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

My mother was a woodwind teacher, so music was always in the house. She used to sit me at the piano in my highchair and I’d happily play away to myself as a baby. When I was potty trained, I asked for a recorder as my reward which I then learnt to play the same day. I could read music before I could write. I chose the clarinet because my arms weren’t long enough to play flute and I didn’t like the look of the curved head flute! I was six when I started clarinet and never really looked back.

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

There have been a few major influences who have really influenced and supported my career development.

The late flautist Sebastien Bell was Head of Woodwind at the Royal Academy of Music when I was a student. He understood my developing passion for contemporary music and bass clarinet and gave me a huge amount of encouragement to go my own way. I can’t thank him enough for that and he taught me so much about playing new music.

Whilst a student at the Royal Academy, I wrote to Czech bass clarinettist Josef Horak who developed the bass clarinet into a solo instrument in the 1950s. At that time I had little repertoire or knowledge of the bass clarinet world. He would send me piles of music, CDs, past concert programmes and set me off on the journey I am on today.

And of course, we have our godfather of bass clarinet Harry Sparnaay who died last year. I regret never studying with him, but the help and support I got from him whilst doing my PhD was just incredible. His influence lives on today in myself and all of my bass clarinet colleagues.

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

Specialising in contemporary music means that the greatest challenges appear several times a year and never stop arriving! It may be in a new work written for you that you have to master or an existing work that pushes your technique. I’ve had many moments of opening a score and thinking that I’d never in a million years be able to play the piece. Luckily I’ve been determined and it’s a great feeling to overcome these challenges and see works all the way to performance and recordings!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am the clarinettist with Northern Ireland’s Hard Rain Solist Ensemble. I’m incredibly proud to be in this ensemble which specialises in performing core contemporary repertoire and commissioning and promoting Northern Irish and Irish composers. Every one of the concerts we do is a massive achievement and it’s like a second family to be with.

I also work with my bass clarinet and piano duo SCAW and rarescale. I’ve recorded with both and love my work with both ensembles.

I just have a new recording of Strauss, Beethoven and Glinka works out on the Hyperion label. I know it’s surprised people as I’m playing clarinet on the CD. Recorded three years ago, it was at a different part of my career, but pushed my playing skills in a different way.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love contemporary music where you have to discover the music as you learn a piece. If you can find the music, untraditional phases, melodies, thematic material in such a piece and engage an audience in your interpretation, then I think that is mission accomplished. I love the music of composers such as Franco Donatoni. You can live with his music for years and it still keeps revealing new exciting secrets each time you play his pieces.

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

As a contemporary music specialist, your programme choices are often influenced by who is writing for you at the time. I’m recently working with composers writing for contrabass clarinet and these pieces will feature in future programmes along with currently unwritten works.

I also like to perform core contemporary music within a programme of music writen for me and always have projects of existing repertoire on the stand. I currently have Monolog, by Isang Yun for solo bass clarinet, Ombra for solo contrabass clarinet, by Franco Donatoni and Bug for solo clarinet, by Bruno Mantovani on the go.

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

I don’t think I have a favourite, but I enjoy playing in small and intimate venues and also in rural places where there is limited access to live music. I’ve had some fantastic experiences playing on small Scottish islands over the years.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gosh – that’s a hard question, as there are so many! I love all types of music and there are players in all genres I appreciate. I like musicians who are able to express emotion and a sense of enjoyment with their music. Be it a player like Pat Methany who plays from the heart, the jazz playing of bass clarinet greats like Eric Dolphy and Bennie Maupin who make you appreciate the bass clarinet for where the contemporary side has partly come from. And then of course, the late Harry Sparnnay, our godfather of bass clarinet for all he achieved and for just being the greatest bass clarinettist ever to live!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My first solo bass clarinet recital in the Purcell Room was special because it was a defining moment for me when I was being accepted in the UK for being a bass clarinettist. It was also one of the scariest concerts I’ve ever done as the repertoire of Donatoni, Cardew and Marc Yeats was some of the most difficult repertoire I’d ever performed and on a prestigious stage.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you find yourself and your direction as a player. As a bass clarinet specialist, it’s nice to be respected for what I do and to have people from all over the world contact me to ask questions or to ask to study with me. Publishing my multiphonic book was a special moment for me, because it was the final step in a huge project and enabled me to contribute to an area of bass clarinet development that needed clarification.

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

Be yourself and follow your own ambition. Some players want to play in an orchestra, some want to play chamber music and some want to be soloists. Grab all the opportunities you can whilst studying and consider all the options. Being an orchestral player, a chamber musician, a soloist or a combination of all is great, but ultimately never be afraid to specialise if that is what you want to do.

Until around eighteen months ago, I was still under pressure to pursue orchestral auditions and yet, deep down I knew I didn’t want too. I love doing occasional orchestral work, but I love contemporary solo, chamber music and also my university and research work much more. At that recent point in my life, I dug my heels in and made some firm decisions about what I wanted and what was right for me, and have never been happier.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Hopefully still playing, premiering new works and teaching at university/conservatoire level. I teach at RNCM and am Director of Performance at Sheffield Univeristy, so I intend to work hard to develop both of these roles and courses. I’m also planning further research and want to write at least one more academic book.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting down somewhere on the Isle of Raasay, Scotland where I have a cottage and looking at the sea and views to Skye and appreciating the peace that comes with it. Sometimes the silence or simple sounds of nature is as great as music and is a very humbling experience that puts life into perspective.

What is your most treasured possession?

Two things! My cottage on Raasay. I purchased it ten years ago sight unseen on an island I’d never been too. It’s the best thing I ever did!

The other is my contrabass clarinet which is known as ‘the beast’. It’s been amazing to learn this instrument over the past year and to start to commission works for it.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m doing what I love to do which is playing contemporary music, teaching at Sheffield University and RNCM and preparing some research projects. I also have some fantastic contemporary music ensembles I play with. I’m very content knowing that I’ve achieved that.


