NL·First Listen

'St. John's is our oasis,' says cellist and recording artist Ofra Harnoy

Internationally acclaimed cellist Ofra Harnoy is returning to her recording career with an album made in St. John's.

Have a First Listen to Back to Bach by Ofra Harnoy

Cellist Ofra Harnoy is returning to the world of classical music recording with an album called Back to Bach, on the Analekta label. (Submitted by Ofra Harnoy)

Ofra Harnoy is returning to the classical music recording industry with an album called Back to Bach, recorded at her home studio in St. John's. 

"I feel stronger than ever, I feel almost like the Bionic Woman," says the internationally acclaimed cellist and new St. John's resident.

On Back to Bach, Harnoy performs music for cello from the era of J.S. Bach, while incorporating modern recording techniques such as overdubbing. 

The album is produced by Harnoy's new husband, musician Mike Herriott, who grew up in St. John's. 

A long, high flying career

Harnoy has had one of the highest profile careers in Canadian classical music.

She was born in Israel and moved to Toronto at the age of six. Harnoy gave her first professional performance as a solo cellist at the age of 10. By the time she was 14 years old, she was recording and performing full time. 

Harnoy spent most of her teen and young adult years in the 1980s and 1990s performing, recording, and receiving accolades all over the world. 

"I feel like I almost learned more in travelling about art and history and culture than I could have from books," said Harnoy. "It was a very exciting way to grow up." 

By 2011, Harnoy discovered that the years of touring and recording had destroyed her shoulder tendons, leaving her in pain and unsure if she would ever play the cello again. 

After reconstructive surgery in 2015 and several years of careful rehabilitation, Harnoy returned to the stage last year

"I can play for hours and it feels great."

Love with a townie 

By then, other parts of Harnoy's life had changed. In Toronto, she rekindled a romance with Herriott, whom she last saw as a teenager. 

Then Herriott brought her to St. John's for a visit. 

"The friendliness, the warmth, the culture, the art, the food, everything just blew my mind," said Harnoy. 

The couple pulled up stakes in Toronto, and bought a house in St. John's with a media room that they converted into a recording studio. 

"St. John's is our oasis," said Harnoy. 

Mike Herriott is an award-winning trumpet player, Ofra Harnoy a world-renowned cellist. (Fred Hutton/CBC)

Five-album deal

Back to Bach is the first album of a five-album deal Harnoy has made with Analekta, the largest classical music recording label in Canada. 

She's also returning to performing, with a tour of western Canada later this fall, and a tour of Asia for the spring of 2020. 

She's fitting two St. John's performances into her schedule — one with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra on Nov. 15, along with Herriott and his two brothers, Richard and Chuck, and another with the Atlantic String Quartet on April 5, 2020. 

"It's very exciting and I'm so grateful to play and make music. It's a great life." 

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Heather Barrett is the host and producer of Weekend AM on CBC Radio One in Newfoundland and Labrador.