Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

There was always music being heard at home because both my parents are music lovers but actually playing the piano was introduced relatively late to me. I had many friends my age (8 at the time) who were playing an instrument and so my parents simply thought, why not?

It wasn’t until much later that I realised just what it might mean to be a concert pianist which was when I went to hear the Tchaikovsky first piano concerto at the Royal Festival Hall. The concerto captures your attention from start to finish and you can imagine how impressive it was to a child aged eleven. Of course my reaction then and what thoughts whirled in my head would not be how I hear the concerto now, but I learnt at that moment about the communication of music.

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

My many professors, of course, have all had an impact to my music making. One of my first professors was Christopher Elton. I was at the Purcell School and searching for a new teacher. I was introduced to Christopher and he accepted me in his class but I was this incredibly shy child who didn’t talk much to adults but was determined to make efforts through playing. Christopher was incredibly patient with me, and has, in in a way, been a musical father to me, as he has seen through all my career phases. Many, many years later, we still keep in touch and a friendship has developed since, which is always one of the nicer aspects of a musical relationship.

Then there is Maria Curcio-Diamond, who transmitted so many pearls of wisdom but I was too young to fully appreciate when I studied with her and now refer back to constantly today.

Lev Naumov was just a brilliant mind and musician and I was immensely fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate regularly in his classes.

John Lill has also been influential but I would say that however, it was the years I spent alongside Ruggiero Ricci that has had the most impact with my approach to music making today. He was heralded as a prodigy as a youth, a virtuoso as an adult violinist (a term he disliked) and the first violinist to have recorded all the Paganini Caprices. He was so modest and lived through so many experiences. I would often accompany his students in masterclasses and I learnt so much from watching him teach and from when we played together. There was something so natural and straightforward in his music making. It’s something I have tried to transmit in my own performances. It was also these years spent with Ricci that opened many doors for me, notably by meeting other musicians, some very well known, others less, as well as non-musicians but music lovers who have all had an influence into my approach to performing and life today on and off the concert circuit.

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

Juggling between raising two small children and keeping up with the rhythm of giving concerts have been challenging but extremely rewarding. Before my children, my focus before and during performances would hinge entirely around the concert, but today, now with my children, I am somewhere in the back of mind, thinking, “I hope they had a good day at school, I hope they have eaten well, I hope they are sleeping well”. The usual worries all parents have!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Always wanting to improve on the last performance/recording is a common trait in performers and I share this!

Of course there have been certain performances that have been more satisfying than others, not only in terms of my particular performance, but also when the audience is so reactive and appreciative, it is a very special moment. I really appreciate also when sometimes members of the public write to me following a performance to let me know how much they enjoyed that particular concert or how much they enjoyed the last album.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

In giving an interpretation to any one work, I really try to show what might be new to discover in the piece. In this sense, I think I convey Beethoven quite well. The French composers also seem to suit me; maybe it’s being married to someone French!

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

What’s great about mixing chamber, duo and solo repertoire in a season is that there is an abundance of choice! It’s common these days to link a theme to a programme so that gives me a certain guideline. Otherwise for concerto dates, it’s quite often what the promoter has in mind for the season alongside the choice from the conductor so I need to be quite flexible for these dates.

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

Of the more well known venues, like many other performers, I would have to say the Wigmore Hall. Its reputation precedes it and the hall doesn’t disappoint. That said, there is a venue in France called Prieuré Sainte-Marie du Vilar that has to be included. It is a restored Romanian Orthodox Church, lost in the middle of the Pyrénées Orientales, and each year the monks and nuns organise a music festival for the community. The rawness of the venue and being surrounded by the stones impregnated with history gives a very unique atmosphere.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I gave a series of concerts in Greece and one of the venues was in Patras. What was most striking about the make-up of this audience was that it was treated as a family outing. The children were all placed in the front rows, some not abiding by the ‘silence code’ of a concert, but it didn’t matter. At the end of each work, they applauded enthusiastically and seemed to enjoy the concert as much as the adults. It reminded me of my first impressions of attending performances and I hope I was able to communicate something to them with the Mozart concerto that I performed at the time.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you feel you have found your voice and you have the opportunities to express this.

