5 Minutes with… Cellist Laura van der Heijden

By Laurence Vittes | From the March/April 2020 issue of Strings Magazine

When Laura van der Heijden plays Haydn’s C major Concerto at Disney Hall on March 20, 2020, she will be making her US debut as the first of three cellists playing concertos with the Los Angeles Philharmonic during the Third International Piatigorsky Cello Festival. She will precede Kian Soltani playing Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, and artistic director Ralph Kirshbaum playing the world premiere of Julia Adolphe’s new concerto.

Born in the UK to Dutch-Swiss parents, van der Heijden at the age of 15 won the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition. In 2018, her debut CD of Russian music won the Edison Klassiek Award.

Van der Heijden plays a late 17th-century cello by Francesco Rugeri of Cremona, maintains a busy concert schedule, and serves as an ambassador for both the Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts and the Brighton Youth Orchestra.

I caught up with van der Heijden while she was on holiday break from her final year studying for her bachelor’s degree in music at St. John’s College, Cambridge.

Laura van der Heijden

STRINGS: How are you preparing for the Haydn?

Laura van der Heijden: Much like I prepare for anything else. I start with slow practice to make sure everything flows comfortably and to sort out intonation. This process also gives me time and space to try out different tone qualities and develop an auditory goal in my head. Once the piece is in my fingers I think about elements of the Classical style (like phrase lengths, rhythmic pulse, articulation, and sound quality), and how I should or would like to apply them to the concerto.

Which are its trickiest technical moments?


Nowadays, our cultural norm errs more toward the sweeping passions and impulsivity of the Romantic era, so the more measured, elegant, and refined nature of Classical works comes with some technical and interpretational challenges. The Classical style was exemplified by the desire for clarity of affect and simplicity, which requires extreme technical control, awareness, and flexibility of sound.

How did the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival and you come together?

I was very fortunate to get to know and learn from Ralph Kirshbaum during an International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove in Cornwall many years ago, and have done several master classes with him since then. I have him to thank for my invitation to the Piatigorsky Festival!

What have you heard about the festival and what are you looking forward to?

I’ve heard that it’s a huge celebration of music—and the cello in particular—which I’m very excited to be a part of. I’m really looking forward to many things, like hearing lots of fantastic playing, and to getting to know L.A. Additionally, it will be my US concert debut!

Who chose the Haydn?


I was asked to play the Haydn, and I’m not sure why exactly to be honest—probably just because it’s a fantastic piece of music!

Where along the interpretive spectrum do you see this work?

I do find it useful to consider historical performance practices and cultural norms during that period, but ultimately my instinct is probably still the strongest determining factor in forming my interpretation. One of my convictions with Classical works like the Haydn concerto is that a strong sense of pulse is an important factor, which then consequently informs all my other interpretational decisions.

Which edition do you use?


I actually use a copy that I downloaded from IMSLP, which is as blank as possible, so that I don’t get too bound to a particular edition and the editor’s bowings and fingerings. 

Which cadenzas will you play?

I will be playing my own cadenzas, which I really enjoy doing; with most other pieces I don’t get the opportunity to compose and use creativity in that particular way. 

This season you’ll be playing the Haydn with the LPO, Farnham Sinfonia, Surrey Mozart Players, and Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. How different do you expect each ensemble’s approach to be? 

Playing the Haydn or any concerto with different orchestras is always fascinating, as no performance or approach is ever the same. When I turn up to the first rehearsal, there is no way of knowing exactly what their approach will be like, which is definitely part of the excitement of collaboration. I love that every performance is different—sometimes drastically so—and that the orchestra’s style of playing gives me new ideas and inspires me to try out different things.