Helen Neilson wanted to play the cello from around the age of 2 and always got very annoyed as a child when adults kept asking her if she wanted to play the violin! When she saw Christopher Nupen’s film of Jacqueline du Pre after her premature death from MS in 1987, Helen was convinced that the cello was going to be central to her life’s work, and that she was going to live in London. Despite having traversed an eclectic variety of different environments along the way and achieved a degree in pure mathematics combined with music, she is grateful to have created the life she always dreamed of with her cello, her cello students, her colleagues who share her passions and interests, as well as a few unexpected extras into the mix, including a later found love for the double bass. She is also a regular yogi, outdoor swimmer and cyclist.
Her cello studies included valuable years with Anna Shuttleworth at Leeds University, where she also gained huge benefit from the Gathering of the Clans cello courses, working with teachers and fellow students at the forefront of the generation. She then studied with Melissa Phelps at the Royal College of Music, where she played regularly with a string quartet who won many prizes for chamber music playing and received coaching from many eminent quartet players including the Chilingirian and Fitzwilliam quartets. She was frequently a front desk player in the College’s many orchestras, allowing her to experience working with many eminent conductors on a wide range of repertoire. Later she studied an MMus in Performance studies at Trinity College of Music where she studied with Naomi Butterworth, did lots more quartet playing and hugely enjoyed immersing herself into academic research. Her paper, “The multiple facets of the centre of the body in the communication process in music performance: perspectives from the worlds of music, dance and Eastern spirituality” gained attention and led to various conference invitations, including work with Carola Grindea, the founder of EPTA and ISSTIP.
Helen now teaches cello across a diverse range of environments and plays double bass regularly with orchestras. She runs a thriving teaching practice at home in Brixton and teaches the cello groups and coaches chamber music at Bayswater Suzuki Group. She is Head of Strings at Latymer Upper School and teaches cello at St Paul’s Girls School and on the whole class strings programme at the Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School in Aldgate. She has taught on courses including Bryanstone, CelloFest and Pro Corda cello course and regularly teaches on workshops for the London Cello Society including their annual Cello Day of which she was previously director. She is particularly interested in the art of group teaching, and in the impact of environment upon development. She now helps with training and mentoring other cello teachers for London Music Masters. Helen was one of the key advisors involved in setting the new Trinity College 2020-2023 Cello Syllabus. She is grateful for all she has learned from her Suzuki cello teacher mentors including Carey Beth-Hockett, Eulalia Subira and Ruben Riviera.
Helen discovered the double bass somewhat by accident much later in her life, and it was an instant love affair. She is convinced that the bass seat is the best spot in the orchestra! She freelances with various orchestras as a bass player and plays regularly as principal bass with St Paul’s Sinfonia. She has done an interesting variety of chamber music projects on pieces involving bass, including Schubert’s Trout Quintet, Stravinsky’s Soldiers Tale and Prokofiev Quintet. She has studied with Cathy Elliott and with Jurek Dybal, co-principal bass player of the Vienna Philharmonic, and holds a diploma in double bass performance. Tours have taken her as far afield as China and India, and she much enjoys travelling to different parts of the UK, especially anywhere she can swim in the sea too!
Her RCM studies were funded by trusts including the Countess of Munster Musical Trust. Her instrument acquisitions were assisted by loans from the Abbado Young Musician’s Trust, the Musician’s Benevolent Fund and an anonymous donor.