Sarah Watts studied clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music with Angela Malsbury and Victoria Soames Samek (bass clarinet). Sarah then decided to specialise in the bass clarinet and continued her studies at the Rotterdam Conservatorium bass clarinet with Henri Bok, funded by the Countess of Munster Musical Trust and a Leverhulme Trust Studentship. Sarah was awarded the Exxon prize for the best classical music student in Rotterdam.

Successes include: Winner, UK Howarth Clarinet Competition 2000; Winner, Hawkes Clarinet Prize (RAM) 2001; Winner, Sir Arthur Bliss Chamber Music Prize (RAM) 2000; Winner of wind section and Faber Prize, UK Performing Australian Music competition, 2001 (her clarinet and bass clarinet recital was broadcast on ABC radio); Finalist, Wind section, Royal Overseas League Competition 2000.   Sarah has performed clarinet concertos with the Royal Academy of Music Sinfonia, European Union Youth Wind Orchestra and the Nottingham Orchestra of the Restoration.

Sarah specialises on the bass clarinet and has gained an international reputation as an artist, teacher and researcher on the instrument. She has performed solo repertoire across the UK, Ireland, Asia, Europe and the Americas and has attracted composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Piers Hellawell and William Sweeney to write works for her. In January 2003, Sarah performed a solo bass clarinet recital in London’s Purcell Room as part of the Park Lane Group Young Artist Series.  

Sarah teaches bass clarinet at the Royal Northern College of Music and clarinet at Nottingham University. She is Associate in Music Performance and Director of MA Performance at Sheffield University. Sarah hosts bass clarinet and clarinet courses on the Isle of Raasay in Scotland and runs and tutors on other wind chamber music courses in the UK and France. Sarah has given workshops on bass clarinet technique at many establishments including the Royal Academy of Music, Trinity College of Music, The Royal Welsh College of Music, The Royal Northern College of Music, The Royal Irish Academy of Music, Keele University and Edinburgh University.

Sarah performs with Hard Rain Ensemble, rarescale and SCAW.

Sarah has completed a PhD in bass clarinet multiphonic analysis at Keele University and has published ‘Spectral Immersions; A Comprehensive Guide to the Theory and Practice of Bass Clarinet Multiphonics’ via Metropolis publishers.

Sarah is a Selmer artist, a Vandoren UK artist and a Silverstein Ligature artist.

In 2016, she was made an assocaite of the Royal Academy of Music, London.

sarahkwatts.co.uk

 

 

(photo: David Carslaw)

Guest post by Michael Johnson

Perhaps enough time has passed since the death of the French pedagogue Nadia Boulanger to step back and question her musical sainthood. She was, after all, only human.

My elder musician friends recall her as a brilliant analyst of composition yet as a person she tended toward the tyrannical, impatient and cantankerous. Composer Philip Glass, who studied with her for two years, wrote that she tried to be kind but “stayed pretty much in the range between intimidating and terrifying”.

She was like a lot of piano teachers, one might add. Fanny Waterman used to crack the knuckles of her young students with a ruler if they missed a note or dragged a tempo.

Nadia, who died in Paris in 1979, moved in the best circles of 20th century music. Leonard Bernstein often visited her in Paris. On one occasion, when he was already established as a composer and conductor, he recalled being made to feel small when he played one of his compositions for her. She objected to a certain b-flat. He recalled later, “I am 58,” but suddenly “it was like I was a child.…”

One musician friend of mine in Paris who studied with several of her students goes further, accusing her of “castrating” them (especially the males) by constant criticism and tedious exercises that had them “jumping through technical hoops for hours, years, on end”. Some of the exercises she wrote for her charges were “soul-destroying”, he says.

Nadia knew she had a mixed reputation and was comfortable with that. She maintained that musical training without rigor cannot be of value. Virgil Thomson wrote that she had a “no-nonsense approach to musical skills and a no-fooling-around treatment of anyone’s talent or vocation”. She once turned down a young girl applicant, exasperated, saying she would never find the patience to work with her. Fortunately, she added, her father was soon transferred to another country and the family left France.

I have just read an extraordinary collection of Nadia’s opinions and memories as assembled by Bruno Monsaingeon and published in 1980 as ‘Mademoiselle’ (Editions Van de Valde). Long out of print, I found a dog-eared, mildewed French copy in a bookstall and have studied it minutely. It is a portrait of a complex lady who describes herself as “pitiless” in her treatment of students, adding that she was just as rough on herself.

Originally an aspiring composer, she said that “if there is one thing I am sure of … it is that my music is useless”. Some listeners today would agree while others don’t. Her blandness and lack of originality seem evident to me. She admitted that she realized early on that she “had absolutely nothing to say.”

A student of Gabriel Fauré, Nadia gave up composition after the death of her beloved sister Lili, the more talented of the two sisters. Lili died of an affliction now known as Crohn’s disease, at 24, in 1918. Broken by Lili’s death, Nadia threw herself into teaching, inviting students from throughout the world to come to her Paris apartment and be forced into her straightjacket. There she taught conducting, analysis, harmony, counterpoint and composition as well as piano performance.

Some of the most important musicians of the 20th century worked under her harsh regime: Aaron Copland, Elliott Carter, Walter Piston, Pierre Schaeffer, Igor Markevitch, John-Eliot Gardiner, Daniel Barenboïm, Dinu Lipatti and others. Her list of students has never been completed but I should add the jazz composers Quincy Jones and Donald Byrd. The list goes on – Jean Françaix, Roy Harris, Peter Hill, Ralph Kirkpatrick, Michel Legrand, Gian Carlo Menotti, Jeremy Menuhin, Emile Naoumoff, Soulima Stravinsky.

Nadia was particularly critical of her American students who queued up to suffer under her rigorous demands. About 600 Americans took lessons from her in the 1920s to the 1970s. She found some of them brilliant but many, she said, lacked fundamentals or even a good ear. “The truth is that the study of the basics makes you understand that to be a good musician you must be a good grammarian.”

Conductor Igor Markevitch, who studied with her, recalled that she went out of her way to assert herself, even wearing a pince-nez to appear professorial. This, he said, helped her advance in a world then dominated by men.