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

Never be afraid to be wrong and learn from everyone. Watch and watch and listen and listen again. There is so much archive available on the internet today. It’s important, I think, to be open to all interpretations and techniques of playing before creating and defining your own.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Two answers to this question. It would be either to find the time between concerts and practice for a good dance session with my husband and children because we always end up by collapsing in laughter. Otherwise it would be to take time out from playing to be by the sea with the family and catch up reading and a good glass of wine to hand.


Min-Jung Kym’s debut recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 and Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto is available now. Further information

Min-Jung Kym is establishing herself as an artist bringing fresh quality and musicianship to her performances. Since her London solo concert debut at the age of just 12, she has performed at the Barbican Centre, Wigmore Hall, Cadogan Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, UNESCO in Paris, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul, South Korea and many, many other venues.

www.minjungkym.com


(artist photo: Arno MiseEnavant)

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

It was mainly the incredible Dizzy Gillespie who taught me how fantastic the trumpet can be! 

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

Definitely Dizzy, but also many other musicians – Queen,  also Trevor Pinnock, and many violin virtuosos who helped me understand song-like communication through an instrument 

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

The lack of Classical repertoire for the solo trumpet… and finding adequate time to mindfully practice and the courage to perform in front of audiences and at the front of symphony orchestras. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I was so proud of creating GABRIEL at Shakespeare’s Globe in 2013. It was everything I adore about music: the greatest material one can imagine in the music of Purcell and Handel, the delightful opportunity to work for an extended period with the English Concert,  also to work for the first tine with very fine actors and explore a different kind of attitude and camaraderie on stage than anything I’d experienced before. Happily we’re restarting it as a concert performance at Saffron Hall and the Barbican later this month. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

That’s not really for me to say! But I think over the years and over many many performances I finally know what I’m doing – or ideally would like to be doing with the two mainstays of the repertoire: Haydn’s and Hummel’s trumpet concertos. They are less of a display of short term technique and more of a vehicle of expression of who you are as a person through the instrument. 

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

It’s pretty organic – it’s a mixture of conversations that rapidly take off (or don’t, and go on a slow burn!) and long standing relationships with beloved orchestras and conductors. Inspiration taken from all over the place too which is where the next album starts. 

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

I’m quite keen on all the main UK venues as I have such a long history with them, and they bring back fond memories each time I visit, but I do love magical settings such as the Hollywood Bowl and Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie. 

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The last night of the Proms will always be a big personal highlight 

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being totally inside the music and living each moment in the present, with nothing hampering what you want to say – technique, distractions, doubts, random sticky valves etc. ! 

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

Keep listening to live music and going to concerts to remind you why this is such a brilliant, powerful, relevant, important, beautiful thing in a human’s life and why you should keep on searching for those memorable, spine tingling occurrences. 

Alison Balsom performs in Gabriel at London’s Barbican Hall on 21 October as part of her Artist-in-Residence series. Further information

Her new album Royal Fireworks is released worldwide on 8 November on Warner Classics


Alison Balsom has performed with some of the greatest conductors and orchestras of our time including Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Sir Roger Norrington, l’Orchestre de Paris, San Francisco and Toronto Symphony Orchestras, Philadelphia Orchestra, New York and London Philharmonic orchestras, and has appeared as soloist at the Last Night of the BBC Proms. She regularly collaborates with some of the world’s leading chamber ensembles including the Academy of Ancient Music, Il Pomo d’Oro, The English Concert and most recently The Balsom Ensemble (a handpicked group of leading Baroque soloists). Alison is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including Gramophone Artist of the Year, the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Award, three Echo Klassik Awards and three Classic BRIT awards (two of which as Female Artist of the Year).

