Catherine Lee plays The Proms at St Jude's

PUBLISHED: 10:53 07 June 2019 | UPDATED: 10:53 07 June 2019

Cellist Catherine Lee plays this year's Proms at St Jude's in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Cellist Catherine Lee plays this year's Proms at St Jude's in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Archant

Korean cellist Catherine Lee talks about playing the Proms and starting a music school in Hampstead

"Music school seeks operational base in Hampstead."

Not a real advertisement, but it might materialise if Catherine Lee and her team of fellow-musicians get tired of their currently peripatetic life-style.

A church would be ideal - we're talking about an extra-curricular weekend activity - but a house might also be good.

"I try to keep myself busy," says this young Korean with a disarming smile, and when you consider her trajectory to date, you realise that's a serious understatement.

She was born in Korea but was transplanted for her first six years to Saudi Arabia, where her father's work had taken the family. Then they went back to Korea, which Catherine describes as "a very stuffy country, very competitive, very much like China in that respect".

So they relocated to New Zealand, where she acquired her perfect and accent-free English. Her mother had taught her the basics of pianism, but in New Zealand she began to learn the cello, at which she quickly excelled.

Next stop - she was 13 - was London, where the family chanced to set up house near the Purcell school of music.

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"My parents had never imagined I would become a musician," she says, "but a neighbour said, as we were so close, why not try and get in there?" She auditioned, was accepted, passed out with distinction after spending four happy years there, and moved to Germany (with a year's break in Basel) to broaden her musical horizons.

Then, garlanded with degrees in performance, it was back to London.

"I wanted to be in the music industry," she says, "but I'd started teaching in Germany and that appealed to me. I loved playing chamber music, but I never wanted to do orchestral work. So I started teaching one-to-one in my area - Hampstead Garden Suburb - and I asked my colleagues and friends if they would teach with me - and so it became a school, Hampstead Music School. We don't have a physical base yet, because the parents want the lessons to be given in their homes."

There are fifteen teachers, and forty students aged between three and twelve - mostly studying cello, violin, and guitar - and the numbers are growing. The school's first concert will be at Burgh House on June 16.

Catherine says in a rueful aside that she's having to learn at top speed about marketing and accountancy, but there's much more to her musical life than the burgeoning HGS.

Like the children's music school in Havana where she taught two years ago, and to which she can't wait to return. She's not enamoured of the Cuban political situation - "it's quite like that of North Korea, but much warmer" - but she passionately wants to help the aspiring young musicians there, given the almost complete dearth of instruments and materials.

While a Cuban pianist friend is planning to ship over a piano, Catherine will take rosin and music stands.

Meanwhile she has her own career to think about; her particular interest at present is the repertoire for cello and guitar. Yes, she agrees, it's an unusual combination, and most pieces have to be specially arranged, but it works well.

The main problem is the sonic imbalance between the instruments - the acoustic guitar gets drowned by the force of the cello. But that's what we will be hearing when she and Ahmed Dickinson Cardenas play their concert in the Proms at St Jude's festival on June 25. Will the combo work? "Absolutely yes, because Ahmed has a very big sound, and there's no problem of balance. The guitar can provide the rhythm, while I play long elegant melodies. Audiences really like it."

Given the cool efficiency with which she's tackled every other obstacle so far, we should take her word for this.

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