Cello Lament for The Sycamore Gap Tree

Preserving our natural world has become vital for many of us but we sometimes are at a loss as to how we as individuals can make an impact. Italian cellist and composer Riccardo Pes had a visceral reaction when the famous and centuries-old tree, the Sycamore Gap Tree, fell victim to senseless vandalism on September 28, 2023. For unfathomable reasons, the tree was felled. Located near Hadrian’s Wall in the UK and widely photographed, the Sycamore Gap Tree received the 2016 England Tree of the Year Award and was familiar to audiences due to its appearance in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Cellist Riccardo Pes

Riccardo Pes © Riccardo Pes

Pes felt compelled to express his anguish through his music. He composed a gripping solo cello piece Lament for the Tree. But that wasn’t enough. He decided to make a pilgrimage to the site to serenade the felled tree and to film the effort hoping to draw attention to the vandalism.

Trailer: The Road to Sycamore Gap

Determined to honor the tree, on Friday, October 6th, he embarked on a journey from Italy, cello in tow. After landing in London, he knew he had a daunting task ahead. Pes braced himself for the long journey to the North of England and then the solitary hike in the hills of Northumberland Park to get to the tree, dragging his cello along. Those of us who play the instrument know what carrying the bulky beast is like, but Pes’s trek was complicated not only by pouring rain and driving winds but also by a rail strike. Nonetheless, he was able to take 4 trains to Haltwhistle where he’d hoped to board a bus. None were in sight.

The Sycamore Gap Tree fell victim to senseless vandalism on September 28, 2023

The Sycamore Gap Tree fell victim to senseless vandalism on September 28, 2023. © Ian Sproat/BBC News

Pes had to rely on the kindness of strangers. Ultimately, he found someone who was willing to drive him and his cello to the north. Once he started his arduous hike on foot, his umbrella turned inside out, and he was soaked to the skin within minutes, but he persisted on the muddy terrain, breathless from the uphill climb.

By the time he reached the tree, the rain stopped, and he was able to take his cello out of the case and perch on a stump to play Lament for The Tree. The impromptu concert captured the imagination of journalists, magazines, and websites including the BBC, Strad Magazine, and The Cello Museum, an online compendium of the cello, including articles, cello news, and digital cello exhibitions. Their founder and a curator, a cellist herself, Dr Brenda Neece, is familiar with Pes’s work. She expressed her vision for the future of the tree—that the wood might be used to make instruments, cellos, or a string quartet of instruments, “to allow its voice to live on, even after this tragic loss. We suggest holding a festival every year, playing these instruments to raise awareness and funds to promote environmental issues, particularly planting trees.”


The Cello Museum and Pes have offered a temporary free download of the music to Lament for the Tree for any cellist who wants to learn and perform the work. In return, they are asking for a donation to the charity One Tree Planted. Pes has arranged his original piece in an easy version, so even amateur cellists can participate.

The Cello Museum: A Musical Tribute: Riccardo Pes’s “Lament for the Tree” Echoes Through Sycamore Gap

The experience, out in the open, alone with the elements and with his cello, was peaceful if mournful.

The public has reacted with thousands of tributes, suggestions, and donations, but since the tree was precariously hovering over the 1,900-year-old Hadrian’s Wall, “The 50-foot tree, which has stood in the historic landscape for nearly 200 years, will be carefully moved” and stored, says the U.K.’s National Trust.

Sycamore Gap Tree

Sycamore Gap Tree

Pes studied the cello in London at the Royal College of Music with a Jacqueline du Pré disciple Melissa Phelps, and he emulates the virtuoso cellist and composer Giovanni Sollima. Pes’ transcriptions are wonderful. Have a listen to his stirring version of the Catalan Christmas song made famous by Pablo Casals, Song of the Birds played on the shores of a river, and Bepi De Marzi’s Signore Delle Cime “I dream or am I awake?” performed on the grounds of the Palazzo di Sopra, Spilimbergo. For more on Pes please see this interview posted by The Cello Museum.

Song of the birds

Bepi De Marzi – Signore Delle Cime

Pes describes his experience as “beyond the ordinary sense of time and space.” I hope this article and Pes’ efforts inspires young musicians. Certainly, with projects such as these, music can make a positive impact on important causes that affect our world.

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