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

I didn’t have any intention to do it early on. I was training as a ballet dancer, with the hopes of pursuing that professionally, but had also been studying the piano since I was very small, and composition at the local university since I was 14. So, when injuries and illness put an end to ballet, just after I started full-time training, I enrolled in a music degree, as I couldn’t face going back to complete high school. The wonderful professor who’d been teaching me composition was also head of conducting. He saw those two disciplines as complimentary threads, and knew I had a strong interest in harmony and analysis and had conducted a little at school, so encouraged me to add it to my degree. It just grew from there.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

I am enormously, and endlessly, inspired by my husband, Jon Hargreaves – a contemporary music specialist, and my co-Artistic Director at Nevis Ensemble. Every project he creates is rigorously and creatively thought-out, and his ability to open up complex music to players of every experience level is second to none.

My grandmother Louise Carroll was a very important formative influence. She was a superb pianist as a young woman, but had to turn down a scholarship to study in London due to a pregnancy. She married my grandfather and channelled her musical energies into teaching and motherhood instead. I started harmony, piano and composition with her when I was about 4 years old, and fell asleep on many nights to the sound of her playing Medtner, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Nielsen. Any sense of musical style that I can claim to have comes from what I absorbed as I dropped off to sleep, I’m sure. The grounding she gave me in harmony is the foundation of everything that I do.

Lastly, when I first arrived in the UK, I worked for two years as the librarian at the Philharmonia. Happy, exhausting years. I learnt so much from watching and talking to Esa-Pekka, Maazel, Dohnanyi etc, but also through my discussions with the players, many of whom are now amongst my dearest friends. They were generous, insightful and caring teachers.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

At the moment, the greatest challenge is the anxiety. It can be crippling, and some orchestras really enjoy making the conductor suffer! I do better work when I’m with ensembles that are healthy and happy in spirit, and don’t project so much negativity onto the podium, because I can be very sensitive to it. But even with the friendliest band, the first rehearsal can be terrifying. Imposter syndrome is widespread in the music world, especially among conductors I think, and we all cope with it differently.

On the flip side, when you find that wonderful working rhythm with a group, to the point you can throw ideas at each other in the performance, and play together in quite an improvisatory way, it is pure gold. That interaction and level of communal creative responsibility is a beautiful thing. Also, actually meeting audience members, going to chat with people and have a cuppa after the concert is great – a powerful reminder of who we do it all for, but also how significant connectedness is to the arts. Doing perfect music “at” people and then leaving without any personal connection is far less satisfying to me than making whatever adjustments and measures are necessary to actually involve people, and find out why music is significant to them. Live music is a far more potent social lubricant than alcohol, and it is the doing of it, the sharing of it as an experience, wherein lies the magic.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

This is a tricky one… Of course, there is an ideal scenario that we’re all taught to speak of in hushed tones, in which we have weeks or even months to prepare a major score, and craft an analysis; enough rehearsal time to forge a gripping realisation of it; and divinely-inspired technique with which to communicate it. Utter b*ll*cks, really. A 19th-century fantasy. In reality, for 99% of working conductors, especially those of us in the early stages of our careers, we are tearing through scores with barely enough time to process them on even a basic level; spending much of our time working (happily!) with young people and non-professionals who require a totally different, and far from ideal, physical gesture to help them through; and when we are with a good professional band playing repertoire with a capital R, a significant portion of the rehearsal period involves allowing the orchestra to play you THEIR version of the piece. Hear the knowledge and experience of the piece that they bring to the room, listen to the sound they enjoy making, work out who in the room is central to their playing style, assess the relationship between the string principals, and work out whether the principal bass and timpanist listen to each other (hot tip: if not, the best conducting technique in the world can’t save you or them.) You can then add your contribution to the pot, and hopefully it will be a valuable one, but at the end of the day, this is their performance, their hard work and their energy being channelled.

