Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and make it your career?
No one individual directly; we were asked in school assembly if we would like to learn the violin and I said yes. Still not sure why! Over time I realised I couldn’t imagine doing anything else and threw myself into it. I was quite a late starter so I felt I had some catching up to do.
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing?
At the start of my career it was my teacher at music college, Rodney Friend. He showed me that any problem can be overcome quickly and easily, he taught me to be my own teacher. He also gave me the confidence to enter a highly competitive environment.
In the profession, working with the English Chamber Orchestra shaped my approach to different kinds of repertoire. It was immediately apparent that it was an orchestra who knew how it wanted to play classical repertoire and beyond. This made it very easy to fit in with and assimilate this stylistic approach.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Time management! When you have a lot of work, preparation at home to do and admin/planning/promotion etc. time becomes a valuable commodity. You quickly learn to do all of these things faster.
Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
With the ECO there have been many occasions over the years, often tours as you have the opportunity to develop performances over time. We toured Germany at the end of last year, by the end of the tour we were playing a mean Britten Frank Bridge Variations!
I also had the opportunity to lead the orchestra at Kings Place this year where I thought the orchestra sounded terrific.
With my group the Tippett Quartet I’m very proud of our Bernard Herrmann recording for Signum.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
This depends on the repertoire and so the size of the orchestra. When it’s the ensemble you simply can’t beat Wigmore Hall. Kings Place also sounds great and is a welcome addition to London’s venues. Our home at Cadogan Hall is a really good venue and an appropriate size for the repertoire we play. A lot of the best halls are out of London though; personal favourites are Symphony Hall Birmingham, The Sage Gateshead and the Royal Concert Hall in Perth.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
With ECO I have a list! Bartok Divertimento, Britten Frank Bridge Variations, Strauss Le Bourgeoise Gentilhomme, any symphony by Beethoven or Mozart…
On a smaller scale, Schubert string quintet, string quartet Death and the Maiden, anything by Mendelssohn but specifically string quartets Op. 12 & 13 and late Beethoven.
Who are your favourite musicians?
I’ll restrict this to people who have worked with ECO recently or the list is endless! Isabelle Faust, Plamena Mangova, Sergie Krylov, Marianna Thorsen, Lawrence Power and ECO’s own Stephanie Gonley!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I suffer from a terrible memory and after about a month most things start to blend in together. However, there are a few dates that linger in the memory for different reasons: my first ECO date I was at the back of the 2nd violins and there wasn’t room on stage for me in the piano concerto! I turned pages… We played in Eisenstadt a few years ago where Stephanie played Haydn C major violin concerto in the home of Haydn live on radio. She turned an average piece into a masterpiece. My first concert leading the orchestra is also a very fond memory.
With the quartet it is playing Beethoven Op. 131 in Wigmore Hall.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
The most important thing is that they love doing it, you can work on the rest. In our field, it is harder than ever to make a living as pay and opportunity have dropped dramatically over the years while competition is now global. Loving what you do gets you through the frustrations and helps you stay creative. With the right perspective, we can view ourselves as very lucky people doing what we love, otherwise it becomes just a job, a grind with few benefits.
What are you working on at the moment?
ECO has a little time off after Grange Park Opera at the moment so it’s mostly my own projects. I’m listening to edits of a forthcoming Rozsa string quartets disc for Naxos with my group the Tippett Quartet. I recently played a very last minute Elgar violin concerto for the 1st time; chastened by the experience I’m getting in some early preparation for a Glazunov concerto that I’m playing with Bath Symphony Orchestra in November. It’s a work I’ve played twice before but as I mentioned earlier, time management!
What is your most treasured possession?
I always feel the real value of a possession is the pleasure you get from using it rather than the possession itself, so a qualified entry here. I don’t actually own my violin but have had it on loan for 7 years now. It has been an amazing journey as I have learnt to play it and it has changed out of recognition over the years. At nearly 300 years old you could forgive it for being stuck in its ways, but we have both adapted to each other remarkably.
John Mills began studying the violin in Southampton in 1990 and in 1996 he gained a place at the Hampshire Specialist Music Course and joined the National Youth Orchestra. Two years later John gained a place at the Royal College of Music where he studied as a scholar under professor Rodney Friend, one of the great orchestral leaders, for five years. He also participated in master-classes with Hugh Bean CBE, Ida Haendel and Zvi Zeitlin. He became a ‘Making Music’ (National Federation of Music Societies) recommended artist in 2003-2004.
John is well known as a chamber musician and is the leader of the highly acclaimed Tippett Quartet, performing, and broadcasting widely across the UK and worldwide. He has recorded extensively with the quartet for EMI, Naxos, Signum, Classic FM, Dutton and Guild record labels.
John is the co-leader of the English Chamber Orchestra and is in demand as an orchestral leader, including a trial with the Bournmouth Symphony Orchestra and guest work with the London Mozart Players, Rambert Dance Company and others.
John is gaining a fine reputation as a soloist, performing and broadcasting the major violin concerti across the UK and abroad, including the Liszt Hall in Hungary and concerts in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand. He has also appeared as soloist with the English Chamber Orchestra and will be appearing with them next year in a performance of the Bach Double violin concerto.
John Plays on a 1735 Januarius Gagliano violin.