She could be so harsh as to leave students stunned. Glass recalled in his recent autobiography ‘Words Without Music’ that while recuperating after a group class studying Bach chorales, the students would sit down at a café for coffee or beer. The Boulanger experience, he remembered, “invariably left us shaken and silent”.

Confused by the contradictory opinions in the air today, I turned to one of my main interests, portraiture, to try to get a better feel for the person behind the mask. Portraits can afford the artist a good opportunity to study a subject up close. In her case, I found nothing but severity — a strong jaw, narrowed eyes, arched eyebrows, a hard, thin mouth, and body language that students such as Glass found intimidating.

Watching her come to life on the page, I had to turn away. I felt fear. As a student, I would not have lasted an hour with her.

The Monsaingeon book is the most comprehensive account of Nadia’s views on music. He directed a television documentary on her 90th birthday and produced a book-length compilation of some five years of meetings and conversations with her. For easy reading, he reordered the material as an interview – inserting questions among her monologues.

I have produced this edited and translated version of Monsaingeon’s work, capturing the most pertinent extracts for a modern audience.

Aaron Copland described you as the most famous professor of composition alive.

Allow me to doubt the veracity of that statement. I believe a professor is dependent on the quality of the students. The professor’s role is less grand, less omnipotent, than one might think.

When did you discover music?

As a child, I could not stand the sound of music. It almost made me sick. I screamed. My sobbing could be heard in the street. The piano was a monster that terrorized me. Then one day I heard a fire truck passing by, siren blaring, and I sat down and found those notes on the keyboard. Suddenly I had discovered music with a passion. I can still hear my father saying, “What a strange little girl we have here.”

Your father was a French music professor and you mother was Russian?

Yes, my father was totally French and my mother Russian (Princess Michesky). We never spoke Russian in the home because she did not want the family language to be one that my father did not understand.

Do you believe your Russian ancestry has been important for you?

It has been very important … but I do not like to talk about personal background. There is no point talking about me all day long because it would interest no one and certainly not me!

Is it true that at the age of twelve you knew Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier by heart?

It was an obligation. I was instructed to learn one prelude and one fugue per week. But you know, let’s not exaggerate. One prelude and one fugue per week is not so much… After this kind of training, though, one has a good basis in mind.

It is said that you already had an encyclopedic knowledge of music when you began teaching.

You know, people say all kinds of things, few of which are true.

How did you end up at the American Conservatory of Fontainebleau?

Walter Damrosch founded the school and Francis Casadesus was the first director. I was brought in to join the faculty. I spoke two words of English, “Hello” and “Goodbye”. My first student was Aaron Copland. After Robert Casadesus, other directors followed, including Maurice Ravel, Charles-Marie Widor, and I succeeded Casadesus in 1946.

I understand that the conservatory was founded after World War I for American troops but after the war, what happened?

The Fontainebleau school became very important for the Americans. They had brilliant schooling and were very gifted but they lacked fundamentals in many cases; their musical ear was underdeveloped and they had bypassed the everyday details of music education. Why? Because — it was believed — one must not overwork the children.

What were your basics in the curriculum?

I had to insist on the fundamentals – hearing, looking, listening and seeing.

You trained a large number of Americans. There must be hardly a city in North America that doesn’t have one of your students.

Yes indeed, I had a great number of American students. One must remember that fifty years ago there was no such thing as American music. An immense change has happened since – Monsieur Copland, Monsieur Bernstein – their works are performed all over the world. The term “American musician” is no longer something unusual.

Didn’t you bring Aaron Copland to the attention of the American public?

A. Yes, in September 1938 I encouraged Walter Damrosch and Serge Koussevitzky to program his Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. Damrosch conducted it in Boston (in 1938) and was probably disturbed by the modernity of it. He turned to the audience as said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if a man of 23 can compose such a work, he will be capable by the age of 30 of murdering his own parents.” He was laughing but he was serious too. Naturally there was a reaction and agitation among the public but Copland’s reputation was made. Copland’s piece seems tame by today’s standards.

Music goes through phases of popularity. Is this a problem?

I am tormented by the phenomenon of fashion in music. Since I am an old fusspot, I don’t much like change. Of course change for reasons of necessity can be marvelous. But change because one does not know where to go next is fatal and destructive.

What about new voices in music?

Rather than deepening one’s understanding, we see too many people chasing discoveries as an end in itself — finding that unknown masterpiece at any cost. The less these people understand, the more enthusiastic they are. I recently heard a piece that made me wonder if the composer was ill, on drugs, or victim of a serious mental disorder.

How important is music in your life?

I am an absolutely mad consumer of music. I call it a sickness because even when I am exhausted after eight or nine hours of teaching, my first move – to the annoyance of the household – is to switch on the radio and listen. I am insatiable. I love listening (to music).

You say you can appreciate the good and bad elements of a work. What are your criteria for a masterpiece?

I have no idea. I don’t say they don’t exist but I have no idea.

And yet listening to a masterpiece you seem to be certain of your judgment.

It comes down to faith, to belief. Just as I accept the existence of God, I accept beauty, I accept emotion and I accept a masterpiece… Exactly what makes up a masterpiece escapes me… I can analyze anything. But a page, a line, a measure of Schubert, I have no idea.

How much training is necessary to appreciate great music?

One can be totally without training and yet feel the senses penetrated by melodic emotion – this is perfectly respectable.

How do you balance rigor and creative freedom?

I hope my teaching has influenced students to appreciate the need for rigor, for order. But in the area of style, I have never intended to exert any influence. If I am working with a foreigner and I try to make him or her into a French person I am sure to fail.

Isn’t it possible to list composers in a hierarchy of importance?

The seems very difficult to me.

Still, one could rank Beethoven against Max Bruch, for example.…

There you are falling into the abyss. You compare the Himalayas with Butte Montmartre. Really, I must say that I honestly almost never think about Max Bruch whereas hardly a day passes that I don’t think about Beethoven.

How would you sum up your role as a professor?

