Category Archives: Music

Summer at The Banff Centre

If there is one place in the world that could remind you about ‘the bigger picture’ in life, it’s the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity.  And if there was ever a moment when this reminder was especially important, I think right now is it!  In this era of Trump, Brexit, racism, sexism, prejudice, social division and everything else, I find it all too easy to get lost, to forget what’s really meaningful and why it is that I do what I do.  However, having just spent a couple of weeks with some of the most interesting, creative and intelligent minds on the planet, in one of the most breathtaking-ly beautiful places on earth, I feel completely inspired and reinvigorated.  I have come away from my experience with bucket-loads of new ideas and a renewed drive to bring them forward into my work, and I can’t WAIT to start sharing them here on my blog!!

In case you didn’t know, the Banff Centre is an artists’ hub, a platform for creativity and imagination, a space to work and put your ideas and projects into action, and I think it must be the closest thing to paradise that there is!  It is like a campus where anyone who is interested in ‘creating’ can go – whether you are a musician, a dancer, a writer, a poet, a literary journalist, a photo journalist… And it provides all the facilities and resources that you could possibly imagine and more!  Something that I really loved about my experience there this summer was the connections and friendships made between the different disciplines; dancers became involved in contemporary music performances, journalists sat in on rehearsals and interviewed other artists, I got to work directly with composers and perform their music.  Sharing different perspectives in this way was so inspiring, and I feel like this is something that can be very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to do in ‘normal’ day-to-day life.

Banff is full of wildlife!

It is said that your experience of something, however good or bad, is made by the people with whom you share it, and the people whom I got to meet and work with at Banff definitely made my time there incredibly special, in so many ways.   These are musicians who have all taken the paths and led their lives in directions that I dream of.  They are the risk-takers, the ones who take a chance on an idea, are never satisfied with something that isn’t great or isn’t what they believe in.  I have increasingly felt over the past few years, as I have come to the end of my ‘student’ days, that there is an expected or normal route that I should be taking, and that all of my colleagues around me are following.  And it has given me so much angst and grief because it is NOT what I want, which in turn has made me question my whole career choice and even my life decisions.  But being able to spend time with musicians who feel the same way I do has shown me that there is more out there, there are so many options and if you have a fire and if you believe in what you do, then you can make them happen.

But I don’t want to get all airy-fairy here!  It’s not all about ‘chasing your dreams’ and believing that good things will come if you just wait for them.  The artists that I met at Banff talked about how to be savvy, how to have a business mind, what exactly needs to be done in order to realise your goals, and these were some of the most important lessons I took away from Banff.  Even being coached on things like how to speak to my colleagues, how to have meetings, what exactly the important points of discussion are – these are all hugely important in life but when have we ever been taught these things?!

I attended the Banff Centre once before, five years ago, when I had the opportunity to spend a month at the masterclasses there.  This was a whole other amazing experience in itself, but since then the music programme at Banff has been completely redesigned, offering a totally new style of residency for all different musicians, and this year was the first in its new format.  Led by new co-artistic directors, the fantastically inspiring Claire Chase and Steven Schick, this summer I attended the brand new ARC Chamber Music Residency. From day one, Claire told us that she was looking to design a programme that would be completely separate from typical masterclass-style festivals, something that was very far away from a ‘school’ structured curriculum.  Her idea of the new programme at Banff was to give total artistic freedom to the participants, and to give us the space to play whatever music we wanted in whatever form we wanted.   It was up to us to create our own timetable, plan our own repertoire and rehearsals, decide what we wanted to perform and when.  I have never been put in such a liberating setting as this, and I can honestly say that during the programme, I felt so artistically fulfilled and had a real sense of purpose.

