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

I trained initially as a cellist and although I had a number of other interests, it was clear to me from an early point that I would pursue a career in music and also do something with writing or language, perhaps as an avocation. As I was completing my Master of Music degree in performance, it became obvious that the chronic pain I experienced was not going go away, and that I wasn’t going to be able to practice and perform as I had hoped. It turned out that I have fibromyalgia and some related conditions – mostly invisible disabilities that precluded, in my case, being able to practice and rehearse several hours a day and other necessary activities for professional performers. I turned to musicology and theory instead, areas in which I’d always been interested but hadn’t to that point pursued with much depth, and have been very happy and successful working in those disciplines. My PhD work encompassed a number of multi- and interdisciplinary approaches that made me first think that I could expand my writing career into one that drew upon both scholarly and performative elements. Developing a creative practice in addition to my scholarly work has meant that I’m able to work with both music and language at the same time professionally as a musicologist and music theorist and as a librettist and lyricist.

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

Dealing with chronic, often debilitating illness means I have less energy and time available to work than I would like. I have to be careful about pacing myself and getting work done when I’m feeling well.

What led you to start writing libretti?

I had been writing poetry for about three years and had always had an idea that eventually I’d like to collaborate with composers. As a performing musician and later a scholar, I’ve always been interested in opera and the relationships between word and music. Then I read an anecdote about Marie Curie visiting the seaside with her grown daughters and asking them to teach her to swim, and it was immediately clear to me that this could become the basis for an opera – I saw and heard the text of the first scene right away. It became my first opera libretto, ‘Marie Curie Learns to Swim’.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a libretto?

One big challenge is to create a text that singers can perform effectively and well. Libretti need a good balance between language that is very poetic and language that is more prosaic. I’m always reading my text out loud to make sure that I have this balance. I also have to be constantly aware of how my words sound: whether they elide, if they are easy to enunciate clearly, if they require a certain pace or technique to reach the audience. It’s also crucial to have text that moves at different speeds and conveys different emotions. While I’m writing, I think about word length, patterns, breathing, and other aspects of speech and singing. And while all of this is a challenge, it is also one of the things I enjoy most about writing text that will be set to music. I love working with language and words and finding just the right way to phrase things.

How do you approach writing libretti?

I do a lot of research first. With ‘Marie Curie Learns to Swim’, I read biographies of Curie and her family and histories of science and materials about the work she did. I had to make sure words I wanted to use were in existence for the time period of the opera. I’m often doing research all the way through as I’m writing – I always find new things I want to look up or understand better as I’m working. Then I create an outline of acts and scenes and determine how the opera will move from a beginning through various points of tension and activity to a peak and then resolve. I usually start with the beginning of the libretto, but sometimes as I’m writing one section I’ll have ideas for later parts, so I’ll put those in a file to use as I get to the later scenes. I do a good bit of rewriting, sometimes as I go and sometimes after I section is finished and I’ve had some time away from it. The composer can also ask for rewrites or changes, and I’m always open to those.

Is it all about the text, or does the music influence you as you write?

I sometimes have an idea of the kind of soundscape I’d like as I’m working on a scene, but really the music is up to the composer. For a set of song lyrics, my ‘Four Songs for Lady Macbeth’, I did have certain song forms in mind as I wrote. The first song is a shout dirge, which combines a slow, funereal march with the shout-out aspects of gospel music; the last song text is based on the Coventry Carol and composer Jessica Rudman gave it a setting that is rhythmically similar to the traditional carol but melodically very different. In ‘Marie Curie Learns to Swim’, there’s an aria for Pierre Curie that I wanted to have the feel of a patter song—he’s extolling the (dubious) virtues of radium and gets carried away and should sound like a stereotypical used car salesman—and so my concept of the kind of music to which the aria would be set helped shape and color my text.

How do you work?

While I’ll sometimes write out ideas or make notes by hand, I mostly work in my home office using a laptop with an external keyboard and mouse and two monitors. My disability sometimes prevents me from typing easily, so I use dictation software at times. The dual monitor set-up lets me do research while I have documents open and makes working more efficient. If I’m writing free verse or working on scholarly projects, I can listen to music while I work, but if I’m working on something with a strict metrical form, I work in quiet. When you have an office at home like I do, it can be easy for work to spill over into the rest of life, so I keep to a regular schedule of working during the day on weekdays only.

In your creative process, which part do you enjoy the most? And the least?