As I was writing this, I thought “maybe it’s different for the elite conductors at the top of the food chain”? After all, the higher a conductor rises in the industry, the more specialised and narrow their repertoire tends to become, and the more easily they can turn down extra gigs, so of course they will know it in far greater depth. But also, I’ve watched many a 5-star maestro sight-read one of the pieces in the first rehearsal. By the second play, the really brilliant ones will have something helpful to say at every point of the piece. They think on their feet and ascertain immediately how to be of use. That is true virtuosity, in a weird kind of way!

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

Well, perhaps this is answered already above. But for a more pithy soundbite, I’d say our role is to be useful, in whatever way is needed in that specific situation. That might be helping the orchestra understand the piece, if it’s unfamiliar repertoire; but often it’s a far more practical role of knowing how to put out the fires when needed, and keeping the orchestra’s nose pointing in the right direction. With a really good orchestra, the most helpful thing you can do is get the jet off the ground, then let the engine (the players!) fly. 99% of the time, they really don’t need you – or, at least, your contribution is no better than anything they can do themselves, so do your best to keep it minimal and worthwhile. I always feel sad when really young conductors get thrown straight into the A-list orchestras, because they never really learn the skills required for those earlier scenarios – nor do they get to experience the genuine satisfaction of performing when you really are needed. The big bands will play brilliantly regardless of your posturing on the podium; but you can do serious damage in other situations, if you’ve not really learnt how to roll your sleeves up, listen deeply and rehearse effectively.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

The operas by Schreker and Korngold are at the top of my dream-list. Highly impractical. Utterly lush.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

We regularly take Nevis Ensemble to the Nan MacKay Memorial Hall – a lovely little community centre in South Glasgow with a full-time programme of activities and resources for anyone in the community in need of company; the elderly, people with social issues, recent newcomers from the refugee community come together to grow veggies, play mah-jong and do craft and exercise classes. There’s barely enough room for the orchestra to set up, and I need to stand on a coffee table in order for the brass and winds to see me. The audience sit around us with bowls of crisps, and there’s always a spread of food afterwards that would make your gran proud. But the energy in the room is like a carnival, and we always meet some really interesting people there. It’s impossible to go there and not come out beaming and full of hope for humanity.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite musicians are the incredible amateur music-makers who are the backbone of musical life in this country. Composers…? Well, Schreker and Korngold are high on the list, obviously! I have pretty broad tastes, but some lurid late Romanticism, just on the brink of early Modernism, will always set me purring.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not needing to do it – I don’t mean financially, but… spiritually. If my right arm fell off tomorrow and I had to change careers, I’d be quite excited about getting to choose something new and fresh. I take that as an indication that my relationship to my work is quite healthy. The day that balance shifts too far in the other direction is the day I should retire.

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

1. Perfection should not be the end we’re after; it’s far more satisfying to an audience to witness curious, brave musicians who are on a journey with a piece than virtuosity with no value beyond itself. You’ll also grow into a performer (and human) of greater depth and flexibility by challenging yourself in that way. So, don’t sweat the small stuff in a performance; your job is to invite the orchestra and audience into your process, not show them how clever you are.

2. Every single aspect of your life as a musician is a construct. Question it all!

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

Somewhere with mountains nearby, and a work-life balance that allows me to adopt a dog!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking up in a remote, wild part of the world, and peering out of the tent to find Jon brewing a cup of earl grey tea on the billy. Bliss, though I’m not sure he’d agree.

What is your most treasured possession?

I love my Xbox for evenings when I don’t need to study, and we have a beloved collection of tea mugs, all of which have a personal story behind them. So, basically, anything in the house, the function of which intersects with my slippers and the sofa…

What is your present state of mind?

Two things:

1. Exhausted. It’s been a long season and I only get 2 weeks off before it all starts again.

2. Content! I’m having a ball touring the Scottish Highlands and Islands with Scottish Chamber Orchestra this week. They’re lovely people and superb colleagues.