I thought I might write a (somewhat) brief account of what a typical day for me in the ARC Chamber Music Residency at the Banff Centre looked like, although each day was totally different so I will just give a general overview as an example!  I would wake up at about 8am and grab some AMAZING breakfast in one of the restaurants that overlooks the mountains.  At around 8:30 a few people would meet for the daily morning hike up Tunnel Mountain, whose trail leaves directly from campus.  The hike takes about 30 mins to go up and 20 to come down, with an inevitable few minutes at the top to just sit and take in what you are seeing.  I remember one time sitting up there and saying to a friend how difficult I found it to be really present, in that moment, looking at those awesome mountains – it felt overwhelmingly unreal – so this was something that I was continually striving to achieve; total awareness of the present.  Rehearsals started as soon as we got back, and for me these varied between Haydn Quartets, Beethoven Quartets, Boulez ‘Livre’ for string quartet and quartets that I was working on with composers themselves – I got to work with Marcos Balter on his quartet called ‘Chambers’ and with Camila Agosto on her piece, ‘Blemish’.  At 11am everybody would gather for the ‘Daily Meeting’, which would be taken by a different faculty member each day; we heard from the musicians of ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble from New York), the Concert Master of the Handel and Haydn Society – Aisslinn Nosky, the Miro and JACK quartets, Imani Winds, Suzannah Clark (one of the world’s leading musicologists), Maros Balter (composer) and many more besides.  I loved these meetings, as each one was totally unique and each artist had something so interesting and different to say; I really learnt a lot here.  After the meeting I would head down to the cafe for lunch and then straight back to more rehearsing.  During the afternoons I would usually find time to visit the simply incredible library, or to practise by myself in one of the little practice huts (frequently visited by deer or elk) until dinner, which I would eat in either the main restaurant or at the chilled ‘Maclab’ bar.  After-dinner time would normally consist of concerts, more rehearsals, hang-out ‘beer’ time and fantastic conversations with colleagues and new friends, or making use of the free and unlimited access to the gym or swimming pool/hot tub facilities.

Enjoying a local beer at Maclab with a spectacular view!

Practice hut with elk visitor

I want to write separate and much more detailed accounts of each of these experiences, as they were all so fascinating and important in themselves and there is SO much more to say about all of them! I simply can’t fit it all into one blog post though, so I have decided that this will do for the first ‘overview’ of Banff and I’m looking forward to writing several more posts, each focusing on a different aspect of Banff, in the next few weeks.

The lasting impression that the Banff Centre and the artists that I met there made on me is how important art is in today’s world.  Art makes connections, brings people together, highlights profound issues in very pure, human and accessible ways.  Art can be found anywhere and there will always be space for people to create it, one just has to find it and remember the value that it has.  Banff has nestled itself right into my heart; it has given me inspiration and courage, it has refilled my life with colour!

The JACK Quartet, performing John Luther Adams on top of Tunnel Mountain at sunset. This was a moment I won’t ever forget and sums up my whole Banff experience!

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An Artist in Focus: Sara Cubarsi

It’s such a crazy, wonderful thing to be able to say that your friends inspire you.  Although each of my friends live in different corners of the globe, I feel so connected to them through this inspiration and through a deep, profound respect for what they are doing and their work.  My friends are creating new art and music, asking new questions, re-inventing answers to old ones, revealing new paths and I absolutely love and value these things, besides the wonderful people that they are!

One old school friend of mine – violinist and artist, Sara Cubarsi – came to visit me in Germany last year (she is originally from Barcelona and is currently living in California).  She was then right in the middle of a huge project that she had created and developed – actually, the project is still not finished!  The other day I got to catch up with her and asked all about how the project was progressing.  As she told me about it, I found the ideas behind it and everything she has achieved thus far so AMAZING and so COOL, that I decided I just had to write a blog post about it and share it!  This is the story of the ‘Wax Painting Project’, by Sara Cubarsi.

Something to know about Sara, right from the beginning, is that she is not only a clever and talented violinist, but she is also an artist.  Remember in my post about Picasso’s Mad Man (read it here), I mentioned that I had a friend who drew her own mad man on her bedroom wall – that was Sara!  She has done some really wonderful paintings (I’m still waiting for one that she promised to make for me one day) and her style of art and emotion is really present in all of her work, whether its through music – her own compositions or more classical pieces – paint or any other art form.  So, Sara had the idea that she wanted to create a painting to go in one of her performances, and that’s where the origin of this project stemmed from.