I know my job. I am someone who can help students acquire a basic technique, to listen, to hear, to transpose, to practice, to memorize. The role of the professor seems to me to be modest.


Another version of this essay-interview originally appeared on factsandarts.com

Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. He worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his writing career. He is the author of five books and divides his time between Boston and Bordeaux.

 

Illustration by Michael Johnson

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

I was so small that it is a little hazy but I think it went like this: my Mum asked if I would like to choose an instrument to play. We had an upright piano at home so I had already started playing that by myself as my older sister had begun lessons and I was trying to catch up alone….  but this was a whole different matter. I was just six. I remember being absolutely entranced with the shape of the violin, so when I had the chance to choose – after examining the curves, edges, the smooth tiger’s-eye stripes of the varnished wood and that high string tension of the violin – my imagination was absolutely caught.  I began lessons locally and found there were many challenges to overcome, both musical and otherwise – but my strongest memory was that whatever the obstacle, I always knew above all else that I really just wanted to play the violin. My mum and dad were amazing too – they ferried me to early Saturday lessons and continued to enable practice even if i was, like any child, a little reluctant – and would far rather run up the garden to make my escape!

I think it was only when I met my teacher Xue Wei that I considered a career, and aged 15, it was just about the right time to be thinking about pathways ahead. In fact, if I look back, I realise that until then, most people tried to put me off a career in music. School teachers had been very keen to promote an academic musicology route, I had been begged  “was there “anything” other than music that I could consider?”

When I was adamant, Xue Wei’s view was that  I was spending far too much time at school and should go to China to practise. So aged 17, right before A-levels , I went to Beijing for six weeks to live with his own former teacher, the legendary Lin Yao-Ji, and had lessons twice a week or more.

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

I think the teaching of Professor Lin was without doubt exceptionally important to me. He was a teacher responsible for an elite group of students who were winning international violin competitions worldwide, left right and centre, and was possibly a little perplexed by the arrival of student from England with unreliable technique and no Mandarin! Happily, with his support, that all changed!!

Following the inspiration during my years of studying, it has always been my colleagues who have influenced and spurred me on. Working in duos and trios gives one an intimate insight into character and drive of chamber partners and travelling and essentially living with them through long rehearsal days and on tour brings people very close. Being witness to just how hard some musicians work whatever else is going on in their lives is always enriching.

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

Seeing how little protection and support has been historically awarded to those at risk of and damaged by abuse of power in teaching. Thankfully this is now being faced more boldly by institutions.

Which performances/ recordings are you most proud of?

I think the invitation as the only British player to the International Roaring Hooves Festival in Mongolia in 2002 gave rise to a couple of my most personally meaningful performances – it was one of my first international trips as a soloist and I was among the most awe-inspiring gathering of musicians from the US, Australia, Europe and leading ethnic instrumentalists from Central Asia and the Far East too. In the capital city Ulaan Bataar, I played in the stunning Opera House and at the world famous Natural History Museum (right underneath a skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex (not a cast but the actual skeleton)); within the walls of Erdene Zuu Khid, the former stronghold of Genghis Khan and among the high yellow dunes of the Gobi Desert – and it was at this final concert I played Maze Dances by John McCabe, as a line of nomadic horseman appeared in silhouette along the line of dune tops, against the setting sun, and I felt unbelievably lucky that choosing the violin enabled me to share that musical moment with that stunning landscape and the Mongolian people as well as my new musician friends..

A couple of those new friends invited me to play at the Lincoln Center, New York City in the following year and I was particularly proud to perform the Respighi Sonata with the legendary Joel Sachs on piano, my now friend , founder of Continuum Ensemble, conductor of the new Juilliard Ensemble  and one of the most active performers and commissioners of new music anywhere in the world …

And I think a more recent highlight was the recording and launch concert of my first CD with Retorica (with partner-in-crime Harriet Mackenzie): our English Violin Duos disc. I absolutely loved our hard work that went into assembling the repertoire – trawling the British Library for early English works and discovering William Croft and the excitement of having three works written especially for the duo by John McCabe, David Matthews and Jim Aitchison and the stories behind the conception of each of those works. I remember the intensive weeks of preparation before we set off to Potton Hall in Suffolk to record and our total immersion in the music for the days we were there.. We then decided to challenge ourselves to what seemed a monumental task of playing all those works in one concert. It was such a celebratory night though, as we began the evening with a conversation with all three composers, and heard their thoughts on the pieces and crucially on the value and significance of the genre of two violins  – and something that has been exceptionally important to me since my first exploration into the repertoire with the Croatian violinist Mislava Mikelic. John McCabe had been instrumental in encouraging my pursuit of two violin music and I still have all his letters in which he suggested I try various compositions to make up interesting programmes.

So many concerts mean so much but I would love to add that I was asked to play Meditation on Thaïs by Massenet at my dear friend Rudy’s funeral. He was a neighbour, a teacher, a confidante and surrogate grandfather  – and he taught me to chop wood with a long handled axe like nobody else. He was 104 when he passed away and I had hoped he may defy death and would just live forever  – I played my guts out for him that day. I think he would have loved it .. he always told me to break a string and laughed when I seriously told him what an inconvenience that would be! Dearest Rudy I was glad I got to play for you and say goodbye ……

Do you have  favourite concert venue to perform in and why

Oh what a hard one to answer…. I want to cheat and mention my top five if I may:

I remember adoring the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place for the golden glow they gave the sound of the solo violin, but I think I might now say that my favourite two places are Sladers Yard in Dorset because I have built up a really enthusiastic friendly audience for my series there and I get to play surrounded by the most incredible art AND see the sea after the concert, and now the Shortwave Cafe in Bermondsey because the launch of the new series Shortwave Nights was such an exciting start for me and the acoustics are absolutely great!  The fifth has to be the concert hall in Tianjin, China – one of the most beautiful and huge interiors I have ever played in and with the most perfect acoustic design, even two violins filled the place..