New Zealand-born Holly Mathieson is an award-winning conductor, regularly working with opera houses, ballet companies and orchestras in Europe, Australasia and North America. She frequently records for BBC Radio, and her first major commercial recording with Decca will be released in July 2019. Her work has seen her travel to nearly every continent on the planet, and perform for audiences spanning from the British Royal Family and Europe’s political elites, to Scotland’s homeless and refugee communities. She is the founder and artistic director of Rata Music Collective, and Co-Artistic Director of the Nevis Ensemble with Jon Hargreaves.

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Calling female musicians, composers and conductors to take part in the Meet the Artist interview series

 

Established in 2012 by blogger Frances Wilson (“The Cross-Eyed Pianist”), Meet the Artist is a series of interviews in which musicians, conductors and composers discuss aspects of their creative lives, including inspirations, influences, repertoire, performance, recording, significant teachers and more. The interviews offer revealing insights into the musician’s working life and each one provides advice to young or aspiring musicians.

The interview takes the form of a short questionnaire. Originally hosted entirely on the The Cross-Eyed Pianist site, the series has grown in popularity to such an extent that it now has its own dedicated website.

If you would like to take part in the Meet the Artist series, please download an interview questionnaire and return it to Frances Wilson (contact details on questionnaire).

Meet the Artist questionnaire – musician/performer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Composer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Conductor

AKMI Duo are Valentine Michaud (saxophone) and Akvilé Sileikaité (piano)

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

VM: I chose the saxophone in the first place for a very simple reason: with such a golden instrument, it was love at first sight! I was 7 at the time and I knew 3 or 4 years later that music would be a huge part of my life. I had a fantastic first teacher who really transmitted his strong passion for his art and provided me with incredible opportunities for my first concert tours and groups. He really made me want to be a musician. I received the first instrument of my own at the age of 11 and I am still playing on the very same saxophone today.

AS: As I remember, we always had piano at home and I was quite curious as a child to try it. I received my first lessons from my mother, as she is piano teacher. I guess this is quite a typical beginning for the majority of musicians, but it was also so for me. I do not know how I started to build my musical career;  maybe I had brilliant teachers, and my parents supporting me. Maybe it is my passion for what I am doing, but it is definitely making me thrilled and excited.

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

VM: My first teacher, Slava Kazykin, was a very big influence in the beginning, as he taught me the basics of the saxophone, but also the joy that music making can give. Then I met other teachers who all had an important impact on my artistic vision, such as my two last teachers in Switzerland, Pierre-Stéphane Meugé, who initiated me into the strange world of contemporary music, and Lars Mlekusch, who helped me flourish as an artist with a real identity, and encouraged my interests in trans-disciplinary performances. But also of course the friends that I meet, the ones that I hear perform, and the ones with whom I’ve played, such as my duo partner Akvile Sileikaite, and also the travels have had a strong influence on my musical path.

AS: My family’s support, teachers, people I’m playing with, people I’m meeting, music itself.

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

VM: I think one of the biggest challenges of a musician’s career is the organizational side of it. Nowadays probably even more than fifty years ago, a musician has to be multi-faceted, and has to manage very different things at the same time: communication, planning, traveling, programming, teaching, and of course practicing, without mentioning obviously performing! All this requires a lot of energy and you can never take real ‘holidays’ from it. Also, as a classical saxophone player, I face the challenge of convincing people that this instrument has its place in the classical music world, even if it is not so well-known yet. And as the repertoire for the instrument is very contemporary, I also need to present to as broad an audience as possible pieces that are not especially ‘friendly’ to listen to, and make them love it!

AS: I have to force myself sometimes to not be lazy and just practice. This can be challenging! On a more serious note, the greatest challenge I find is the music itself because it is something that you need to express, literally, getting your feelings, thoughts, expressions, yourself naked in front of the other people, the audience, in a way that they would feel it and believe in it, believe in music, in their own feelings. To do this in every concert is challenging. I also find it the greatest experience because it’s unique every time you go on stage.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

VM: Performances can always be perfected of course… but one performance I remember was our AKMI Duo debut concert in the Lucerne Festival in 2017. It was not perfect, but we really enjoyed our time on stage as the connection between us and the audience was very strong and the atmosphere there was very special.