The next step of the project came about purely as a joke.  Someone said to Sara, what would happen, though, if your painting would accidentally melt under the heat of the stage lights?? In the moment, Sara laughed, but then realised that that was a fantastic idea and EXACTLY what she wanted!  So she began to research what would make the best material for a painting that needed to melt, and wax became clear as the most ideal option.  Another thing to know about Sara, is that she adores the work of Francis Bacon – you can probably see this in a LOT of her work!  She absolutely loves his organic and raw style and wanted to capture this in her own painting and wax seemed the best, most fleshy and human-like material for her to use.

The first wax painting that Sara created was called ‘The Blind Cow’ and the performance of it took place late one night in February of 2016.  It was a small painting of a cow with a bloody eye that hung from the ceiling of a dark classroom.  To accompany it was a white noise track,made by one of Sara’s friends, with Sara speaking on top of it into a microphone, with distortion; she was reading poems by T.S. Elliot and a Catalan poem about a blind cow.  Sara used candlelight to melt the painting and it worked!  The painting melted completely.  Although, the funny thing was that Sara was facing a wall and unable to see the painting while she was performing the poems, so she had no idea if it was working or not!  This was also what made it so exciting, though, as she just had to have hope that it was all going to plan.  And so went the ‘first public melting’.

After this success, Sara thought – OK, this works, now let’s make it big.  She decided she wanted  to make a new wax painting, big enough that a string quartet could hide behind it, and melt it using electric heaters.  The painting that resulted, which Sara called ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, was 12 x 8 feet and the performance was planned to take place in a bigger concert hall in March 2016.  Sara composed a string quartet to go with the painting, which was very much related to it; she told me that her music emanated the feeling of wax melting, its pace and it’s colours.  Now, here is where is starts to get really exciting.  The night before the performance, the heaters broke – smoke came out when she tested them!  Running out of time, Sara went out to buy six irons and planned to have people standing behind the painting, ironing it to get it to melt!  However, during the performance, there was SO much electricity being used (six irons, speakers, heaters etc.) that the electrical circuit broke!  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), at the end of the performance, when Sara stepped out from behind the painting, she saw that it had barely melted at all and the public reaction was extremely awkward – here were all these people who had come to see this monster wax painting melt… and nothing happened!  But isn’t this the nature of experimenting?!  We have to try stuff out to see what works and what doesn’t.  Sara called her ‘second public melting’ a “successful un-happening”!

Ludwig’s Ear, pre-wax

Ludwig’s Ear, post-wax

Sara was nowhere near finished.  We have to remember that, while all of these wax adventures were going on, Sara was still trying to live her life, as a musician and an artist dealing with all of her own insecurities.  At around about this time she was playing a LOT of contemporary music and was feeling really anxious about her classical playing – she felt that she had lost touch with Bach and with the violin and was trying to find herself as a violinist again.  She decided that she had to force herself to put on a concert and perform some Bach, as this would simply MAKE her practice it.  Connecting all of her work together, she created a new abstract painting for a performance at Art Share, L.A., to which she would play Bach’s Second Partita.  This piece is made up of four smaller dance movements and a monumental Chaconne final movement.  The day before the concert, Sara freaked out – she was feeling so uncomfortable with her playing that she decided to cancel the four shorter movements and just perform the Chaconne.  The very last note of this movement ends on a very powerful ‘D’ chord and at that point in the performance, Sara held this ‘D’ note as a drone, on top of which she sang microtonal intervals, all reflecting the huge Chaconne movement, in a kind of slow motion, while her little painting melted.  I see this concert as a sort of interlude from the main project, but nevertheless very important and relevant to Sara’s personal development and also to show her own personality in relation to the rest of the project.

And now back to the main wax project.  What came next was a painting that Sara called ‘Concerto For A Painting’ which was composed to 9 string instruments and piano and performed in April 2016.  Sara’s music was somehow Wagnerian, but with no rhythmic gestures, and the painting was ambiguous – it could have been a womb or even a woman’s breast (I guess it depended on one’s own personal interpretation).  What I find really cool about this painting is that Sara really made the wax look like flesh, so that when it melted, it left the painting red.  She told me that this made it look like a baby had been born, almost like there was now no baby left in the womb.  Only two heaters were needed to melt this painting and it worked beautifully – the painting melted.

