Q: What made you want to or influenced you to become a concert violinist?
A: I was always obsessed with the sound of the violin. There is something intangible about the exquisite but deeply human sound that resonated with me on a deeper level. Even as a toddler I wanted to create that. Being on stage and performing was secondary and a by-product of that urge to create beauty.
Q: What is your favourite part of performing? Some artists say it’s the preparation leading up to a performance or the rush during the performance. What’s yours?
A: I can’t say there is one single thing. Every performance is different. You are working with diverse performers which makes a different synergy each time. Each piece is different and therefore each preparation a different journey – sometimes a meditative, slow exploration and sometimes a frantic sprint to learn something under time constraints. Each performance venue is different and has its own quirks which you have to respond to. For me, the most important thing is always the musical and personal connection with the people you are working with and to connect with them and with the audience. If that can happen in a beautiful venue with good acoustics and facilities, then it’s an added bonus. It’s incredible when all of those things come together.
Q: The inevitable deserted island question… You’re on a deserted island with your violin and you can only have 5 pieces of music. What are they?
A: Bach D minor Partita. Always no.1 for me. If I could cheat and have the entire solo Bach Sonatas and Partitas book, that would be great…! No.2 would probably be Beethoven violin concerto; no.3 I think would probably be the entire Ysaye solo Sonatas. The rest – I would say that I would like to work on theory, composition, improvisation and my jazz chops. I’d ask for the recommendation of the best book on jazz theory and various recordings to support my improvisation practise.
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
A: No prizes for guessing that it would have to be my violin!
Q: The Piccadilly Sinfonietta is a chamber ensemble of only 8 players. What are the challenges of leading an ensemble of that size? What are the rewarding or surprising elements of performing in a chamber ensemble?
A: I love the intimacy of working with chamber ensembles. Each individual player brings their own style and really affects the performance in a way that isn’t so obvious in a larger ensemble.
Q: What is your most memorable concert experience?
A: There have been so many incredible and varied experiences, I find it impossible to pick one. A recent concert that sticks in my mind was performing Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending in St Martin-in-the-Fields with Warren Mailley-Smith (Piccadilly Sinfonietta’s Artistic Director). It was my last performance before the lockdown due to Coronavirus. I was really aware this was probably going to be my last time on stage for a really long time. St Martin’s is a beautiful place to play anyway and in the candlelight it is particularly atmospheric. There was a special atmosphere with the audience, who also recognised it was probably the last time they would be able to attend live music for the foreseeable future. I think Warren and I felt every note in a particularly focussed and memorable way that evening. There was one of the longest silences that I remember after we played the last note, before the applause started. I think we collectively held our breathe and sighed together, not wanted the moment to end.
I have also been lucky to work a lot bringing to music to those with little, or no access to live music – in prisons, care-homes, hospitals, special schools and dementia patients. There have been countless moving experiences from these concerts. For example, dementia patients who have lost the ability to speak will suddenly burst into song – and sing all the words! Their carers and any family who are there are often speechless themselves then! There was one particular concert where we were doing an interactive concert for adults with special needs, there was one lady – Angie - who had never uttered a word, not managed to sign, for the whole of her life. We put signs to go with the music that we were playing – harmonics were butterflies, pizzicato was falling rain etc so that they could interact when we were playing. Angie started to make the sign for rain as we played the pizzicato. The carers all started crying.
These experiences are transformative – not least for us musicians and truly life-changing. The power of live music, the life-enhancing properties are proved to me again and again.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges in your career so far?
A: There are many challenges. One constant challenge is self-doubt. But of course there are many others. At this moment in time – I am writing in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis – we are facing an unprecedented time. I have had all my concerts cancelled for the foreseeable future. The financial implications are terrifying and the insecurity of what we do is laid bare.
Q: In a concert setting, what is your definition of success?
A: I would say, firstly, that the performers I am working with enjoy the experience, but secondly – and most importantly - to move the audience. In my practise, I aim for perfection. On stage, I hope that the aim from my practise has put things securely in place to be able to forget that the notes are even there and just to focus on the message of the composer and on the emotions of the music. That is what I believe is important as an artist. As Beethoven said: “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.”
Q: For someone of any age who is thinking of learning a musical instrument, what are some words of advice you have for them?
A: Do it! Stick at it! Even when you are thinking of giving up, keep going! There is so much reward from it – unquantifiable rewards! Neurologically, socially, spiritually….. It is such a gift to be able to play and to share music.
Q: In scary or unsure times, what keeps you going?
A: I always return to the sound of the violin and the allure of that timbre. I also believe the arts have the power to make positive change in our lives. When the lockdown period has ended, this mission will be more important than ever.