Which particular works do you think you play best

This is an impossible question to answer but I can tell you where I feel most at home  – and although this changes all the time, I do find that the expressive and geographic demands of works by say, Strauss and Respighi have taught me more about getting round the instrument than any etude….. I love the soaring lyricism given to the violin in these excessively romantic works.  I adore the grit and fire in composers like Prokofiev and Stravinsky and after numerous performances feel that Prokofiev’s Sonata for Two Violins is by now a true friend.. I love contemporary music and have adored the sheer agony of learning the only-just-within-technical-realms-of- possibility solo writing by Jim Aitchison such as his monumental work Shibboleth and his ultra finely crafted Fugue Refractions too… I cherish the opportunity to decide alone how to interpret a score for the very first time without the weight of tradition and it is always nice to be able to speak to the composer and ask what they really hand in mind in terms of colour and texture .. I would love to say Bach, but right now I am only exploring the full set of Solo Sonatas and Partitas in public for the first time so ask me again in a few years!

Guarea by Leo Geyer written for Philippa Mo

Shibboleth by Jim Aitchison

How do you make your repertoire choices season to season?

This is very much driven by the nature of the concert invitation and the colleagues involved. As a chamber player I am asked to play an enormous variety of music ranging from double violin concerti with full orchestra to directing chamber orchestras to piano trio and quartet programmes;  from first performances of contemporary chamber operas to solo recitals in halls as well as in venues never originally intended for concerts..  Giving recitals with established groups like Retorica means that we can draw on our large body of repertoire and make programmes together with promoters and adapt to bring in new works wherever possible and my own solo series I am running in the gorgeous gallery Sladers Yard, Dorset affords me total freedom in selecting works to fit in with my series concept Partita, Fantasia, Caprice… I love the fact that there is nothing rigid here and programmes are always thought through with individual attention . On longer tours it is also fun to stick to one programme and take on the challenge of repeating works whilst looking for new ways to invest them with life! The options are endless!

Tell us more about your new project Tuned In to Shortwave Nights

I am so happy to have finally launched this brand new series Tuned In to Shortwave Nights in my local area, Bermondsey. I have long admired the series Tuned In London run by Eleanor Thorn who is a true music lover and has worked tirelessly to seek out acts and bring together a vibrant series of world music concerts in gorgeous locations in Rotherhithe for a number of years now. We have talked for a similar number of years (!) about joining forces to promote a classical strand,  and she came up with the venue of the Shortwave Cafe which is part of the Peek Frean Biscuit Factory in Bermondsey and I came up with an absolutely stellar group of musicians to kick off our first six concerts.

The idea was simple – I wanted to find a relaxed and welcoming venue where the audience could get up close to the musicians and where the musicians could have total freedom to be experimental with their programming.  The musicians introduce the pieces and where possible, I have programmed new music and invited the featured composers to talk about their music too so that the audience can witness the full triangle of work between composer, musician interpreter and listener..

Now we have had two concerts already, I can tell you that the audience have been buzzing with the standard of the programme as well as the atmosphere of the events,  and our last concert was a sell out – which is remarkable, given the number of events competing for a musical audience in the capital on any one evening!

We are going to go on to welcome musicians from London: the viola player Timothy Ridout who won the prestigious  Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition, the Grammy award-winning cellist Jakob Kullberg from Denmark and the phenomenal Danish percussionist Ronni Kot Wenzell who lives in Rio but has coordinated tour dates to fit in Shortwave Nights. The second concert held in February with the brilliant Swedish guitarist Martin Fogel was a triumph, and he showed off his expert knowledge of Toru Takemitsu alongside his own brilliant compositions and an exquisite Bach Suite (to name but a few works) leaving the audience wanting more.

For me – there is an immense joy hearing these players live, and performing alongside them is a real honour, so I already consider the series an achievement. I think the audience will also enjoy the excitement of one or two completely fresh collaborations.

Having spoken to members of the audience, I can also say that many of my hopes have already been fulfilled – people have been delighted by the music, delighted by hearing certain instruments live for the first time, delighted to chat to the artists and the composers , delighted by the informality and the fact they can sit with a drink and trust to see what happens.. and the majority have already come back which makes for a really friendly open listening experience.. we have also had a raft of composers, artists, authors and musicians in the audience so I am really excited about this and getting to plan the next series too.. Watch this space!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Having health, luck, determination and one or two basic practicalities in place to enable the love and the practice of music to flourish…..

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

Oh this makes me feel old! but I would say after knocks here and there and by now a bit of experience in my own way: learn to embrace hard work without expecting any particular trajectory of results. Look after your health and stay fit: performing can amount to a pretty punishing lifestyle with its long hours and ongoing physical exertion. What with travel and a myriad of other considerations, there can limited access to sensible food too so carry oatcakes and bananas! Keep listening to music and other musicians to stay interested and inspired and look for ways to share your gifts as well as earn from them. Pass on your knowledge generously – I have been taught by my friends that musicians are like a family – competition is a bit artificial beyond a certain basic point and there is always room for many interpretations. Look after your colleagues. Stay kind in rehearsals. Music is always personal, so choose the gentler words … and above all, keep going.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Literally speaking – I think I adore London so much and all it has to offer artistically that I would like to be living here as I do now and maintain the freedom I currently enjoy to travel and to play wherever my music takes me in collaboration with musicians who make me feel glad to be alive.

What is your most treasured possession?

……unsurprisingly my violin.  I forget sometimes how truly wonderful it is and how fortunate I am to be able to play it every day – when I do stop to think,  I get a jolt and stop to admire it and polish it a little more carefully and yes I do talk to it kindly and thank it for putting up with some especially violent new music or extreme temperature change I just put it through….. it has certainly seen me through some highs and lows and I hope I am lucky enough to spend the rest of my life looking after it ..

What is your present state of mind?

Totally excited.

 

Details of Philippa Mo’s Shortwave Nights series here


Philippa studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing. Philippa now performs extensively as a chamber musician. She has given performances and live broadcasts worldwide, including her acclaimed debut at the Wigmore Hall, recitals at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, St John’s, Smith Square, London, the Deutsches Museum, Munich, the Natural History Museum, Ulaan Bataar, when she was invited as the only British musician to participate as soloist in the International Music Festival of Contemporary Music, Mongolia in 2002. Philippa has also been invited to play at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Glasgow, the Barbara Hepworth Museum and The Tate St Ives in the UK and more further afield at the Ankara International Music Festival and the Lincoln Center, New York.  

