Three wonderful weeks of cello courses here at Belle Serre with superb and very joyful music-making filling the house and gardens day and night. Three super groups, with many new friendships forged and old friendships renewed, coming together for master classes, trio chamber music, improvisation, baroque days and cello ensembles galore. Not only was the music-making intensive, but the heat was intense too – July was one mighty heatwave, but, as you can see from our photos, we all survived the ‘canicule’. Thank you to everyone who took part, for your dedication and your very fine playing, and for three weeks full of fun and laughter, musical discoveries and transformations, all fuelled by simply delicious food made by our fabulous chefs, Bob, Rob, Oliver and Dale, and supported by an extraordinary team of helpers, without whom none of this would be possible – thank you!!!!
My heartfelt thanks to my magnificent team of tutors, cellists Willemijn Knödler, Karen French, Sue Urbita and Verity Evanson, pianists Pippa Harrison, Camille Galinier and Andrew Wilson-Dickson, clarinettist Mark Lacey, violinists Judith Choi Castro and Gemma Sharples, viola da gamba player Lucy Robinson, and double bassist and improvisation expert Bernard O’Neill.

A l’année prochaine. See you next year!


Summer arrangements and cello cool…

Posted by Lowri Blake on 16th February 2015

Arrangements are well under way for the summer cello masterclasses at Belle Serre – not simply the course planning and bookings arrangements to oversee, but there are the cello ensembles for each of the three week-long courses to choose and parts to send out to every player. Although there’s now a wealth of original music for cello ensembles big and small, (Villa Lobos, Klengel, Casals, to name just a few who composed for cellos) there are also many exciting other masterpieces that are being superbly arranged for orchestras of cellos.

One of this summer’s arrangements is Patsy Gritton’s cello orchestration of Rachmaninov’s commanding Second Suite for two pianos, Op 17. With subtle shades of his cello and piano sonata Op.19 (written shortly after the suite) to be heard in the first movement, this full-throttle piece works wonderfully well played by cellos. Here’s a taster in the original version for two pianos : a majestic and glittering performance played by Martha Argerich and Nelson Freire.

Patsy Gritton’s arrangement of César Franck’s Chorale from his Prelude, Chorale and Fugue for piano with its mouth-wateringly juicy harmonies is magical, and we hope to conjure up some of that magic this summer.

James Barralet’s arrangement of Barber’s sublime Adagio is sheer heaven too. Check his version out here played by The 4 Cellists.

James has quite a collection of cello ensemble arrangements up his sleeve – and available on his site

Just to show everything’s eminently possible, here’s a savvy, cool shades number to finish my post – James’s Mission Impossible……played by The 4 Cellists:

So, pack those shades in your cello case for a week of cello cool and summer heat at Belle Serre – see you all soon!

Places are filling up for the three summer cello courses in July 2015. There are just a couple of places remaining for Week 2, and places are still available for Week 1 and Week 3. Cellists this year are coming from all over Europe and as far afield as Canada, Hong Kong and Australia. If you would like to join us, please complete and submit the booking form on the Cellos at Belle Serre website.
( veuillez visiter notre site en français )

To help you decide which week to attend, here’s the lowdown on what’s happening each week and who is coming to teach and perform

What’s On:
In addition to daily master classes and cello ensembles, each week offers trio chamber music, a unique opportunity for each cellist to practise and perform with a superb team of professional players. Lucy Robinson (viola da gamba) and Andrew Wilson-Dickson (harpsichord) join us for a Baroque Day each week: an introduction to the viol and its history, and the chance to play in a viol consort, and individual coaching sessions on the art of continuo playing and baroque sonata performance.
Our Cello Clinic has become one of our most popular sessions at Belle Serre; it’s not only highly informative, but also hugely entertaining. And last but not least, double bass player Bernard O’Neill introduces cellists to the art of improvisation and exploration without the dots.
There is an informal concert to round things off at the end of each course, in which everyone is invited to perform in the cello ensembles, and there’s a chance to perform solos or duos, or trio chamber music with our professionals – something for everyone to enjoy!