Concerto For A Painting

But remember that huge painting, ‘Ludwig’s Ear’, that didn’t melt? Sara had no idea what to do with it.  This was the point at which she visited me and we discussed what she could possibly do.  She had the idea that she wanted to burn the painting somehow (an idea that also stemmed from a joke comment made by a friend!) and had a vision of doing this in a desert space where there is nothing, no life, around.  My boyfriend, who knows California pretty well, suggested Salton Sea.  It is right in the middle of the desert, it’s not very populated so she could find a space to be alone, and it’s not a ‘nice’ place – she didn’t have to worry about being too careful there.  So when she went back to the States, in October 2016, she took her monster painting to the desert and set it on fire by throwing gasoline all over it.  Of course it was impossible to make music to go with it in this context; the desert was too hot, this escapade far too dangerous and extreme.  While she was burning the painting she was also filming it all and I think the silence aspect and having no music will come across amazingly well on film.  She described to me that by the end she was so light-headed and hot, worried about what she was doing and if she would get caught, heavy from so much physical work… she actually couldn’t finish and had to leave her painting burning there in the desert (it was found and some reports of it turned up on social media and the internet by people wondering what it was!).

Ludwig’s Ear in Salton Sea

Sara’s final wax painting performance, titled ‘Exvoto Study’, happened in November 2016.  On a trip home to Barcelona, she went to visit the gothic cathedral at St. James’s Square, Cereria.  This area is really, really old and very religious.  When someone is suffering some kind of ailment or wound, here they can offer an ex-voto – a votive offering – of the wounded body part, made of wax, to the deities, hoping that they may be cured.  Sara found a little wax ear and took it home, where she decided to film herself melting it.  Her new idea was to project this little film onto a screen for her performance.  However, this wasn’t to be a normal screen – she planned to make a screen of wax!   She got hold of a canvas, which she covered in black paint with white wax on top of it, and this became her screen.  The score that Sara wrote to go with her film, which she performed with two colleagues, reflected what the ear hears; bubbling, gurgling, coughing.  It wasn’t a totally smooth concert; smoke started to come out of the heaters that were melting the wax screen and somehow, because of the light and darkness in the concert hall, this became very visible to the stage managers – they turned off the heaters!  This was a bit of a disaster because Sara needed the screen to melt to achieve her effect, so she got up herself during the performance to turn the heaters back on.  Because of this, the screen only melted partially, but the overall effect of the video of the melting ear being projected onto a screen that was melting LIVE definitely came across – I WISH I could have seen this!

Exvoto Study

The thing that I find really interesting about the whole project and in all of the performances, is that there are two elements going on all the time; the music and the melting painting.  The process of composing and performing the music is very calculated – there’s a score and a system and musicians know what they do, it’s very organised and clean.  But the painting is always a total risk.  For one, the musicians can’t ever see it, so there is no way to ever know if it is melting or not and if the performance is working.  And secondly, it’s always unpredictable – Sara can never know if the heaters will work, if the wax will melt.  These two art forms are continually working together and against each other during her performances, and this is what makes it so truly exciting.

Another thing to think about is that these are performances that are ephemeral; they can only ever be done ONE time, because the painting can only melt once.  It really is amazing, because Sara then puts absolutely everything into this one performance, but there is also a sad quality to this; the painting melts and will never again be what it was, it gets lost to the moment of the performance.  This is performance art at its most real, most meaningful, most alive!

And now? I don’t think Sara is quite finished with her wax painting project yet!  She told me that she wants to master it so that it can be done anywhere.  She also wants to make a film of the Salton Sea experiment, of which she has many hours of footage.  I can’t wait for the next melting episode!

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The Responsibility Of Playing Very Old Music

Sometimes, when I think about what I do, it can seem a little absurd!  My fellow classical musicians and I have spent thousands and thousands of hours and dedicated our WHOLE LIVES to working on, practising and performing music that is so old it has already been played millions of times before us and, if you want to look at in a dark way as I do, probably much better than us too.  So why do we persist?! What’s the point?


