In the first of a Culture Vulture series previewing the Three Choirs Festival, Sid Langley talks to a fast-rising cellist...
Here I am thinking James Walton is one of the top cellists of his generation.
"I'm more like a musical medium," he says playfully.
I talked to Jamie, as he is universally known, towards the end of a fortnight spent locked away from the world in a cottage in deepest Yorkshire with regular duo partner pianist Daniel Grimwood. They were preparing for a Wigmore Hall concert.
But, I protest with the crass ignorance of a layman, you know the piece backwards. Why spend over two hours (he told me they had) delving deeper and deeper into just the first movement of a Chopin work you have embedded note for note, phrase for phrase in your memory.
"We just break it down more and more," he says. It's an exciting process and I think it's the best way to get to the soul of the music. It's like trying to conjure up the spirit of the composer."
That's where he threw in his "musical medium" quip - and I don't think it was entirely a joke, although he laughed heartily when he said it. He's a very serious and obviously dedicated musician, but a sense of fun is never far away.
"I used to get the mick taken out of me at college because of this way of working," he said. "But it's what works for me, and by the time I get to that level I'm playing from memory anyway, so it's not about the notes."
He feels any instrumentalist has to have a total security - which to the layman means knowing the notes perfectly - so that the composer's intentions can be conveyed to an audience.
"Playing from memory is the only way to get freedom and spontaneity into any work. I am interested in the music, not the notes," he says and cites the exuberance of Paul Tortellier as one of the things that first drew him towards the instrument.
He loves his current way of life - it's what he has always wanted to do.
"I've always wanted to be a solo cellist, to play chamber music, not to be an accompanist," he said.
His journey towards this pre-eminence began as a scholar at Wells Cathedral School. He went on to win awards and competitions galore (including Bromsgrove Festival). Picking up the Pierre Fournier Award led to a solo appearance at the International Cello Festival in Manchester.
That was also where he graduated from the Royal Northern College of Music. And that, in a sense, is where his cello education really began.
"I have always admired Jacqueline du Pre for the freedom and sheer passion of her playing," he said, so it was really exciting for me to go through intensive study with the same teacher she had, William Pleeth."
They covered the entire cello repertoire - Jamie still offers a huge variety of pieces to anyone wanting to book him, although he has built a reputation for his work with 20th century music, like the Bruch he will be playing at the Three Choirs Festival.
He is constantly on the lookout for new compositions, but that doesn't mean he will be giving up playing and studying the works of past masters.
"Think of the genius of Beethoven," he said. I consider it an honour and a challenge to try to find out what his music is all about, to tunnel into it. More and more analysis throws up more and more treasures."
Jamie also says he is honoured to have with him on this journey a superb instrument. He plays a Guadagnini cello which is actually owned by a syndicate headed by the Cooperative Bank.
"When I travel abroad it gets its own seat on the plane. It gets booked in even before me."
We discuss the system of antique and valuable instruments being made available to young musicians, and Jamie says Brits envy the well-established practice in Europe where city authorities and many businesses and firms own valuable instruments which they make available to young players.
He makes the point that first class instruments are way beyond the means of all but a very few musicians and hen has hopes that a similar system.
"It has certainly helped me tremendously," he said.
You have a chance to hear what Jamie's latest musical excavations have unearthed when he plays a late night solo concert in Worcester Cathedral on August 7, combining Bruch with two Bach offerings.
You may then agree with the view expressed by the late William Pleeth, who said Jamie "is a cellist of great integrity and outstanding performance ability, combining warmth of tone with a technical command which reaches dazzling proportions. He leaves little doubt of the success that lies ahead of him."