Summer Week 1  
Sunday July 5-Sunday July 12
This week is for all levels: amateurs, music students, professionals all welcome

We have two string coaches joining us this summer for the first time; I’m delighted to welcome cellist Karen French, a New Zealander based in London, who  will be coaching ensembles and running the ever-popular Cello Clinic, and violinist Judith Choi Castro , also London-based, who joins us for trio chamber music coaching.
They are joined by Sue Urbita,  a very popular professor of cello in the Tarn, and Camille Galinier, from nearby Albi, is our outstanding pianist. Sue and Camille have been superb members of our team of professionals since Cellos at Belle Serre started six years ago.

Summer Week 2  
Wednesday July 15 – Wednesday July 22
This week is for all levels: amateurs, music students, professionals all welcome.

Three  immensely popular tutors return for our second course: Dutch cellist Willemijn Knödler, who is based in Amsterdam,  will be joining us for her fifth year at Cellos at Belle Serre, as will Mark Lacey, clarinettist with the London chamber group Harmoniemusik,  Andrew Wilson-Dickson is our resident pianist (and harpsichordist) this week,  A formidable team.
Summer Week 3 
Saturday July 25 – Saturday August 1

This course is for more advanced players: experienced amateurs, music students and professionals who are confident ensemble players and good sight readers. The focus this week is on solo performance and advanced trio and ensemble playing.

I am very pleased to welcome back to Belle Serre the Albany Piano Trio, a gifted group of young professionals, which has delighted students on the course with powerful interpretations of works by Beethoven, Haydn, Rebecca Clarke and Mendelssohn, to mention just a few. This year, the trio will be performing a contemporary trio as well as Beethoven’s extraordinary  ‘Archduke’ trio Op 97 in B flat major, and the trio invite cellists on this course to work on movements from this trio (and other trio movements from works by Haydn, Dvorak and Mendelssohn) with them during the course, .

As a taster, here is a recording of the ‘Archduke’ with Jascha Heifetz, Emanuel Feuermann and Arthur Rubinstein. Wonderful music, wonderful playing.

Stop Press – announcing an extra course : May Cello Week

Last, but by no means least, news about the May Cello Week, which takes place from 18 May (evening arrivals) to 23 May (morning departures).

This informal five night course is for players from elementary up to intermediate level. We will focus on technique, posture, physical freedom, balance and well-being, through technique workshops, individual tuition and small ensembles. .

Cellists are welcome to attend for the full five nights or to ‘drop in’ for two or three nights, whatever suits you. Please contact me for prices and further details:

Come on down to Castres for some intensive cello study and cello fun in a beautiful setting, and enjoy fine food, wine, laughter, and superb music-making, in great company!

The dates are in and booking is open for the sixth season of cello master classes at Belle Serre in the south of France.

Week 1: 5-12 July 2015 (student, professional and amateur players all welcome)
Week 2: 15-22 July 2015 (student, professional and amateur players all welcome)
Week 3: 25 July – 1 August 2015 (this course is for advanced cellists experienced in ensemble playing)

How to book:

The booking form, prices and Terms and Conditions can be found here.

Full information about the summer courses and intensive study visits is on the  Cellos at Belle Serre website. You can read regular updates on this blog and do join our Facebook Cellos at Belle Serre group.

I look forward to welcoming new cellists and many old friends to Belle Serre in 2015. A bientôt!

It has been a wonderful year here at Belle Serre, welcoming cellists and chamber groups for intensive study visits, long weekend courses and to the summer cello master classes since the new year, right through to the beginning of September. We’re taking a judicious rest pause now, before planning for 2015 gets under way. News and dates on the Cellos at Belle Serre website soon

Do take a look at photos of the summer courses which are now on Flickr (Taliesin Idyll’s albums). Over this last year, cellists have come to Belle Serre from Japan, Singapore, Australia, the USA, Holland, Ireland, Switzerland, Spain, France and the UK. As ever, it’s an international group of musicians – amateurs, advanced music students and professionals all with  a common passion, to play the cello better, and to enjoy a week of music-making in great company and under the guidance of a superb team of experienced professional tutors.