AS: The ones when I feel the audience is almost not breathing. And the ones which people remember and are excited to share their feelings about afterwards.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

VM: I am definitely more at ease with modern repertoire, virtuosic and highly rhythmical pieces that demand a lot of energy. Romantic pieces are not really my cup of tea…

AS: Denisov and Albright sonatas for saxophone and piano with Valentine.

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

VM: I always try to find a balance between modern pieces, new music, new commissions, and transcriptions, so that our programmes in recital are varied and can demonstrate the incredibly wide range of possibilities of my instrument. I often have ideas when going to concerts to hear colleagues, not necessarily saxophone players. Also, if I have a more trans-disciplinary performance in the season, then the programme is determined by the content of the show.

AS: It varies, from trying to choose the best pieces from the repertoire of the particular instrument I’m playing with, to pieces less-frequently played. Both so that people can enjoy and find something new for them. It is also sometimes very much dependent on a concert organiser’s wishes.

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

VM: I don’t have a particular one, but I do prefer the smaller halls: they have a human dimension that I like, and I find it easier to connect with the audience and really share something stronger. When the audience is really far away or sitting really high in balconies, it is much more difficult for me (at least until at the moment!).

Who are your favourite musicians?

VM: I have a lot! There are many musicians that I admire, not necessarily classical ones. I also love artists who are multi-faceted or really committed to contemporary music, as I think this is very important. And of course the people I play with are among my favourite musicians! But for the big names, it could range from Barbara Hannigan or Patricia Kopatchinskaja to Michael Jackson, Queen or Charlie Parker…

AS: Valentine obviously, then Mirga Gražinyte, Parvo Järvi, Martin Grubinger, Fabian Ziegler, Asmik Grigorian, Hilary Hahn, Kian Soltani and many others. These are the names that come into my head first, there are so many I admire. I still have a secret wish to play with some of them.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

VM: There were many funny or epic experiences through the years… maybe a funny one was in Moscow. Akvile and I were playing a duo recital and programmed a humorous Swiss contemporary piece. We had to speak a text before each movement, and an old woman in the audience started to stand up and complain that we shouldn’t be talking during the concert, and that she didn’t need explanations. I don’t speak Russian, so I didn’t understand what was the matter. Akvile was trying to answer the woman from the stage and they were debating about it while I was just standing on stage wondering what was happening. Then other people in the audience started to take part to this animated discussion. The scene was really absurd. In the end we started playing again but the woman stood up and left with great noise and slamming the door of the hall. So far this is the one and only time I had such a scandalous performance!

AS: My debut at Lucerne Festival. Or if an interesting story, a little scandal Valentine and I had in Moscow when playing contemporary music. We performed a piece by R.Gubler, called “Very Important Things”, a piece that needed us to ‘describe’ the subject we are going to perform, preferably in the language of the country we were playing in. So in the middle of the composition, one lady stood up and said in Russian that we don’t need to explain every subject, people knew what we were doing. Then someone shouted her back that she was disturbing the performance. I tried gently to explain that this was part of the piece and the composers required us to do it. Quite an interesting discussion started then we just continued to play. Then in the middle of our playing, the first lady stood up, said something like “I cannot stand it anymore” and left the hall closing the doors as loudly as possible. I guess she didn’t like the piece so much…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

VM: I think to succeed is when you make people feel better when you play. Smiles on the faces of my audience are the best rewards, and to see wide open eyes of children as I play is probably one of the best feelings ever.

AS: Working hard, meeting people, not forgetting to invest to “yourself” by reading, attending galleries and concerts, and having hobbies.

