Who or what inspired you to take up the violin, and pursue a career in music?
Playing or hearing music around me was such a normal occurrence when I was growing up. From an early age I was involved in many concerts a year, whether playing or singing, that I didn’t need to choose whether to do music; the choice was more about which directions within music to take, and also where to study after school in Germany.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Peter Werner, a Eurythmy teacher and conductor at the Steiner school I went to in Kassel, Germany was an important influence on me. He had enormously creative energy which sometimes became feverish. His rehearsal technique was engaging and involved every player in the (big) school orchestra, and he taught me how to listen. I remember hearing Gidon Kremer and Reinhard Goebel in Kassel and being stuck by their different sound worlds and charismata. And then of course my violin teacher at the Guildhall School of Music, David Takeno, who was much more than a violin teacher, but connoisseur of all musical styles with an uncanny musical intelligence, knowledge and generosity in his teaching.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Apart from playing concerts when I’m jetlagged or ill (!), the hardest thing for me was playing Bach solo recitals after I had my first baby, (15 years ago) when I could hear her screaming backstage because the milk had run out, and all my instincts were telling me to run to her – but I was in the middle of the C major Fugue!!
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Tricky one, as there are always things you want to play again when you come off the stage… But I quite like the Biber Passacaglia on my disc the ‘Guardian Angel’ and also the Bach A minor Concerto with my group Brecon Baroque on the Bach Violin concerto disc (both Channel Classics).
Which particular works do you think you play best?
That’s another tricky one to answer… I commit myself entirely to whatever it is I’m playing, and I adore most of what’s on the musical menu. But Bach, Mozart and Vivaldi stand out for me…
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Repertoire choices are often decided by the theme of a festival, or the preferences of a promoter, recording plans and the recording back catalogue, so in the end there actually isn’t that much choice left! Who knows, if I had a completely new season to choose without any strings attached (as it were!) I might come up with Schubert and Brahms!
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
There are a few concert halls I’ve played in that seem to make you play like a dream…one of them is the Symphony Hall in Boston, another the Suntory Hall in Tokyo and then I absolutely adore playing at the Wigmore Hall in London.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
I adore listening to styles I don’t get to play like polyphony, music from the Renaissance, symphonic repertoire, Jazz…I get to listen to some pop too since I have teenage daughters…I always wake up to ‘Breakfast’ on BBC Radio 3 and look forward to their ‘Bach before 7’ slot, but am continually intrigued by all I get to hear.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Creative ones! I’ve been lucky to play/work with many of them…Trevor Pinnock, Gary Cooper, Pamela Thorby, Richard Egarr, Phoebe Carrai, Elizabeth Blumenstock, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Jane Rogers, Alison McGillivray, Marcin Swiatkiewicz, Robert Hollingworth, Julian Podger (yes, my brother!), Alfredo Bernadini and many more…and then there’s the amazing Kris Bezuidenhout!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are many amazing moments I’ve been lucky to be part of, and often while performing with a larger group of musicians when there is a sense of unity within the music making.
Once while playing the Biber Mystery Sonatas in concert I was struck by the physicality in the ‘Crucifixion’ Sonata and got so involved in that aspect that I didn’t hear the applause afterwards and just stood there for a while (or so I’m told!) looking like I’d been the one crucified…
Another time playing the ‘Erbarme Dich ‘ aria from the Matthew Passion with Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert when I was pregnant and my unborn baby was utterly still while I stood up alongside the alto and played that heartfelt piece about mercy. Afterwards when I sat down the baby kicked and danced to the rest of the piece!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Practise intelligently, i.e. use your time well and efficiently and set yourself goals, even if it’s within a ten minute time frame, or even within one phrase. The relationship between musical intention and execution is essential, and it’s good to ask yourself how you’ll best get from one to the other. Aimless practice might help some mechanical workings, but is less effective. If your musical intention is unclear or confused, read the score in your head, sing it or parts of it, imagine how it might sound, play one part and sing the other, read it like a book on the train! Self-belief is utterly important, but so is an acute self-awareness. Lastly: try to keep the big picture in view!
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Happy, healthy, loving life and playing music.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Happiness is fleeting – I’d like to make sure I never miss one of those uplifting moments that seem to come out of nowhere and are a complete gift.
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you enjoy doing most?
Looking at the sunset over the Brecon Beacons sipping a glass of white wine with my partner.
What is your present state of mind?
Looking forward to getting home! (Am writing this on a plane after a concert with EUBO in Regensburg!)
Rachel Podger performs in the Music at Paxton Festival on 21 July 2016. Further information here
Over the last two decades Rachel Podger has established herself as a leading interpreter of the Baroque and Classical periods and has recently been described as “the queen of the baroque violin” (Sunday Times). In October 2015 Rachel was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Bach Prize. She was educated in Germany and in England at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where she studied with David Takeno and Micaela Comberti.