‘Like a science fiction movie’: Guildford cellist explains how Covid canceled his playing career overnight


A cellist from Surrey described the difficulty of his playing career disappearing overnight when the coronavirus hit the country.

Playing is “part of who you are, being a musician,” said Jonathan Hennessey-Brown, and something he feels most acutely with bipolar disorder.

Jonathan has taken the stage with musicians from all over the world, from Mexico to Cuba, as well as major concert halls and arenas across the UK – but last spring it all came to a halt.

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The 46-year-old from Guildford said: “It was almost like something out of a sci-fi movie, the West End closed and no concerts or concerts in Guildford on a weekend.

“One day I was playing regularly across the country in studio sessions, in orchestras, in the West End at the Lion King, then the next day it all stopped.

“One of my best friends went overnight from leading the Lion King to having no job. And the Lion King conductor must have started stacking shelves in Waitrose.”



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Due to Covid-19, Jonathan’s canceled work included performances by The Lion King in the West End, a tour of the British arenas of War of the Worlds, a concert by the Santiago Quartet in Salisbury, concerts by the London Concert Orchestra, weddings and more.

He added: “It was difficult. He [performing] is part of who you are a musician. I feel the music with heightened emotions being bipolar I.

Jonathan’s saving grace was that he had previously worked on the creation of a company, Hennessey Brown Music, co-directed with Cobham-based musician Cressida Wislocki, in which he built an impressive roster of performers. .

The organization is also hosting live music events and concerts, but this had to be put on hold amid the height of the pandemic and coronavirus restrictions.

Jonathan’s bipolar means he must carefully balance his music career with his sanity.

He said, “People tend to say that music must be a wonderful remedy for your bipolar. But in fact, overwork and over-stimulation can be a trigger.

“So I have to have very strict limits on when I can be available to have some free time and be with my kids.

“Success can be dangerous for a person with bipolar disorder. the [upcoming] the concert at Guildford Cathedral is very exciting, but for me the most important thing is that the next day I’m not too hyped. “



Jonathan says his bipolar makes him obsessive, so he needs to carefully balance his job with protecting his sanity
Jonathan says his bipolar can make him obsessive, so he needs to carefully balance how much he works to take care of his mental health

Admitting that he is also guilty of overwork, Jonathan believes there is “endemic ‘workaholism” in the country.

He added, “It’s sad that people don’t notice the world, and that’s something music is wonderful for. At a concert, everyone sits down and talks to each other. They escape and stop, so that’s where the music makes me feel good.

Jonathan has struggled with alcohol and cigarette addiction, but has now been sober for nine years and is continuing his 12-step meetings and recovery program.

Campaigning for mental health awareness is a key part of his work and he speaks openly about being severed at the ages of 17, 19 and 36 due to bipolar hypomanic episodes.

Recalling what they look like, Jonathan said, “I would lose touch with reality and stop sleeping. I remember a time when I was severed from the Abraham Cowley unit and actually I was booked to play at Festival Hall.

“A good friend must have said to me ‘you know you can’t go out?’ They managed to find another cellist but it was professionally very difficult to get back. There are a lot of people waiting behind the scenes.

Jonathan said his experiences made him “not shocking.” “I played the cello at the Royal Albert Hall and in four mental hospitals,” he commented.

They also made him passionate about restoring mental health.

“Now I live with bipolar and I don’t revisit the dark past too much. But I’m very aware of it and I’m running the recent one [fundraising] campaign was actually a trigger. It’s exhausting, I’m very obsessive. I had to slow things down and take care of myself.

“I see myself as Jonny. I am a father, music director, cellist and son, who happens to be bipolar and is recovering from alcoholism.

“I will never stop talking about it and trying to fundraise for mental health charities. In particular, I will not give up trying to stay healthy myself so that I can continue to help others, ”he said.

Now preparing for the next event in a series of live concerts taking place in Guildford, Jonathan is delighted with the audience’s return.



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Hennessey Brown Music’s debut concert on July 3 raised almost £ 900 for Woking MIND and Jonathan has spoken out about mental health and addiction in the meantime.

The next performance in the series is July 23 where a jazz duo will perform at Holy Trinity Church in Guildford.

Jonathan added: “It’s a very difficult time for musicians. He [the concert series] is bringing live music to Guildford in the midst of a crisis. “

You can purchase tickets for the concert series and learn more by visiting this page.

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