My heartfelt thanks to all the participants – students, tutors and helpers, and special thanks to our team of brilliant cooks, Pierre, Bob, Richard, Rob, Cathy and Michelle; to all of our invaluable helpers; and to The Albany Trio, Sue Urbita, Andrew Wilson-Dickson, Lucy Robinson, Mark Lacey, Camille Galinier, Donald Watson, Isabelle Pourkat, Isabelle Fabre, and Willemijn Knödler, for your inspiring performances and tuition.

News and dates of the Summer 2015 Cellos at Belle Serre courses will be announced shortly on the website, and I will be posting news updates on Twitter, Facebook and Linked In. The week long courses will all take place in July. You are also welcome to book a study visit during the year, whether for one or more cellists  (cello quartet groups are proving popular for long weekend study visits), or for your chamber group (I have just said ‘au revoir’ to a super quartet of recorder, violin, viola and cello from Dublin).

Until next year, bonne continuation, et à bientôt!

 Please do come and join us for one of our concerts in Castres this summer.
A bientôt!

There are just a few places remaining for the summer cello courses here at Belle Serre. Why not come on down to Castres in south-west France for a week of total immersion in all things cello?


I have a couple of places available for the Week 3 advanced cello course from August 5th to August 12th – this course is for players who are more experienced in ensemble playing and are Grade 8 standard and above. Cellists attending this course are music students, experienced amateurs and professional performers and teachers. We are going to be working on and performing Villa-Lobos’s sumptuous Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 with the soprano Isabelle Fabre, and a wealth of challenging and exciting repertoire for cello ensemble.

In addition to my daily cello master classes with pianist Andrew Wilson-Dickson, you will have the opportunity to work on baroque sonata and concerto repertoire with harpsichord, and delve into the world of continuo playing under Andrew’s superb direction.

Also teaching in Week 3 is our Alexander Technique expert, Cherryl Gardiner, dynamic Dutch cellist Willemijn Knödler, whose diagnostic Cello Clinic is ever popular, and Sue Urbita, cello professor at the Conservatoire de Musique et de Danse du Tarn.

I also have one place remaining for our Week 2 cello course from July 26th to August 2nd. This course is for all levels,  from just a few year’s experience up to advanced level. Ensemble parts are chosen to suit each individual cellist’s experience, working on repertoire ranging from Bach to Berlioz, to ‘Oblivion’ (Piazzolla) and beyond….

Do come and join us for what promises to be a great week of intensive study, and good company; this year, cellists are coming to Belle Serre from France, Switzerland, the UK, Australia, Ireland, Holland and Germany.

More info on and in earlier posts on this blog,

or contact me ( for further details about availabilty, repertoire, tutors and the daily schedule.

Come and enjoy celloing with a truly international group of players, with delicious food and copious amounts of local Gaillac vino, and plenty of laughter in great company!


Last-minute shopping to do and stocks of delicious local Gaillac wine to collect tomorrow, in readiness for the first Cellos at Belle Serre course of the season starting this weekend. Cellists from Paris, Dijon and Barcelona who met here on a course last year, have decided to get together here once again for a few days of cello quartet coaching and cello master classes. Roll on the weekend!

Places for the summer courses are filling up, so do book your place on one of the three courses as soon as possible. You can contact me via
or by e mail:
In addition to daily master classes, trio chamber music coaching with superb professionals, the ever popular Cello Clinic, and cello ensembles galore, there are baroque sonata and continuo playing workshops, a day to try out viols and consort playing, we’ll catch a concert or two in the international chamber music series in Castres, Isabelle Fabre is our soprano for the wonderful Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 by Villa-Lobos, and Cherryl Gardiner joins us to give lessons in the Alexander Technique. 
Come on down to Castres for the Cellos at Belle Serre experience this year.
Looking forward to a great summer!

