Fenella received her early training from Sidney Griller C.B.E. and Itzhak Rashkovsky whilst a scholar at the Purcell School, where she was awarded the Gertrude Hopkins Prize and the Guivier Award for an outstanding contribution to the string department. She then won a scholarship to study with David Takeno at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Fenella completed her post-graduate studies as a scholar at the Robert Schumann Hochschule, Düsseldorf in Ida Bieler’s class, and was awarded the highest attainable mark both for the ‘Diplom’ exam and the ‘Konzertexamen’ soloists’ diploma. At the same time Fenella studied in Andreas Reiner’s chamber music class at the Folkwang Hochschule, Essen. Masterclasses have taken Fenella as far afield as Keshet Eilon, Israel, the Schleswig Holstein Festival and the Rheinischen Streicherakademie in Germany, and IMS Prussia Cove, in Cornwall, studying among others with Pamela Frank, Lorand Fenyves, Ferenc Rados, Gabor Takacs-Nagy, Levon Chilingirian, Thomas Brandis, Simon Rowland Jones, Thomas Riebl, Steven Doane, Johannes Goritzki and Krzysztof Penderecki.
Meet the Artist – Fenella Humphreys, violinist
Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and make it your career?
My older brother had started on Suzuki method, and I always kicked up a big fuss if he was allowed to do something I wasn’t! So when I was 6 my parents got hold of a violin and a teacher for me. I think I decided pretty much right away I was going to be a violinist – although I was also convinced I could be a pianist, singer and ballerina at the same time.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My biggest influence was the wonderful Sidney Griller who I was fortunate to learn with when I was 10 – he was both ceaselessly generous with his time and knowledge, and unrelenting in his expectations, and I know I could never have had the same courage to explore the music and stretch boundaries if it hadn’t been for Sidney. Since then so many people have opened my eyes to new ideas, colours, sounds and music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think probably the biggest continual challenge for me is to find balance. It always seems so impossible to find the place where you’re doing enough to excite and stretch you, but without half killing yourself, and still managing to have a life. Of course today I’m failing miserably – I’m typing this in a hotel in the middle of the night after a long day of rehearsals, practising and admin, listening to my colleagues having a fabulous time in the room next door!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Strangely they aren’t necessarily the ones where I feel I played especially well. But when someone has been particularly moved it reminds me there is a real point to performing.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I think probably anything that really has something to say for itself and isn’t just tricks or noises.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
A lot of decisions are made for me by concert promoters. But I do enjoy looking out fantastic music that isn’t played much – either less well known works by celebrated composers, or music by people who have been unfairly forgotten.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are the obvious places with amazing character and acoustics like Wigmore Hall, of course. But in the end a venue for me is more made by the audience – you can play in a terrible acoustic but have a fabulous audience, and that will make the venue feel special.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
There’s so much great music out there to perform, it’s usually what I’m playing at the time…. To listen to, going by the plays on my iPod, it’s a strange mix of John Coltrane, Bartok playing Bartok, Britten Violin Concerto, a Shetland fiddle group called Fiddlers Bid, Sibelius Symphonies and U2…
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Possibly the first concert I went to when I was 7, listening to my first violin teacher leading a performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at St. Paul’s Cathedral. But there have been loads of very memorable performing experiences too, like playing Walton Concerto for the opening of the open-air amphitheatre in his home on Ischia, or a particularly unforgettable Death and the Maiden at IMS Prussia Cove a few years back with Pekka Kuusisto, James Boyd and Richard Harwood – and one of my very first performances in a local music festival playing a piece that mostly used open G and D strings, when slowly but surely, throughout the duration of the piece, my G String completely unwound.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Walking on the beach and talking to the seals in Orkney