Perhaps some of my colleagues would say that being a classical musician was a career they fell into, a childhood hobby that went too far, and they have invested far too much to give up now so may as well keep plugging away at it.  Others might passionately remark that it does not matter if this Beethoven Sonata is probably at this very moment being played by five thousand other violinists across the world and millions more before them; the music is too wonderful, we must have our chance to express it too and to keep it alive.  The more egotistical musicians out there might even disregard the countless performances given before them – surely their’s is going to be the BEST one so far, and so they have every right to give it!


I reckon there is a place for each of these arguments.  Somehow or other, whether by choice or because we absolutely had to, we ARE classical musicians.  We have a wonderful skill and something to say and I believe that there is a duty and room for us all in this world to say it – I have to believe that!  And even those egos may have a point; if we are going to play a piece of Bach that is over 350 years old, we have to be confident that our version will be a little different from anyone else’s, that we have a new idea to put out there and really sell it.  I remember when my teacher gave me the Tchaikovsky violin concerto to learn, I was less than thrilled.  It was so hard for me to feel excited about all the work that I was about to put into learning this piece that every other violinist in the world has already done, to hear it with fresh ears without automatically thinking of the numerous performances of it I already hear each year.  When I talked to my friend about my feelings, she told me that the point of playing the Tchaikovsky, though, was not just to learn it as everybody else has before me, to reenact the same ideas and the same music as they all have.  The point of playing it was to come up with something new and different, an interpretation that would be completely unique to me.  I absolutely loved this idea!  Playing this old ‘warhorse’ of a piece now felt like an exciting challenge to create something new out of it!  What an opportunity I had been given!


Sometimes I look at painters or composers or choreographers with envy; these are people who’s art will always be new and theirs alone.  They get to go to work every day and create something from nothing that nobody else could call theirs.  This always seemed so luxurious to me.  But I am realising more and more that being a classical musician is not so far away for this.  We also have to create; every day we create new ideas and find new ways of playing things, new techniques to make new sounds which are all the more exciting because we can apply them to old pieces of music in this amazing kind of new-old fusion!


The fact is, the music that we play may be old in it’s age, but it is not old at all in it’s relevance to us and our lives or it’s ideas or even in it’s progressiveness.  That is what is SO unbelievable about it.  You can listen to a choral movement by Bach today and still feel affected and touched, that what he was saying and writing all those years ago still matters to humanity and the world right now.  Classical music is an old art form, but it is our job as musicians to show everyone how current it really is and that is why we MUST persist in our practice and work and performances of these old giants.

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The Absolute Joy Of Fantastic Colleagues

A few years ago, I attended a talk given by cellist/composer Philip Sheppard, which was titled ‘Advice for Young Musicians’.  He has since condensed this talk into a written article, which I will have linked down at the end of the post if you want to check it out.  In his talk, Sheppard shared many interesting and inspiring thoughts on all things related to being a musician and making yourself a success in this world; he gave tidbits of advice on how to manage your life as a musician and a business, what issues you just don’t need to stress over and what deserves a little more time and care and practical ways to achieve your goals.

As a young student, I was always a little wary of lectures that were obligatory (actually I am still wary of ANYTHING obligatory…!).  But I was totally surprised to discover how refreshing Sheppard was, how relevant and futuristic his advice was to me and my fellow classmates and I am continually surprised at how often I have since referred back to some of the things he said.

There was one point on his list, however, that really stuck out to me: I have never forgotten it and have thought of it on a regular basis.  He said that, as musicians, we should always work with people who are better than we are.  At first I immediately thought, but won’t that give me a never-ending feeling of insecurity, a fear of being constantly inferior to my colleagues and never quite feeling good enough? Actually, though, I think that this piece of advice is genius!

When we work with people that we know are not really as good as we are, we get comfy: there is no need to stretch ourselves, we are already in the top position and we can relax!  Maybe this sounds kind of nice at first, but when you really think about it, how fulfilling can this work ever be?  What is there left to achieve or strive for?  It seems to me that a job working with colleagues that we can’t learn anything from is extremely limited; there will never be room to grow or go anywhere.  And I can definitely say, having been in this position, that life like this gets miserable very quickly!

