The Scotsman Sessions #144: William Conway

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on, with introductions from our critics. Here, cellist and conductor William Conway performs the Sarabande and Courante from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3 in C.

William Conway was due to be making a conducting debut in Denmark when March’s lockdown hit. “We got as far as the final rehearsal, then overnight they cancelled the whole thing. Since then, I’ve done one concert – with the Hebrides Ensemble as part of the Edinburgh International Festival’s Chamber Music Soundscapes. I’ve been performing as a musician for about 40 years, and when it suddenly stops, everything you need to be able to perform gets put on ice a little, too.”

Conway is a conductor, cellist and teacher, and also artistic director of the Hebrides Ensemble, which likewise has been taking an enforced break. "But we’ve been dreaming up some fantastic projects for once we’re able to get back to live performance.”

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Two movements from Bach’s solo cello suites – specifically the Sarabande and Courante from the Suite No. 3 in C – were an obvious choice for his Scotsman Session. "I’ve played the suites all my life, in concerts, for funerals, for weddings. They seem so simple, but they go so deep – Bach is a lifetime quest. I’ve been playing them even more than usual since March – I find them a solace, and it’s also a kind of meditation that you can really get lost in.”

The Suite in C holds a special significance. “When I auditioned for principal cello with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in the early 1980s, they asked me on the spot to play some Bach for them – I played this, and I got the job. But I was also asked by the EIF to play the suite for a solo performance by Rudolf Nureyev. In the rehearsal he kept saying he couldn’t remember the choreography, and at the end, he said: whatever happens tonight, just keep playing. When it got to the performance, he strode elegantly and beautifully around the stage, with charisma you could peel off him. I’ve no idea how much he actually remembered of it.”

For more on William Conway, see

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