Natalie's life after Musician of the Year accolade

BY MICHAEL WHITE Natalie Clein took the title in the BBC contest at the age of just 16. So what has happened to the Muswell Hill cellist since? Looking back over the history of the BBC Young Musician Of The Year competition, you find that not every winner makes it th

Natalie Clein took the title in the BBC contest at the age of just 16. So what has happened to the Muswell Hill cellist since?

Looking back over the history of the BBC Young Musician Of The Year competition, you find that not every winner makes it the first step on a career path to enduring fame and fortune. Some do, some don't.

And although Muswell Hill cellist Natalie Clein falls into the first category, with a thriving solo career that takes her everywhere from Sydney Opera House (a few months ago) to St Jude's in Hampstead Garden Suburb (last Saturday), she's level-headed on the subject of what the competition did for her.

Clein's victory was back in 1994 when she was 16 - and she says she's grateful for it.

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"But I don't think it makes your career. It's more like a springboard that launches you and, from then on, you have to keep flying, which is where other things come into play.

"It doesn't surprise me that winners vanish from the scene. A lot of changes go on in your life between 17 and 25 - and it's only natural that some people decide a solo career isn't for them.

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"I think that's a wise and valid thing to say because there are so many factors in a career other than talent.

"You need to believe that what you're doing has worth and not everyone can keep that belief going."

A constant issue with the competition is the risk of forcing young players into high profile, high pressure lives before they're ready and equipped.

"Early success has its dangers - there's no doubt about that. And there comes a moment when you have to stop and ask yourself, 'Have I lost control here? Is it what I really want and the best use of my talents?'

"These are hard questions but necessary and I think you have to keep on asking them.

"One of the big problems with winning BBC Young Musician is that you get seduced by sudden offers to this or that and it feels like you're there as a performer. But you're not.

"You're still young, you've still got studying to do and you need to be focused - not on having this great career but on becoming a better cellist or whatever. That's what matters."

For Clein, becoming a better cellist meant four years of study in Vienna with cellist Andras Schiff, whose teaching regime has acquired legendary status.

He handpicks a small number of privileged students who all but move in with him in what Clein calls "an old-fashioned sort of master/pupil apprenticeship".

"You join this little community around him and study scores together, eat together, discuss politics, religion, life - it amounts to a lot more than music - and for me it replaced university.

"Although saying that, university is still something I'd like to get around to one day. I enjoy academic work.

"It's just that it's hard to fit something like that around the hours you have to put in day after day, practising. If you don't keep that up, the fingers go."

One piece Clein doesn't have to practise too hard these days is the Elgar Concerto, which has become so much a part of her life she must hear it in her sleep.

It was the piece that won her not only Young Musician in 1994 but the Eurovision winner of winners competition that followed it the same year.

She's recorded it for EMI and she played it repeatedly this spring on her Australia/New Zealand tour.

For a successful British cellist, there's just no escape from Elgar and I wondered if she didn't sometimes want a break?

She does. In fact, she's gone through periods when she's told concert promoters that it's off the list for the season.

"But poor old Elgar - I often think he needs a break from me. But there are worse things to be stuck with than the Elgar. It's loaded with so many secrets you never stop discovering them - so I'm not complaining."

At St Jude's, it wasn't Elgar but the Haydn Concerto in C - played with the Haydn Chamber Orchestra, which featured as part of a one-off fundraiser for the North London Hospice in Finchley.

It was a chance for her to practise something she likes to preach, which is taking music out of formal venues into places where contact with the audience is more flexible.

"The atmosphere in concerts can be quite intimidating- and I think it's one reason why young people stay away,'' she said.

"I like to talk to audiences and I'm always happy if people come round and see me afterwards - especially if they're families because children remember that kind of thing when they grow up and it can be a powerful memory.

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