself, sat in its stand ready for her owner to begin. What unfolded over the following hour was utterly breathtaking.
Jo Quail stepped on stage at Mountain Mumma, her casual attitude and her humble, almost dismissive, introduction of herself left the audience comfortable and ready to receive the music. For those who had not heard her music, the sheer boldness and unexpectedness of the performance left listeners alert and wanting more. This was no traditional performance; Her music was gripping, full and ripe of emotion and wanting to engage the audience. As the bow connected with the strings, the crowd was transfixed, mesmerised by the musician, her composition and the music. Between the rich, dark tones of the electric instrument and the layering of her music, each piece transported the listener on a journey of each story being told through Jo Quail’s strings and bow

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Jo introduced each piece with an explanation, but there was little need for words. The music from her latest album, Caldera, spoke. There was warrior-like determination in Adder Stone, it felt like going back to battlegrounds of warring clans of ancient civilisations. There were soft undertones of maternal tenderness in Eila’s Song, a lullaby she had written for her own daughter. Laurus, Jo explained, was a story of how each individual wears a cloak with their destiny written upon it and how sometimes it was the individual’s mission to remember or rediscover that destiny. Jhanoem the Witch was captivating and haunting with an eeriness that told the story of suspicion and the reality of a sorceress as a healer. Tu Florentine, composed after a visit to the Florentine Valley, was a dialogue of earth and wildlife, of space and emptiness, devoid of human life. Each piece was composed from thoughtful deliberation and an exploration of creating an emotion and a purposeful journey rather than just for the sake of music itself.

Jo’s connection with her instrument, the “German Twig”( her aptly named heavy set bow for the gutsier parts of her songs) and her more delicate bow, “My French Lady”, is both a reflection of her sense of humour, and her understanding of their capabilities to enhance her music to achieve the depth of feeling and transportation to whichever place she is sending her listener. Her composition was intriguing, not simply through the dynamics, varying tempos and changes in key signatures, but in the use of technique and technology. A unique element of Jo Quail’s performance and her style in general, was the use of looping technology, a system which effectively allowed the musician to record herself as she plays, layering her music. The use of col legno battuto (creating percussive sounds with the back of the bow in contact with strings) and pizzicato (plucking of the strings) created a backbone to some of her pieces, with the harmony and melody layered in and skin-tingling harmonics which made for beautiful listening. The result was watching one musician that sounded like an entire ensemble creating breathtaking music. But technology that makes her music. Jo said looping enabled her composition to be performed as a solo artist but the composition itself had to have integrity as a stand-alone as a piece of music.

Jo Quail’s performance was engrossing, and the connection between the artist and the audience created an energy within the room that had people talking about the sounds, the technique and the composition. She transported herself, bringing each listener with her on the journey of the story told through her cello.

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