I have just returned from two weeks of working intensively with my new quartet and I am beyond excited!  If I wasn’t so jet-lagged I think I would have trouble staying still in my seat! I can say, without any doubts whatsoever, that my new colleagues are all definitely very much better than me and I am so inspired!  I have found that I am fast becoming better too, as working with colleagues that are so great at what they do means I have to constantly reach for more within myself, show my best side of myself, be on top of my own game all the time to meet what they offer me and continually try to throw the ball back at them too.  And the result of all this? I feel incredibly happy and content, I feel exhausted after working so hard, I am artistically fulfilled and am inspired to keep going, searching for more.

I have finally understood Sheppard’s point.  Working with colleagues that are better than we are, whatever your field of work, is SO important; for our own work, for our lives, for our emotional souls!  The circle of inspiration breathes very much more deeply when we are looking upwards instead of down.

Exhausted, sweaty but INSPIRED and HAPPY and CONTENT after the first concert with my new quartet!

See Philip Sheppard’s article here!

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I am really excited to share with you that I have finally moved my blog over to wordpress!  There’s nothing quite like a good old spring clean, and this feels like the mother of all (metaphorical) clean slates.  My life as a musician and blogger finally feels beautifully connected and I can’t wait to get back into my full blogging routine!

On this site, you will find all my usual blog posts in their normal categories, and you will also be able to catch a glimpse of what I’m up to in my musical life; what projects I’ve got going on, concerts coming up, travel plans etc.  Everything else will all stay the same, but do make sure to subscribe and follow me on my social media so you don’t miss out on anything!

For now though, must get back to packing; I’m travelling to Seattle tomorrow for two weeks of Beethoven Quartets and I CAN’T WAIT.

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My Living Room Concert Series

Over the past couple of years, I have felt myself growing more and more disenchanted by concert life around me.  Trying to put into words what exactly disturbs me about concerts, going to concerts and concert ‘etiquette’ isn’t easy, the whole thing often just feels so false and unreal.  For example, the process of going to a concert feels incredibly strange; that one should track down a concert ticket from an office, to then go and sit stiffly and in silence in a glamorous concert hall, watching musicians work hard for their bread and butter, and finally to bang our hands together in appreciation afterwards, regardless of if we even liked what we heard – this is so far removed from our real daily lives!  

From a musician’s point of view too, performing a concert can actually be a really weird thing if you think about it!  We work for weeks and months on particular pieces of music, until finally the ‘big night’ arrives when we get all dressed up in fancy clothes, suddenly leave our comfy practice rooms and march ourselves on stage in a concert hall with an audience half full of mainly retired and old age listeners.  When we finish playing, we bow to this audience, go home, and either congratulate ourselves for a job well done or beat ourselves up and hope that next time will be better.

I really started to think more about this whole concert business when I met my boyfriend who, as you probably know by now, is not a musician.  We talked about the way classical concerts are, how one must behave at such concerts and why classical music has become such a stereotypical ‘elitist’ culture.  He told me that if it wasn’t for me he would never go to a classical concert because, firstly, he would have no idea what was on and when – which concert to go to, what was worth seeing and what not.  Secondly, he wouldn’t know where to get a ticket from (and not much interest in forking out for expensive tickets).  And finally, because the idea of sitting uncomfortably, in silence in a hall listening to music that he didn’t understand was not an appealing way to him to spend an evening.  And I totally get his sentiment!  I am sure that it is exactly because of these reasons that lots of young people do not venture to classical concerts and why classical music has been labelled such as it has; that it is only for well-educated, well-cultured, upper class, stiff-lipped people with money.

I know that these issues are nothing really new, and in lots of places people, who feel the same as I do, are trying to combat them – in the States in particular, where music feels so progressive (much more so than in our traditional European societies), and where so many new concert initiatives and concepts are being introduced all the time.  One idea that has seemed really popular and successful is that of a living room concert.  Instead of going to see concerts at the big, inaccessible concert halls, musicians are hosting concerts in their own homes, where anyone can come and listen and feel much more personally involved with the performers.  

