Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?
I don’t remember starting playing the violin, but I can say when chose to pursue it. I have a clear memory of a freezing walk home from school when I was 12 or so, and deciding that there certain extremely ambitious things which I wanted to do with music. Everything has flowed from that moment. I would say that I choose the violin, more and more, every time I pick it up. A lot has been said about how long it takes to learn an instrument, but very little about how the instrument becomes our nature, how we, eventually, can allow the body and the instrument to interact in ways beyond our active control.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
This would be an enormous list, and I am loath to introduce a hierarchy. In addition so much of what I do and have done, is influenced by non-musicians. But I can say that I was lucky, from a very early age, to come into contact with some extraordinary older people, who challenged me to have the highest expectation and anticipation of what I should do, and of our obligations as artists. But let me list my teachers-all extraordinary musicians and human beings. My mother, Susan Sheppard, Beatrix Marr, Ralph Holmes, Manoug Parikian and Louis Krasner. And there’s one more; this is not facetious, my Yoga teacher, Nino Nanava.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
…. there are some which I think are not bad! I love performing and recording with equal passion. I am blest to feel equally free on stage and in front of the microphone. I have never suffered from performance anxiety (perhaps I should have!), and feel, whenever I am performing to an audience or on the studio, I am more relaxed than at any other time. I think that I am proud of my cycles of recordings (Telemann, David Matthews, Beethoven, Tartini, George Rochberg, etc).
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I would hope that it is whatever I am playing, at the moment I am performing it. However, the best performances, without doubt, are when I am collaborating with great friends. I do a lot of solo concerts (I don’t use the word ‘unaccompanied’- a solo pianist wouldn’t!), but of course, as a violinist, I relish sitting next to extraordinary pianists and harpsichordists. So I suspect that I probably perform best when I am on stage with an extraordinary collaborator, and with an audience (it does not matter what size-it’s a privilege to play for one person, or a hundred) taking part in the music.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
My repertoire choices don’t really work like that; I have projects which I pursue over very long term, and each choice of work or group of works will emerge from or join the slow development of those projects. So, right now, it’s the flow of Mozart Sonatas with Daniel Ben Pienaar, Henze Sonatas with Roderick Chadwick, Reicha Quartets with the Kreutzers, and the Abel Gamba solos which have been fascinating me for the past few days. And of course, there’s the ongoing weave of the works that emerge from my collaborations with living composers. Which is the material for another day!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
This I can answer. No question – Wilton’s Music Hall, London. The acoustic is like playing inside a cello, the atmosphere of the hall is absolutely unique, and the audience is enthusiastic, adventurous and diverse. I don’t really like modern purpose built concert halls. That is just me. I am inspired by buildings and the people in them. Next month, I am playing a three day residency (all 30 Tartini Solo sonatas, and music by Xenakis, Glass, Evis Sammoutis) in an astonishing wooden chapel in the 18th Century Leprosy Hospital in Bergen (for the Bergen Festival). The whole project flows from my excitement about the building; its texture, sound, shape, light, colours and people. When I was young, I discovered that in his ’10 Books on Architecture’ (written for Julius Caesar) Vitruvius saw music as part of architecture, integral to it. That is an important point, and informs much of my feeling about venues. One of my favourite places to play, is at the dinner table, for friends, with the violin part of the conversation, the interplay. And of course, the best time, is my nocturnal practice space (I work from midnight to three or four most days), at my desk here in Wapping, with the silence of the city outside, the noise of the foxes under my window, and the Westminster Chimes (which of course came from William Crotch’s ‘Palestine’) drifting along the river into my open window.
Who are your favourite musicians?
My favourite musicians are my collaborators (performers and composers). They are the people that I continue to learn the most from, and there’s nothing more inspiring than the sharing of long-term shared discovery. As I talking to you, I have to say that a vital part of this, is that I have always had serious duo-partnerships with the most extraordinary piano players; they are all amazing artists and each of them continues to teach me so much. It’s an exciting list: Aaron Shorr, Jan-Philip Schulze, Roderick Chadwick, Olivia Sham, David Owen Norris, Julian Perkins, Daniel-Ben Pienaar … working on modern and period instruments. It’s worth pointing out that I am a frustrated pianist. I love the instrument so much, and I can’t do anything with it. But I can play the violin sitting next a great pianist, and bask in the glory of the instrument and those artists.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Without question, it’s always the concert that I have just done, am doing, or are about to do. Right, now, today, in fact, I am getting ready to play a concert with the harpsichordist Julian Perkins, on three early violins! Sonatas by Biber, Tartini, Matteis, Telemann, and the two astonishing continuo sonatas in E minor and G Major by Bach. I can’t think of anything more exciting than that!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
‘Aut viam inveniam aut faciam’. Literally, I will either find a way, or I will make one. My son would want me to own up the fact that Hannibal is supposed to have said that….
However, I recently found (folded into some music), an amazing thing. As a child, I was very lucky to study with the violinist Beatrix Marr (until I went to Ralph Holmes at 12). At some point when I was 10 or 11, she handed me the typescript of a book on violin playing which she was writing. It was never published, and I confess, that at the time I never read it – it was beyond me. But a week or so ago, I read it for the first time, and was profoundly moved. Here’s a sample, which is a great way to finish, I think:
“…in the case of our own playing, it is all too easy to be impatient when things seem to be going badly, instead of using analysis, and looking hopefully to the next day, or the future. There always is another day, and who knows what miracle it may bring?”
(Beatrix Marr ‘Practice’)
What is your present state of mind?
Well, I am filling this in 15 minutes after wrapping an inspiring recording project, playing the piano/violin music written for me by my long-time collaborator Thomas Simaku, with the astounding Roderick Chadwick. So my arms hurt, but I have a good cup of verbena tea and am planning on lying on the floor for an hour. The process of recording is a treasured and regular activity for me, and I always run the sessions as a workshop, a place of discovery and invention.