As both a singer and a cellist, I have had the good fortune over the years to have sung many times the soprano solo part of Villa-Lobos’s sublime Bachianas Brasileiras No 5, and  to have played each of the eight different parts that make up the cello ‘orchestra’. My first time performing the piece, as eighth cello, was aged 17 at the Wigmore Hall in London with a great line-up of cellists led by Christopher Bunting. Performances as soprano soloist have taken me all round the UK with many different cello octets. Who could ask for more?!
Well, I have often wondered about multi-tracking all nine parts for a recording, though to be honest, I much prefer the interaction that takes place between us all in live performances.  I am looking forward to our live performance of the Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 this summer with cellists participating in Week 3 of  Cellos at Belle Serre This time I’ll be taking more of a back seat, as it were, directing from the cello (I rather fancy playing that eighth cello part again!), and I’m very pleased to welcome Isabelle Fabre as our  soprano soloist.

Isabelle and I are no strangers on stage together – two years ago, we gave the première of Prisme, a work for soprano, cello and orchestra, composed for us by Pierre Caner, who also conducted the Ensemble Orchestral du Tarn.  

Isabelle Fabre, Lowri Blake and Pierre Caner with the Ensemble Orchestral du Tarn

Here’s a taster of the Bachianas Brasileiras No 5 sung by the singer who inspired me all those years ago to learn and to perform this amazing and original work, Victoria de Los Angeles.

News update: 

Places on the three summer courses at Belle Serre are filling up fast, with just a few places remaining for Week 1, so do reserve your place for one of the three weeks as soon as possible.

Highlights of the summer course weeks include

Week 1: The Albany Piano Trio are in residence, coaching chamber music and performing trios by Dvorak, Haydn and Debussy.
Castres hosts a fine classical chamber music festival A Portée de Rue, to which we will be going to hear top international musicians performing in various beautiful and intimate locations in the town centre.
Pierre Caner exchanges his conducting ‘baguette’ for a baguette de pain, as our superb chef de cuisine this week – incontournable, don’t miss out!

Week 2: Superb Dutch cellist Willemijn Knödler is a hugely popular performer and teacher at Cellos at Belle Serre. She will be performing Kodaly’s monumental  Sonata for solo cello and taking the ever-popular diagnostic Cello Clinic.
Chamber music is led by another much-loved coach and superb performer, clarinettist Mark Lacey. And who else but the inimitable Camille Galinier as our excellent pianist for the week!
Our Baroque Day will be led by viola da gamba player Lucy Robinson and harpsichordist Andrew Wilson- Dickson. This is your chance to try out viol playing and consort music, and to work on baroque cello sonatas and the art of continuo playing.
Bob and Richard are also no strangers to Team Belle Serre, coming to cook their stunning dishes once again for us in Week 2.

Week 3: Willemijn Knödler continues her Cello Clinic this week, and leads our cello orchestra in Villa-Lobos’s wonderful Bachianas Brasileiras No.5. Don’t miss this opportunity to perform the Bachianas with soprano Isabelle Fabre – the concert takes place at the Conservatoire de Musique et de Danse du Tarn at 18.00 on Monday 11th August – be there!
Andrew Wilson-Dickson is our pianist and harpsichordist for the week – it’s a rare treat for us ‘modern’ cellists to have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in both classical and baroque repertoire for a week of intensive study in both disciplines. And, we have another chance to try out those viols with Lucy Robinson!
And hot from the kitchens beside the track at La Mans, Bob and Rob return to cook for us  – after cooking for forty plus guests at Le Mans, it will be small fry for them here, but no flash in the pan!


Come on down to Castres this summer and immerse yourself in a feast of all things cello.See you there!

Full booking details:
e mail:

Come and enjoy a week of total immersion in all things cello at Belle Serre this summer:

What’s On at Cellos at Belle Serre in 2014

As ever, Cellos at Belle Serre has a superb team of professional musicians tutoring cello ensembles and chamber music, and assisting with a range of workshops throughout each week. Last year’s new diagnostic Cello Clinic was hugely popular, and will be open during each course next summer. Bernard O’Neill will be back for further forays into improvisation for cellists. Lucy Robinson and Andrew Wilson-Dickson introduce us to the art of viol consort playing, and baroque sonata and continuo playing in Weeks 2 and 3. Last year at Belle Serre, Lucy and Andrew gave the first performance of Andrew’s new work for viol and harpsichord, and we all took part in the first performance of  his Les Caulets, written for Cellos at Belle Serre, for the unusual ‘combo’ of cello ensemble, harpsichord and viol – it was a triumph, not least for the logistics of getting us all into one space to perform it!