A champion of contemporary music, Philippa has given workshops on British music at the Central Conservatory, Beijing and at Bilkent and Hacettep Universities in Ankara, Turkey. She coached students of the Kurmangazy National Conservatory of Kazakhstan in Almaty 2007-09. She has worked closely with many leading British composers including Gabriel Prokofiev, Robert Fokkens, Cecilia McDowall, Leo Geyer, Deborah Pritchard, David Matthews, John McCabe, Jim Aitchison, Wendy Hiscocks and Errollyn Wallen and has given premieres of their solo and violin duo works.

Philippa has established an ongoing relationship with the Tate St Ives and recently recorded a solo work written for her by Leo Geyer on the anniversary of Barbara Hepworth to be used as a sound installation at the Tate. She also premiered a new solo work by composer Jim Aitchison alongside his monumental solo work Shibboleth at CAST, Helston and at the Porthmeor studios, St Ives.  Concerto appearances include a newly commissioned work for Truro Cathedral as part of the innovative Online Orchestra Project with the Philharmonia Orchestra. and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires in The Venue, Leeds with conductor Natalia Luis Bassa as well as John McCabe’s Les Martinets Noirs at the Lidköping Festival, Sweden.

Philippa has released critically acclaimed recordings for the NMC, Dutton and Nimbus labels.

She was appointed Senior Lecture in Violin at Leeds College of Music and awarded Associate of the Royal Academy of Music (ARAM) in 2015. 

Philippa is also the founding member of the Retorica violin duo:

“The two violins are wielded with enough delicacy and charm to immerse the listener into some really penetrating expression on the vivid scale of a full symphony orchestra” – British Music Society News 

“…faultless technique and unfailing insight.” Gramophone Magazine

Philippa Mo and Harriet Mackenzie met at the Royal Academy of Music, London. Since then, Retorica have performed worldwide to great acclaim. Highlights include recitals in the most prestigious halls in China, the Beijing NCPA and Shanghai SHAOC, Sweden, Italy, Ukraine, Japan, Germany and the Channel Islands. In the UK their performances include the Barbican Centre,  International festivals of Bury St Edmunds and Ripon, Presteigne and the William Alwyn Festival. 

Retorica’s debut CD English Violin Duos was chosen as Gramophone Magazine’s ‘Editor’s choice’ and the ‘must hear’ CD for chamber music: “superbly responsive playing from Harriet Mackenzie and Philippa Mo…. faultless technique and unfailing insight” . Retorica have also received critical acclaim for their Dutton recording of John McCabe’s Double violin concerto and most recently received five stars for their receding of Paul Patterson’s Allusions with the English Symphony Orchestra. 

Philippa plays a violin by Julius Cesare Gigli from 1786. 

www.philippamo.london

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and pursue a career in music?
I came very reluctantly to a career in singing thinking that surely this couldn’t be a real job! And despite what every taxi driver in London tells me it turns out that it is in fact a very real job and one I love! I came to it in a very roundabout way having first studied for a degree in music and history which would have allowed me to become a teacher but after two weeks of teaching I realised that children were much more difficult to deal with than directors so I decided to embark upon a career in singing.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I’ve certainly had a touch of the luck of the Irish about my career. I was a young artist at the Royal Opera house and during that time won the Rosenblatt Recital prize at the Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and was also a BBC New Generation artist so all these things were huge opportunities for exposure when I was just starting out and gave me a super launching pad. The relationships I cherish most in my career are the ones I have with Wigmore Hall as I’m really devoted to song singing, the support the Royal Opera House have given my career over the years and my recital partnership and friendship with Iain Burnside who I have recorded many discs with and stood on the recital platform with many times.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think the travel has been the greatest challenge for me. When I’m performing opera is often takes me away from home for months at a time and I find that very difficult. I think that is part of the reason why I have such an affiliation with performing recitals.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I think the most fun I’ve ever had on a production was the most recent one I performed at Covent Garden. I was doing a very cookie role in Shostakovich’s ‘The Nose’. But it was particularly special for me because at the time I was six months pregnant with my baby Daisy And my husband was also playing in the orchestra so I think that particular time will always have a special place in my memory. The recording I’m most proud of is probably the Fauré disc with Iain Burnside. I just love French music and it was a special treat for me to get the opportunity to record an entire disc with one of my favourite composers.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
At the moment I have a small baby so she is making all the decisions! Opera is on the back-burner for a while as I don’t want to be away from home for long. This suits me perfectly as I really love recital and concert work
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I love to perform in Wigmore Hall. The acoustic and intimacy of the venue allows me to give my best performance. Also I’m welcomed there like family and that makes a huge difference to how you feel on a performance day.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I would have to say any of the Proms performances I’ve ever been involved in. I think I’ve been in about 13 Proms now! Maybe my most memorable was Beethoven 9 with the NYO but performing at the first night of the proms was definitely a close second.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
A huge bank balance…. only joking… I wish! Being able to do the work you want to do.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It’s tough so be prepared to work hard. Stay true to yourself and stay yourself. Be kind to your colleagues. Try to enjoy it!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
A walk in the park with my baby Daisy, my lovely husband Keith who puts up with all the madness that comes with being married to a singer and my little dog Jack….. Bliss…. the only thing that could make it better would be a bag of chips!
Ailish Tynan performs with Iain Burnside at the Ludlow English Song Weekend, 6-8 April 2018.

Ailish Tynan trained at Trinity College, the Royal Irish Academy of Music in Dublin and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. She was a Vilar Young Artist at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and a BBC New Generation Artist. In 2003, representing Ireland, Ailish won the Rosenblatt Recital Prize at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World.

