Discover a Musical World Where Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

Christian Elliott will perform at this year's Harrogate Music Festival

Christian Elliott is an acclaimed musician with a sideline in improvised music that brings together everything from chamber music to heavy metal – all on the cello. The Canadian-born cellist has been a member of the Zehetmair Quartet since 2014 and has lived in the UK for the past 16 years. His ‘Android Summer’ concert in Harrogate reimagines popular songs by the likes of Radiohead, Billy Joel and Berlioz. He explains all:

 Your ‘Android Summer’ concert sounds intriguing. How does it work?

In some cases there are 10 or 11 layered cello tracks on them. Every sound in the concert is being made on a cello and there’s a lot of sounds and effects which are great fun to do. It’s been one of the most fun and challenging things I’ve done because I’ve had to do dozens of hours of recording. I think the most exciting thing for me is I’ve got to arrange lots of different styles of music and perform them.

What are the different styles you’ll be performing in Harrogate?

There’s regular classical music, but there’s also heavy metal in there, easy listening, alternative rock and film music. So there’s quite a mixed bag. I did a lot of arranging and recording from home during lockdown and some of the arrangements in the concert, like House of the Rising Sun and Piazzolla’s Cammorra III, were done during this time.

How do you choose which songs to arrange?

Some of them were just songs or pieces of music I came across by accident which I thought would be really fun to do on the cello. One of them, Lollipops and Roses, I heard at the end of a Mad Men episode and I just thought it would be great to do it on the cello. She’s Always a Woman is another one. When I first heard it I was so moved by it I thought it would work really well, even without the amazing words.

How easily do songs translate to the cello?

A lot of people talk about the qualities of the human voice that the cello has which is part of it. There’s such a variety of voices that can be found on the cello. So whenever I’m listening to something I think about how I would approach it on the cello.

Why did you want to bring all these different styles of music together?

The idea of having lots of variety really appealed to me. Plus it’s fun to have the chance to interpret it in a different way, because most of the music I do is concert music. So it’s nice to have a chance to do some improvised music as well and linking what you’ve learned from all these different experiences is really valuable and hugely inspiring.”

What’s the appeal of playing at the music festival in Harrogate?

The people I’m playing with in Harrogate are absolutely amazing. Many of them I’ve known for years so it’s a real treat to get to play with them. Robin Green [this year’s guest curator] and I have played quite a lot together so it’s always a joy to play with him. It’s a dream festival to be part of. The variety of music we’re going to do is a real delight.

Is it harder for musicians today to be experimental?

I think you need people to be willing to say, ‘that sounds interesting, let’s try that.’ There was probably a golden age of experimentalism in the 1960s and 70s, but it’s a fine line between giving people something you know they’re going to like and something a bit different. Quite often I’ve done something with other ensembles that have been quite adventurous and afterwards people have said, ‘I was really expecting to hate that and I absolutely loved it.’ So there’s a good lesson there – we often think we know what something is going to be like but once we’re exposed to it we can be pleasantly surprised.

How important are festivals like this for showcasing new music?

They’re absolutely crucial. I can’t overstate how important it is for artists to have a forum like this where you can really dive in and present your work to audiences is an enormous gift, and without that it would be very disheartening.

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