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

VM: As a teacher, I try to give to my students a taste of the joy of playing music can be. Curiosity is also a very important concept to me, to keep an open-minded spirit and to be interested in all kind of arts, not just in your instrument, not just in classical music, and not just in music in general. Of course, working hard and always trying to be better than your yesterday-self is also a very important idea. And sharing is also one of the most important things to me. I don’t think a selfish person can be a truly good musician…

AS: Believe in what you are doing, have goals and enjoy the process of reaching them. And practice.

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

VM: On a stage, surrounded by friends that I like to play with. It doesn’t really matter where!

What is your present state of mind?

VM: At the moment I am extremely enthusiastic and full of energy for what is coming up in the next months! I have many very exciting projects to come and I can’t wait for it!

AS: Trying to enjoy everything I am doing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

AS: Family, enjoying the process of learning, playing and being on stage and having time for myself and holidays.

What is your most treasured possession?

AS: People around me, ideas and arts.

 

AKMI Duo won this year’s Swiss Ambassador’s Award and embark on a UK concert tour from 15 October at Wigmore Hall, 16 October at Carol Nash Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester and 17 October at Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff


Valentine Michaud and Akvilé Sileikaité first crossed paths in Zurich in 2015; and with that, the AKMI duo was born.

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Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

To be honest, I was forced into the family trade as a musician!  Both of my parents are classical musicians and music teachers, and I started on the piano at age 3, violin at 6, and cello at 7.  Playing music and performing was a mandatory activity but it wasn’t until I was 18 and moved to Los Angeles to go to university (studying Classical Cello Performance) at USC when I started really pursuing ways to make my own music and just work as a cellist in order to pay the bills.  I did a lot of work as a session musician and hired gun, and it helped me learn and familiarize myself with all genres of music, but my main love and obsession has always been Industrial Metal.  I’m lucky that my ‘day job’ of being a session musician has a lot of crossover with my own music.

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

Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, System of a Down and Jaqueline du Pré – she was amazing!

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

At the beginning of my career when I had just moved to Los Angeles, I had exactly $0 to my name and didn’t own an instrument (the cello and bow I used were on loan to me while I was in university by a foundation).  It was extremely difficult to get by as I had no outside financial help.  I remember putting up ads daily on musician classifieds online and playing with any band or artist that was wiling to pay $50 for a rehearsal and show, and I played in every club on Sunset Strip.  I taught music students for $20 a hour, and played cello at endless weddings, funerals, Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs etc.  Even though I had a full scholarship for tuition to USC, it didn’t cover living expenses,  additional school expenses like books, etc., so I amassed a good amount of student loans and credit card debt for the 2½ years I was attending.   After 2½ years of school, I left since I wasn’t able to balance performing/working and going to school full time, and I decided to go 100% into music.   It wasn’t until after 7 years of grinding away as a session musician, living in a garage with no kitchen, heat or air  conditioning to be able to make payments on the 1880 Gand & Bernardel Cello I purchased using an instrument loan and 3 credit card advances, multiple failed metal band projects, and using what little money I made to buy music equipment so I could record and self-release my own music, that I was finally offered a position as a soloist with Cirque du Soleil on Electric Cello.

I toured with the Michael Jackson ‘THE IMMORTAL’ World Tour for two years from 2011-2013, and during those years I only had 2 suitcases of belongings and saved religiously, spending only $20 a week. I started taking online courses in investing and began purchasing stocks and investing in Peer-to-Peer lending.  I was able to build a financial foundation for myself because of that opportunity!  I also brought along my studio equipment on the road to continue doing recording sessions for composer and producer clients, and also composed/released 3 of my own albums during that period.  I think being able to figure out how to survive financially has been a major struggle, as well as identifying a clear image of what my own music is, since I love and have delved into so many different genres of music.  During my years in university, I did perform as a classical soloist with smaller orchestras, and also enjoyed my work in the studios recording for soundtracks, as well as my own metal projects on which I worked.  Looking back now, all 10 of my albums have been wildly different in style and approach, but I do feel like they are all genuinely me as I explored different parts of my musical self through the years through these recordings and compositions.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud? 