Recent highlights include Madame Podtotshina’s Daughter in Shostakovich’s The Nose for the Royal Opera, Gretel Hansel & Gretel for Welsh National Opera, Anna Intermezzo in her debut for Garsington Opera and the world premiere of Judith Weir’s Nuit d’Afrique at Wigmore Hall. Additionally, she was on the Jury for the Song Prize at BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, 2017. In the current season Ailish makes her debut with the Dresdner Philharmonie for Mahler Symphony No. 8, performs Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Askenazy, Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem with the Britten Sinfonia and her recital debut in Stockholm with Magnus Svensson.

Operatic engagements include Gretel Hänsel und Gretel and Madame Cortese Il viaggio a Reims; Marzelline Fidelio (Royal Opera House, Covent Garden); Gretel Hansel and Gretel (Scottish Opera); Tigrane Radamisto (English National Opera); Papagena Die Zauberflöte (Teatro alla Scala); Despina Così fan tutte (Théâtre du Capitole de Toulouse); Héro Béatrice et Bénédict (Houston Grand Opera, Opéra Comique and the Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg). Other operatic highlights include Sophie Der Rosenkavalier, Nannetta Falstaff and Atalanta Xerxes all for the Royal Swedish Opera; Miss Wordsworth Albert Herring (Opéra Comique and Opéra de Rouen) and Vixen The Cunning Little Vixen (Grange Park Opera).

Among her notable concert appearances are Mahler Symphony No.8 (Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Järvi, Philharmonia under Lorin Maazel and Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Sir Antonio Pappano); Mahler Symphony No.4 (Prague Symphony Orchestra under Jac van Steen and the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder) and Mahler Symphony No. 2 (Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia under Myung-whun Chung); Verdi Requiem (Ludwigsburger Schlossfestspiele under Michael Hofstetter); Haydn The Creation (CBSO under Andris Nelsons); Handel Messiah (Academy of Ancient Music under Richard Egarr) and Vaughan Williams Hodie at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. She performs regularly at the BBC Proms where she has performed Bella in Tippett’s A Midsummer Marriage (BBC Symphony Orchestra under Sir Andrew Davis) and Glière’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra under Kirill Karabits).

In recital Ailish works regularly with pianist including Iain Burnside, James Baillieu, Graham Johnson and Christopher Glynn, amongst others, giving recitals at venues and festivals including Wigmore Hall, Edinburgh, City of London, Gregynog, St. Magnus, Brighton and West Cork Music Festivals, and the Vinterfespill in Norway.

Her discography includes Fauré Mélodies (Opus Arte), Nacht und Träume (Delphian), From a City Window Hubert Parry Songs (Delphian) and An Irish Songbook (Signum Classics) all with pianist Iain Burnside, Il re pastore for Classical Opera (Signum Classics), Michael Head Songs (Hyperion) with Christopher Glynn, Messiah with the Academy of Ancient Music (EMI), Mahler Symphony No.8 under Valery Gergiev (LSO Live) and with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Lorin Maazel (Signum Classics).

(Biography Steven Swales Artist Management)

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

I was a 7 month old baby when I first came into contact with a piano. My mother, at the insistence of my grandmother, placed a 2 octave toy piano in my crib. To my parents’ surprise, I spent hours discovering its sounds, and within a few months I was playing the lullabies my mum sang to me on that little piano. I didn’t have a chance to be inspired! It was always there as a part of my nature.

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

There are, of course, negative and positive influences. They both weigh heavily on the development of a person. My piano studies began with Lyl Tiempo (aged 4 to 8) in Caracas and it was the very best beginning I could have had. She was a wonderful teacher. But most of my childhood and adolescence was marred by a negative influence. I stopped playing for almost 3 years. Then, came the positive influences in my twenties. Discovering the great, historical recordings was pivotal to how I heard and imagined music. It gave me a sense of freedom I had never before been aware of. A sense that the possibilities of music extended far beyond the written score. I also had a wonderful teacher, Hamish Milne, at the Royal Academy of Music, whom I credit for rekindling my love for music. I was in my early twenties, and too young to profit from his wisdom and artistry, but it left a mark on me. I can’t fully answer this question without mentioning Martha Argerich. Martha, upon hearing me play Schumann, Beethoven and improvise, changed my life. From one moment to the next, she took me from barely playing and seriously considering studying psychology (dedicating my life to something useful!) to beginning these last 17, hectic, challenging but rewarding years of my life and career. I owe a lot to her. She has also been a huge inspiration as an artist and human being.

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

Being a single mother to two young daughters and at the same time juggling an intense concert career– without a shadow of a doubt! I am now happily married. My friends and colleagues ask me how I survived, and I really don’t know how I managed to perform well under the constant excruciating worry and pressure. Add to that the heart-breaking situation of my country, Venezuela, and my daily work of the last 8 years as a dissident and human rights advocate, and it has been anything but easy.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Any performance when I feel I am deeply connected and when I give the most honest and committed performance I can give, is one I am most proud of. It doesn’t matter where it is or how many people are sitting in the hall. I am very proud of my last recording (which is yet to released) of my own concerto – the Latin Concerto!! I had an amazing team to work with in Carlos Miguel Prieto and the YOA Orchestra of the Americas.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s difficult to answer. Most people would describe me as a very big, impassioned and powerful player. I do think that is a very strong element of my musical nature, but at the same time, I am discovering the intimacy and subtleties in the way I play Mozart – which is opposite to how people have heard me perform the romantic repertoire. I am fond of extremes and contrasts, and in Mozart, I am finding a new relationship and sound to an instrument that has been most suited for me in the large and virtuosic pieces. I am a work in progress.

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

Until now, it has always been determined by what I want to play. But now, I am beginning to design programs around a common story, a personal narrative, relationships or connections between pieces. I’m becoming more interested in metaphors that connect people and works.

You’re performing with Carlos Miguel Prieto and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in March – tell us more about this?

I love Carlos Miguel. That’s the most important part of my answer! He is a dear friend, a respected colleague and someone who understands the kind of musical animal I am on the stage, and what my life is like, offstage. I am so looking forward to performing Ravel again with him (also included on our last recording) and to performing for the first time with the BSO. I can imagine it will be a wonderful combination.

