By BART MENDOZA | Uptown News
San Diego’s arts scene is thriving at the moment and nowhere is that more evident than the classical community. The Symphony, La Jolla Music Society and the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library, to cite just three local organizations, continue to rise to new heights with their programming, with smaller events taking place regularly and a growing number of internationally renowned performers making their home in San Diego. Such is the case with cellist Sophie Webber, who will host a pre-release concert for her second album, “B2C: Bach Cello Suites to Choir,” at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Oct. 19.
Originally from Oxford, England, Webber arrived in San Diego, via Chicago, in 2016. “It was [a] very welcome change from Chicago where we had been,” Webber remarked. “Coming here has given me a chance to hunker down on various projects I really wanted to get my teeth into, but didn’t have the time to in Chicago,” she said. “So, San Diego has become a sort of artistic oasis, in a good way, for me.”
The choice of venue for this pre-release event is special to Webber. While her new album was recorded in Chicago, her first, “Escape: Bach’s Six Suites for Solo Cello” (2018), was recorded at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“I was really struck by the strong music program there, and the strong choral tradition,” she said. “In the hall where we are actually playing, I find it inspiring. It’s such a beautiful space, with such lovely acoustics, it really does remind me of a European church in that way.”
The evening selections will be taken directly from the new album combining cello and voice. “I will be performing both recorded suites (No. 1 in G Major and No. 3 in C Major) with the choristers of St. Paul’s, under the direction of Martin Green,” Webber explained. For her, it was important to present Bach not just as “cello pieces, but rather showing them in a more accessible light. So, to me that meant working with the implied harmonies in the music. There is all this harmonic language and chordal progressions that are present in the music, very much implied, not necessarily fleshed out. So, I thought, why not do that, why not give people a different way into this music.” As for the new choral arrangements, Webber kept things minimal. “The idea is to keep the structure and not to clutter or distract from Bach’s original music, but just to highlight what’s already there,” she said.
In addition to composing, recording and performing, Webber also teaches. She notes no decline in interest in classical music, even with younger folks, when given the opportunity to experience it properly. “I’m incredibly interested in bringing more people to classical music,” she said. “I think it’s totally about the away that it’s presented. I have students who are working up renditions of [AC/DC’s] ‘Thunderstruck,’ as played by 2Cellos, while also working on other more traditional pieces. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It’s not that classical is better than any other kind of music or worse than any other.” She claims the sheer scope of what is considered classical music to be one of its attractions. “There isn’t just one type and there are so many composers and eras to discover. Certainly the younger ones who have been coming to me seem to be developing a genuine love for classical, which is lovely for me to see.”
Webber is already looking ahead to 2020, which in addition to the release of the new album, features plans for additional shows in Chicago, England and Germany to promote the new work. There are also plans for further recordings. “I couldn’t imagine not having music in my life, it is a way of life,” she mused. “Music such a unique means of expression and it’s so multilayered, it’s such an exciting world to be a part of.”
— Bart Mendoza is a local music writer. He can be reached at