Foundation five: Matthew Barley

The renowned cellist, improvisor and arranger talks about his most ambitious project to date.

Anita Awbi
  • By Anita Awbi
  • 5 Apr 2013
  • min read
Since the start of the year, cellist, improviser and arranger Matthew Barley has been celebrating Benjamin Britten’s centenary with a tour of the UK.

Around Britten is an ambitious undertaking that will see Matthew host more than 100 events in unusual venues, including National Trust properties, a Victorian swimming pool, a lighthouse in Kent and barn in Colchester.

During the tour, Matthew is paying homage to the late composer’s creativity and innovation in a bid to encourage a wider audience to appreciate his work. The project was funded by a number of organisations including PRS for Music Foundation, and will see Matthew perform Britten’s Third Cello Suite – dedicated to and first performed by Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

Matthew is internationally renowned for his commitment to collaboration and musical diversity, and is as comfortable with improvisation as he is music-making with Indian, Sufi and African musicians.

A prolific performer, he has appeared as soloist, played in orchestras and given recitals in many of the greatest concert halls around the world, earning his stripes as one of the finest cellists of his generation.

Here, in the latest instalment in our Foundation Five series, he talks to PRS for Music Foundation’s Sarah Thirtle about his most recent work. 

The inspiration for creating music for this particular tour (Around Britten) was the desire to celebrate Britten's centenary, and also to create a solo cello recital that was something really unusual, including new commissions, improvisation, music with electronics and video animation as well as standard repertoire like Britten and Bach. The whole programme should be an immersive journey of pieces that trace a cycle of the soul from pre-existence through life, death, the afterlife to reincarnation.

How would you describe the music PRS for Music Foundation supported?
The Foundation has helped with two pieces; firstly the new work by Dai Fujikura, The Spirit of Beings, for cello and tape which is a fantastic soundscape created with granular synthesis. Dai is a huge talent, and his piece that opens the programme has been really well received so far - it's brilliantly original, and great cello writing. Then there is Noticing Things by Norwegian DJ Jan Bang (Director of the Punkt Festival in Oslo). Jan has remixed the sound files of Dai's piece, and the results are mesmeric - a very special atmosphere.

What has the funding enabled you to achieve?
This funding has enabled me to put together some parts of the programme that I had not got covered by other funding channels, and to have the time to develop work on my own that I would not have been able to do otherwise - thank you!

Have you any tips for other artists applying for funding?
I think my biggest tip would be to take your time with the forms - there's a lot of detail you can get in there, and it's tempting to rush it but taking time really helped me. I also think it's really helpful to be very clear about the musical side of the project so you know exactly what you are trying to achieve - then it will be easier to write about it.

What's next for you?
Now the music is created I will be touring it until December but there are other projects at the same time as well. The most recent one was six concerts in Europe of gypsy influenced music by classical and jazz composers that I arranged called The Peasant Girl with violinist Viktoria Mullova and pianist Julian Joseph.

To find out more about PRS for Music Foundation funding programmes, please visit