I most enjoy the actual writing – working with words, finding the best ways of describing or communicating things – and the research. As part of the research process, I’m continually learning, and the new knowledge I acquire opens up new expanses of language for me, and I find that exciting. I suppose the aspect I like the least is feeling disorganized about projects. I like to have very well-organized work times and spaces, even in my mind, and when I have too many things going on at once or am over-committed, it’s an unpleasant feeling, like I’ll somehow lose ideas or phrases because I can’t put them down as they develop.

As someone who works in the sphere of music, what is your definition of success?

If a performer or audience member or reader tells me that my words have moved them, or affected them, or made them happy, or taught them something, or that they enjoyed reading or singing or hearing my words, that’s success.

How do you view the current position of women in music and academia, and what are your hopes for the future?

I think that while there is increasing awareness of the bias against women and the problematic ways women are treated in music and in academic music departments, we have a long way to go. I want to see a world in which women and non-binary people and composers of colour are represented on every concert program, in which both the academy and the concert world acknowledge the importance of inclusivity, in which everyone acknowledges the inequities of the past and is invested in changing the culture.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic. I’m seeing and involved in a number of projects that are addressing the problems of inequity in music, and am encouraged by the enthusiasm with which these initiatives are being met. I’m also working on scholarly and creative projects that seek to reframe our understanding of creative histories, and speak to audiences in fresh and, I hope, revelatory ways.

‘The Harbingers’ by Rossa Crean premieres in Chicago on 31 October 2019. The new work, which was written by Kendra Leonard, tells the story of different cultural figures of death who convene on Halloween Night to pass judgment on the fate of a recently deceased soul. More information and tickets

Kendra Preston Leonard is a musicologist and music theorist whose work focuses on women and music in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries; and music and screen history, particularly music and adaptations of Shakespeare; and a librettist and poet.

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

My second singing teacher at Salo Music College. I was 14 or 15. Not particularly sure if I liked music as hobby. Parents were pushing.  Opera was in no way on my list of things I liked.

Then came this lovely teacher. Matti Pelo. He understood, had a good sense of psychology, was a good teacher. I started making progress with him.

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

My two teachers. In the beginning Liisa Linko-Malmio at Sibelius Academy, and since 1984, Vera Rozsa in London.

Later my first agent Diana Mulgan, a wise lady and a perfect manager for this young singer. At the start she concentrated on mostly turning down crazy offers that would have definitely ruined me.

Later still, some conductors and some stage directors who taught me so much.

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

“My own own worst enemy”, meaning mostly struggling with myself – confidence and not believing in myself. I have been lucky to have had a lot of support from people around me.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My 3 favourites will probably always be:
German Arias with Sir Colin Davis with Dresdner Staatskapelle
Four Last Songs (live rec) with Claudio Abbado
My 40th Birthday Recording with Jukka-Pekka Saraste and the Finnish Radio Orchestra.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Slavic repertoire feels my stuff, Janáček particularly. Wagner feels right and gives me sheer pleasure to sing it. Also Richard Strauss.
Finnish repertoire remains my speciality: Sibelius, Madetoja, Kuula. Saariaho.

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

It depends on what is offered to me. Singer needs to work; I need to sing. So I choose from what I am offered. Opera houses of course know my repertoire. So it works smoothly. For example, switching to new roles is possible when the organizers are kept informed about changes I’m making.  My management does that.

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

Oh, there are so many. Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall, Gulbenkian, Royal Albert Hall, Palais Garnier, Rudolfinum, Tampere-talo. Love my ”home hall” in Naples, Florida; Artis—Naples.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

So many. All concerts with Claudio Abbado. Jiří Bělohlávek.
Maybe my 40th Birthday concert at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. The concerts in my native Finland feel always special. The audience there knows me, has followed my career the longest.

Impossible question!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I feel I connect with my audience. When I find the ”zone” and the audience comes along. Time stops.

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

Home. Lots.
Giving master classes occasionally. Maybe giving private lessons. Coaching young singers.
Maybe still singing the Countess of Pique Dame.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Every day is different. But one thing is above all else: health.

Keeping loving people. Giving love. I feel I have plenty. Gratitude.

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

What is your present state of mind?

All over the place. (Post divorce state. Temporary, I hope.) Work is my blessing.

In demand by every major opera house and festival, the lyric beauty of Karita Mattila’s voice and her innate sense of theatre set her apart as one of the most sought-after dramatic sopranos in the world today.

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(artist photo: Harrison Parrott)


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.


(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