My very first music video, ‘Queen Bee’ which was from my album THE JOURNEY is something I’m very proud of!  That music video led to me being offered the position with Cirque du Soleil, and also working with Hans Zimmer after he saw it on YouTube.  I was in the early stages of exploring my own version of Industrial Metal Cello – inspired heavily by the band Rammstein and Marilyn Manson – and used  something a bit obvious as the base (the Flight of the Bumble Bee) but felt like that artistically and stylistically the video is truly *me* at my essence.  I was very lucky to work with an amazing team for that video!  To finance it, I spent every penny I had  as I told myself it would be my last “hurrah” at trying to pursue Industrial Metal.  It took a bit of a different turn as I suddenly was approached by composers here in Los Angeles to record my “metal style” cello on their soundtracks after the video was released.  I feel like 9 years later, it’s worked out perfectly and having the opportunity to perform at WACKEN recently, the biggest metal festival in the world, with two amazing bands SABATON and Beyond the Black, was truly a dream come true.  There are many paths leading to the final destination and I love the path that I have been on, which I never would have guessed!  Having my first adventure into New Age Music nominated for a GRAMMY was a huge surprise

The entire album was recorded in one day, completely improvised with myself and Peter Kater the pianist, never having played together in order to capture the purest form of improvisation and musical meeting.  I’ve played with rappers, country artists, DJs, and musically it has helped me expand so much!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Passionate Romantic-era classical pieces, soundtrack music that is very open to interpretation and Industrial Metal!

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

I am open to anything and everything, and a lot of my musical activity is recording for various soundtrack projects, so the film, tv show, or video game determines the repertoire!  I’ve backed away somewhat from performing classical music with orchestras as I’m trying to focus now more heavily on my own original music projects and compositions.

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

So far, my favorite has been at Wacken Open Air! 125,000 people, amazing wonderful energy, lots of fire and screaming!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The very first time I performed in an arena in Montreal at the premiere of Michael Jackson ‘The Immortal” World Tour – I was so incredibly nervous!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

  1. Being able to make the music you love.
  2. Having financial security so that you are in the mind space and energy to not worry about concerns related to poverty- having been in it, I can tell you that it’s incredibly difficult to be musically inspired and focused when you don’t know how you will pay for your next meal!

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

I am very passionate about entrepreneurship and learning about every aspect of the business side of music as much as possible to educate yourself.  So much knowledge is available to us, for free online, with technology growing and changing at such a fast pace, and so many alternative routes for musicians and creatives to monetize their work.  I have a lot of videos discussing finances, investments, etc., on my YouTube channel if anyone would like to check it out in addition to music videos, concert videos, tutorials, product reviews, and other random things.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My fiancé Rambo and I with our two Fur Babies (our two dogs, Bagel and Pizza) up in the mountains in a cabin with a snow storm outside, fireplace roaring, a Large pepperoni and pineapple pan pizza from Domino’s, coffee, furry Blankets, a big bed and Netlflix on a huge TV!

Tina Guo’s single ‘The Circle of Life’ from The Lion King is available now. More information


Internationally acclaimed, GRAMMY Award-nominated and BRIT Female Artist of the Year-nominated musician Tina Guo has established an international career as a virtuoso acoustic/electric cellist, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and entrepreneur. Known for her unique genre-crossing style, she is one of the most recorded Solo Cellists of all time and can be heard on hundreds of Blockbuster Film, Television, and Game Soundtracks.  In 2018, Tina signed as an official brand partner with Bentley Motors, composing, performing, and producing the launch music for the luxury hybrid vehicle, Bentayga Hybrid.  In 2019, Tina partnered with the Ritz-Carlton to create a soundtrack to the endless possibilities and unforgettable moments experienced at The Ritz-Carlton. Tina will visit four destinations — New Orleans, Dove Mountain, Toronto and Maui — and compose original scores inspired by these dynamic locations.

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