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

I love the Wigmore Hall, the Teatro Colon, any hall in Italy, the Palau in Barcelona. There are many. I prefer smaller and more intimate halls. I think I play better when I am in a beautiful space, surrounded by beauty and inspired by the aesthetics of a hall.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Hmmm.. Martha Argerich, Martin Fröst, Alison Balsom, Bill Evans, Horowitz, Annie Fisher, Rachmaninov, Angela Hewitt… There are a few more. All of the people alive in this list are my friends, but I am not biased! They really are wonderful.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s hard to say. I recently performed Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Mirga [Gražinytė-Tyla] and the Berlin Komisch Oper Orchestra in Berlin, and as she lifted her arms to begin the concerto introduction, a couple in the audience interrupted her by singing the national anthem of Venezuela. I sat there heartbroken and stunned, fully aware of what a gesture of pain and courage that moment meant to that couple and I. I will never forget that. Playing at President Obama’s first inauguration was also incredibly meaningful. I felt it was the beginning of a deep and long awaited healing process for the US and its people, and I was very honoured and touched to be a part of it. You had to be there to understand what it felt like. Unfortunately, things have changed significantly since then, and not for the better. But there have been many moments that will forever remain etched in my memory.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

The older I get, the more I understand that for me, success is inexorably linked to how I contribute to society. I am no longer only a pianist and composer, I am also someone who is trying to rescue people from Venezuela, someone who tries to be a lifeline and a voice to many, and above all, a human being who suffers the pain of those around me. For me, success is not defined by fame and fortune, or playing with a renowned conductor or orchestra, or being on someone’s “favourite” list. It is reaching out to people and knowing I’ve made a difference. We have choices, and they speak volumes of who we are. Success is making the right ethical choice.

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

Be inspired!! Live!! Love!! Give!! Enjoy! And then, take all those stories and paint them on the score, with the colours of sound. You can’t be a storyteller if you have no stories to tell.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In a free and democratic Venezuela. That’s my greatest wish. But sooner, I hope.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Helping someone. Knowing that my girls are well. Having a laugh with my husband. Composing. Mozart. Chocolate.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Hamburg Steinway D… and my Maltese [dog], Louie.

What is your present state of mind?

Expectation. I am now on a flight back home, and will soon be hugging my 15 year old daughter, Isabella. I haven’t seen her in two weeks and I can’t wait to get off this plane!!

Gabriela Montero performs with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Carlos Miguel Prieto on 7th (Poole), 8th (Portsmouth) and 10th (Brighton) March. Further information here


Born in Venezuela, Gabriela Montero gave her first public performance at the age of five. At age eight, she made her concerto debut in her hometown of Caracas, which led to a scholarship from the government to study privately in the USA. She continued her studies under Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music in London, graduating with the highest honours. She currently resides in Barcelona, with her husband and two daughters.

Read full biography here

 

(Artist photo: Shelley_Mosman)

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

I come from a family of professional musicians, and it was always clear that I would do music. Moreover, because my older sister already played the violin, I wanted to do the same under any circumstances.

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

My mother practised with me very often. When I left the Soviet Union at the age of 13, I finally discovered contemporary music. To me this meant freedom, and became the central mission of my musical life.

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

It was sometimes difficult to stay the course at the beginning, when many “experts” tell you that you are wrong and should play differently. But I guess nothing is easy in my career. I move forward the only way I know how to.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

The one recording closest to my heart is “Take-Two” (Alpha Classics) where I collected dear friends to record duets from the last millennium. The booklet – which I wrote together with my then 8-year old daughter and my husband – explains music history and my philosophy of interpretation as if to a child. One piece (“Das kleine Irgendwas”), composed by Heinz Holliger, is based on a text by my daughter.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

People perceive me as being at my best in recent and contemporary music, probably because in that repertoire nobody can tell me that I am wrong. But I do not see much difference between old and new music. I can play both well and not so well – and both at the same time.

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

Well, it depends very much on the partners. Recently I took up the voice part of Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” because I had a painful arm condition and could not practice the violin as usual. I love this piece very much and will perform it often, for example with Berlin Philharmonic. And now I’ve taken up Kurt Schwitters “Ursonate”, a Dadaistic nonsense poem, also for voice, which I will perform with my clarinetist friends Reto Bieri and Anthony Romaniuk.

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

I am almost immune to venues… to me the kitchen, the casino, the church, it doesn’t make much difference. What is central to me is the piece, the message.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are too many to name them all. But let’s mention two unknown ones: the young conductor Aziz Shokakimov, an astonishing talent of primordial power, he will go very far. And then my piano partner, Polina Leschenko, not a musician, but a poet of colours and perfumes, technically on a level with Cziffra or a young Pogorelich. She likes to practice and to play, she loves music, but everything is just for herself. She is not at all interested in a career, therefore only insiders know her. I try hard to get her out of her ivory tower.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many, however last year particularly during the tour with Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra where I thought we reached a level of mystery I didn’t think possible.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you can play what you like, in the way you like and with whom you like. When you have attained that, you have to stay curious, reinvent yourself and your repertoire all the time to prevent yourself becoming bored or burned out. Gidon Kremer is a model of how to do this.

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

First, only take it up if you cannot do otherwise. Without talent music is a sad job. Learning an instrument to perfection is already difficult but not nearly sufficient: you have to learn to understand the construction and the meaning of music. For this, studying composition is a very efficient way, even if you are not a great composer. Then you have to read biographies, history, letters. You have to study manuscripts and art history: paintings by Turner can teach you a lot about violin playing. Only then will you be able to keep fellow musicians and the public interested in what you are doing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

If you and your loved ones are safe and in good health, if everybody has a worthwhile occupation and earns enough for a decent living in a functioning state. What do you need or want more?

 

Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s new album Deux – Music for Violin & Piano by Bartok; Debussy; Poulenc; Ravel with Polina Leschenko is available now

 


Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s versatility shows itself in her diverse repertoire, ranging from baroque and classical often played on gut strings, to new commissions and re-interpretations of modern masterworks.

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(Artist photo: Julia Wesely)