To keep our energy up for this cello immersion, I am delighted to welcome back our extraordinary team of culinary experts: Bob, Rob, Pierre, and Richard, aided by a super team of helpers.

Here’s the week by week lowdown, just to give you an idea of our planned schedule. Watch this blog for updates of events in the summer calendar. Each week offers daily cello master classes with Lowri Blake, cello ensemble, chamber music for each cellist with professional players, cello lessons and working in small groups with one of our superb assistant cello teachers Willemijn Knödler and Susan Urbita, and cello and piano duo repertoire with pianists Pippa Harrison, Camille Galinier and Andrew Wilson-Dickson.

Week 1: July 15-22

This week is for cellists of all levels, professionals and cello teachers, students and less experienced players too. Parts for cello ensemble playing are carefully allocated to suit your level.


The superb Albany Piano Trio stunned us last summer with their performances of Shostakovich’s Second Piano Trio and trios by Haydn and Brahms. For Summer 2014 they are working on Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F minor, Opus 65, Debussy’s Trio in G and Haydn’s Trio No.21 in C.
Advanced players can choose to work on movements from these pieces, or other works which will be listed shortly, along with other trio works suitable for all levels of experience. (These will be listed in the general information e mail sent to each participant).


You can hear the trio performing at the Royal College of Music in London on 30th January, after which the players are artists in residence at the prestigious Banff Centre in Canada.


Week 2: July 26- August 2

This week is also for cellists of all levels, professionals and cello teachers, students, and less experienced players too. Parts for cello ensemble playing are carefully allocated to suit your level.

Clarinettist Mark Lacey of Harmoniemusik is a very popular performer and teacher on the  Cellos at Belle Serre courses. Mark will be exploring trio repertoire for all levels of experience; in addition to the Brahms Op 114 and Beethoven Op 11 trios for advanced players, we’re looking at the trio version of Beethoven’s Septet Op 20, a movement from Zemlinsky’s Trio Op 3, and a wealth of intermediate and elementary trios (listed in the general information e mail to all participants) ranging from original pieces by Langford, Carse and Bridge, to popular and well-known pieces specially arranged for a variety of different levels  – there’s something for everyone!


Viola da gamba expert Lucy Robinson’s introduction to the viol and its repertoire is both absorbing.and enormous fun – don’t miss the opportunity to try playing one of her consort of viols, with music arranged for beginner viol players by Andrew Wilson-Dickson. And bring a movement or two of a baroque cello sonata to work on with Andrew, whose harpsichord will be in residence, and whose coaching on continuo playing and baroque repertoire is wonderfully illuminating.


Week 3: August 5-12

Week 3 is for advanced cellists, (music students, amateurs and professionals), who have excellent ensemble playing and sight-reading skills. Last summer’s performance of Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No 1 was a tour de force, and this year we will be performing a selection of advanced ensemble works including Christopher Bunting’s Fanfare, Ode and Scherzo, Pablo Casals’s Les Rois Mages, Patsy Gritton’s thundering arrangement for six cellos of Rachmaninov’s wonderful Prelude in G minor, Op23 No 5, and a sparkling array of jazzy medleys compiled for Cellos at Belle Serre 2014.


Andrew Wilson-Dickson is not only our pianist for the cello master classes this week, but also our baroque music specialist – our focus is on baroque cello sonatas and aspects of continuo playing with harpsichord. Once again, Lucy Robinson takes us through our paces playing viols for an afternoon of consort fun.


Concert dates for your diaries, for those of you living near Castres or holidaying in the region:

Week 1 final concert – Monday 21st July
Week 2 final concert – Friday 1st August
Week 3 final concert – Monday 11th August

All concerts start at 18.00 and take place at the Conservatoire de Musique et de Danse du Tarn (CMDT) in Castres

Follow us on the Cellos at Belle Serre Facebook group for updates and on Flickr for our photo gallery.

Hope to see you this summer at Cellos at Belle Serre!