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Interview with Matthew Sharp, Tommy Foggo – Superhero

He’s been described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘extraordinary cellist, virile baritone & compelling actor’, we caught up with the multi-talented Matthew Sharp in-between his whirlwind musical and theatrical commitments, ahead of his performance in Dulwich.

Cellist, baritone, actor or Director, of all your multi talents, which do you prefer?

Ooofff, that’s like asking me to choose a favourite child! I want to connect with great heart, directness, insight, playfulness and adventure and these ‘talents’ help me do that. So in serving the art and the audiences, I’m drawing on them to greater and lesser degrees all the time.

It’s quite rare to maintain both singing and instrumental aspects of your career, why did you choose to pursue both?

I’ve always felt a responsibility to nurture any/all of the gifts I might have been born with and music and its communication is so much bigger than so many of the narrow parameters imposed upon it, so I’m just playing my small part in trying to be the best, most complete, most generous artist I can be.

How do your performances benefit from your multi skills?

Whether I’m in Concerto Gear, Opera Gear, Theatre/Story-telling Gear, I’m looking for that 360-degree communication with an audience. So much of the classical music canon was written for the world and for people, so I want to draw on ALL of my humanity and expressive powers – not just my capacity for playing the cello, for example – to try and communicate it.

When did you start singing and playing the cello?

Mouse in Noye’s Fludde aged 3, then Page Boy in Verdi’s Falstaff aged 6 (Mum was in the orchestra…good child-care). I started playing the cello aged 6 – opera and cello seeds were sown at the same time.

You’re quoted as saying that ‘cellos and cello playing are the least interesting thing’ in a performance, what do you want the audience to experience and take away with them?

Visceral, spiritual, elemental – joining me on the ledge beyond the edge and making it our new home.

Where do you find inspiration to ‘channel your inner werewolf’ as you’ve described your cello playing?

It’s all in the risk-taking…and the lunar cycle.

In your opinion what is the purpose of music in today’s world?

I do music for the magic, the transcendence, the shared sense of upliftment. Like Tommy, music saved my life – I hope that it can do that, even if only in the smallest way, for someone else.

Tell us a little about Tommy Foggo – Superhero, what can the audience expect from this performance?

It’s hilarious, it’s heartbreaking. At times high-octane, at others contemplative. It was made as much for children as adults, so there are emotional layers in it for everyone. I wear a wetsuit, so sweat BUCKETS, which is worth the ticket price alone. (And there’s all the usual stuff – wildly virtuosic cello-playing, compelling story-telling, scenery-chewing opera-singing…)

What inspired you to come up with Tommy Foggo – Superhero?

I was walking down the street near Edinburgh with my wonderful pals and collaborators, Stephen and Martin, and we saw a shop sign – T. Foggo & Sons. Who’s T. Foggo, we wondered? And then Martin remembered his mate, Keith, who was left at the bus-stop by his Mum, who he never saw again. And so the seed for Tommy Foggo – Superhero was sown. It honours Keith…and superheroes, everywhere!

Do you enjoy performing to a younger audience as much as you do when you’re playing in the Philarmonic?

YES! Collapse it all into one frame. For me, Tommy and the Elgar Concerto thrive off each other. In fact, in the week I’m at the Dulwich Festival with Tommy, I’m also performing the Rococo Variations and Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango with the Northern Chamber Orchestra, singing a concert performance of Eugene Onegin and filming for the UK tour of Aardman’s ‘Wallace & Gromit’s Musical Marvels’ in which I present, conduct, play and sing. I call it the McKellen Matrix…as in Sir Ian: iconic black polo-neck RSC Macbeth, TV sitcom, Gandalf, pantomime dame, Richard III on film…and more. He does it all, he has ‘range’, he connects with huge, cross-generational audiences. That inspires me, marrying risk and reverence, the virtuoso and the vernacular, vision and provenance and the pioneering Pied Piper with the concerto soloist.

What in particular are you looking forward to about the Dulwich Festival?

Back to my South London roots! I used to live in Herne Hill, grew up a bit further west in Putney and Wimbledon. Can’t wait for a dip in Brockwell Lido!

3 best things to do in the Dulwich area?

Hof-style morning dip in the Lido, followed by a full slap-up English in Brockwell Park, topped off with cultural delights at the Picture Gallery. Lovely!

Tommy Foggo – Superhero

Saturday 11 May 2.30pm 

St Barnabas Parish Hall, Dulwich Village

For tickets visit http://dulwichfestival.co.uk/event/tommy-foggo-superhero/