Meet the Artist – Max Baillie, violinist & violist

Who or what inspired you to take up the viola, and pursue a career in music?

I come from a family of musicians; my mother was even playing concerts with me in her belly so I guess I’ve been drinking it all in since I was a bean. I began with the violin so the viola is a natural sibling instrument and I’m happily bilingual as both violinist and violist. I rarely think of my life as a musician in terms of a career, I just knew that music would hold the greatest challenges and rewards, and so there was no other path… here I am on it!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There many musicians to whom I’m thankful for inspiration, but if I think back to being drawn to improvisation as a child it is learning this skill that has had a powerful influence on my music-making and has opened many musical doors, sparking my curiosity at every stage.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Learning to say no. And overcoming fear.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the discs I’ve made with my group ZRI—we’re recorded both the Brahms Clarinet and Schubert C major quintets, re-scored to include santouri (dulcimer) and accordion to reconnect with the Hungarian, folk, and cafehaus traditions that inspired Johannes and Franz when they each went drinking in the Zum Roten Igel pub in Vienna and heard the gypsies play. We’re playing at Kings Place on April 8th with our brand new Charlie Chaplin live score and concert program!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ll leave that for the audience to decide…

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Often I’m invited to play particular repertoire but if I’m in charge then I’ll choose a program according to the context in which it’ll be performed. The particular venue and kind of audience you expect is crucial for a choice of what to play and how to present a program. That’s not to say I’ll choose something that may be in an audience’s comfort zone—sometimes the most exciting concerts push those boundaries—but it’s always a consideration in planning. And the bottom line is it’s got to be something that I’m really into myself or else how can I expect anyone else to be?

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I like to give concerts in weird and wild settings, and not necessarily traditional halls. But as far as more regular stage settings go, I love Wilton’s Music Hall in Shadwell—it’s a stunning Victorian music hall with a gorgeous natural acoustic. The Wanamaker Playhouse is also awesome: all wood, candle-lit, and perfect for a chamber group or solo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

How long have we got?! I like people who make music with risk and real-time flow, who have an individual voice and personality, who explore sound and colour, who like to groove…people who can captivate you with their imaginations. Magicians of sorts. Vladimir Horowitz, for example, or Bobby McFerrin.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s impossible to choose! Playing with Malian rappers at a festival in Timbuktu? Leading Bjork’s string orchestra in the Albert Hall? String trios with my father and sister in an old Berlin Ballroom? Solo Bach in an underground cave in the south of France?…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you are physically and imaginatively in the zone at a concert, when the flow of the music is bigger than you yet you are also standing at its helm… where your intuition is your guide, where you’re experiencing the music for the first time whether it’s from an old score or improvised… and when the audience are right there with you from start to finish.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Play with your mind and heart not your fingers. Learn to talk as well as sing on your instrument. And, to quote Charlie Parker: ‘If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn’!

What is your present state of mind?

I’m excited because I’m on a plane to the north of Norway where I’m spending 3 days working with some amazing folk musicians on a new Folk-meets-Baroque project.


Max Baillie performs in Time Line with Oliver Coates, Thomas Gould and Rakhi Singh on 28th February, part of the Time Unwrapped season at King’s Place.

Further information

A graduate of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Cambridge University, and Berlin’s UdK, violinist and violist Max Baillie leads a uniquely versatile career. He performs across a diverse spectrum of music spanning new commissions, improvisation, and collaborations with artists from all over the world. As a soloist and chamber musician he has performed on stages from the Royal Albert Hall to Glastonbury, from Mali to Moscow, and plays regularly for television and radio broadcast.

Max is a founding member of ZRI, Zum Roten Igel. The ensemble has toured to major festivals with its re-scored versions of the Brahms clarinet quintet and the Schubert C major quintet, including accordion and santouri (dulcimer). He also has a duo with his ‘cellist father Alexander Baillie with whom he recorded a disc of folk-influenced violin and cello duos earlier this year. Max also features regularly with Notes Inegales, an improvisation group which ventures into adventurous cross-cultural and cross-genre collaborations at its regular club night Club Inegales.

For over ten years Max held the Principal Viola position in the London-based group Aurora Orchestra, playing a major role in its creative path. He conceived and directed the first of Aurora’s Brazilian dance collaborations, featured as soloist in Julian Philips’ dedicated commission Maxamorphosis drawing on his background as a trained dancer, and in 2016 curated the first season of late night ‘Lock-in’ concerts at London’s Kings Place.

Max is partnered with the National Youth Orchestra of Britain to build an online educational resource for young string players, and is currently working with an animator to create a short film about how to approach solo Bach as part of his Bach Voyager project.