Interview with Stephen Orton
‘By the time I first met Robin in the spring of 2008 I had been unhappy with my own instrument for some years and had been borrowing a series of distinguished cellos including a Vuillaume. I had been very impressed by my colleague John Heley’s David Rubio cello which Robin had recently worked on, so at John’s suggestion I came to see Robin to try to get my own cello working better. I also decided to try some cellos and played about five instruments during my first visit to Robin’s workshop, including a Montagnana copy by Robin which was incredibly free in its response and offered so much that I was looking for in an instrument. I am principal cellist with the Academy of St Martin’s in the Fields and cellist with the Chilingirian Quartet, so I play mostly chamber music, either in the orchestra or in the chamber ensemble but I also guest lead in the Philharmonia and the LSO. As a principal cellist you need to make a big sound on the A string and you also need a very good bass; I found that Robin’s Montagnana copy had all of these qualities so I took it away to try it. After a few weeks, during which time Robin fitted a different bridge to free the response and I found my ideal combination of strings, I decided to buy it.
I have played Robin’s cello ever since and I love it. I have taken it on many tours to hot and dry climates and I feel very confident wherever I am and always enjoy playing it. Being a new instrument it is not fragile but I look after it just as carefully as if it was a delicate antique; it has a seat next to me on the plane and very rarely does it go out of my sight on tour unless it’s in a heavy flight case and being looked after by experienced tour crew.
I didn’t really expect to find a contemporary instrument that I could live with so happily and feel comfortable with in all situations. Some people might say you need several different instruments for different circumstances but I find this cello works and responds to my needs in all situations, whether in a big orchestral solo or playing really softly. I think the cello has developed during the time I’ve played it; there has been a lot to explore in the cello. What I really love is the freedom the cello gives me. My colleagues all like the instrument and no-one is saying, ‘Steve can you play louder here?’ I am really very happy with it.’
Stephen Orton has been principal cellist with the Academy of St Martins in the Fields since 1986 and is also a regular guest leader with the LSO and the Philharmonia Orchestra, London. Stephen was formerly principal cello with the Bournemouth Sinfonietta and assistant principal in the English Chamber Orchestra, performing as soloist with both ensembles and he was also a member of the Delme Quartet for 10 years. Stephen is the cellist of the renowned Chilingirian Quartet.
He plays a copy of a c.1740 Montagnana cello made by Robin Aitchison in 2001.
To see a video of Stephen Orton playing his Montagnana copy, visit the Video Gallery.