I decided to get on this train and host my own living room concert in my apartment!  A few things stood out to me right away as being really important; first, I wanted to perform a mixture of music from different styles and genres, but everything that I would play would be GREAT music and stuff that I would normally play in any fancy concert – I wasn’t going to cheat here.  Next, I really wanted to have a young audience, people from all different fields and walks of life, who might never go to to a classical concert but were, nevertheless, interested in hearing a violin concert!  Finally, I wanted my concert to be really relaxed and chilled, where the audience could get really comfortable, drink a beer, get to know new music and new people and generally have a fantastic evening.

I decided to play a few different movements of solo Bach, from the solo violin Sonatas and Partitas, as well as some new pieces that I have been working on from S. Eckhardt-Gramatte (see my post on this composer here!).  Some friends of mine also performed some really cool Polish songs and even a Radiohead cover, and we threw in a couple of classics all together which went down great!  Because of the intimate setting, we were able to talk to our small audience about what the music was about and where it came from and I think this was such a great aspect of the evening – that the audience could really get to know and understand music that they might not have heard of.  

A lovely bunch of people came to the concert, everyone brought some beer or wine, and everybody just relaxed and enjoyed the music!  It struck me that the living room concert works from both angles – it’s enjoyable and accessible for audiences and it is much more natural for the performers too, as we can feel much more connected to our audience, and performing in our living room in front of a few people is much closer to practising by ourselves than jumping straight into a huge concert hall.  Actually, if you think about it, lots of music that we play, like small chamber music and sonatas and pieces, were written to be played in a small room and not in a big hall at all.

This was just my first living room concert, and already I have the date of the next one planned in my diary!  My aim is to really cultivate this special series, have some other different musicians play, expand my audience, maybe even try out playing in some different spaces too.  Of course musicians have to earn money, but I really want to keep this series strictly no tickets required, so my idea is to simply ask people for a donation of 10 Euros or so on the door, which will go directly to the musicians.  This is an event where music, getting to know wonderful music and hearing great performers play is what is important, and not what you wear or how much you spent on a ticket or who else is happens to be there. 

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Some Thoughts on Playing by Memory

When I speak to my musician friends and colleagues about performing and performance anxiety, there is one issue that comes up first every single time; playing by memory.  I have heard it from hobby musicians, students (young and old), professionals and even some of the most famous names in the business.  It seems that playing by memory is one of the most difficult and scary aspects of performing on stage and, having definitely struggled with it myself, I thought I would write down some of my thoughts on the subject.  As I am pondering it now, it strikes me that, when it comes to relying on your memory on stage, it doesn’t matter if you are a musician or a public speaker, an actor or any other kind of performer; the same conditions apply.

The first point I wanted to make is that playing by memory IS NOT necessary!  I have seen some incredibly touching and special performances which have been done with the music next to the performers on stage, and similarly have also seen some not so great concerts where musicians played by heart with no music.  It really does not detract from your performance if you do not let the physical pages get in your way of communicating your music.  Of course there can be exceptions – if the performer hides themselves totally behind the music stand so that we can’t see them, or if their head is so in the pages in front of them that they forget about communicating to their audience altogether, then of course playing with the notes becomes a hindrance to the performance.  However, if the music and communication to your audience is always kept as number one priority, then having the music on the stage with you should not matter.  

For me, there have been occasions where I have felt COMPLETELY sure that I could rely on my memory, and in these instances I feel like you know when you can trust yourself.  In these times I have happily left the music backstage and just got on with it.  But there have been those other concerts where I have not felt so secure, even when I could say that I knew my notes 99% but there was that tiny glimmer of doubt. And everyone knows that under pressure, on stage, where we make ourselves really vulnerable and expose ourselves in front of lots of people, everything gets put under the microscope and that tiny glimmer of doubt can cause some serious breakdowns.  If having the music there with us, if only to refer to when we need to, can give us that safe feeling and eliminate some of the worry and anxiety that comes with performing, which can be a very difficult and frightening experience, then what is so wrong with that!?

Another factor to consider is the choice that one has to make: to play by memory or with the music.  This might sound simple but, at least for me, it can cause problems!  I have played concerts in the past, where I had chosen to play by memory in the rehearsals, and then at the last minute changed my mind and taken the music on stage and subsequently really mucked myself up!  And it has also happened the other way around too.  It’s my feeling that, whichever way you choose, you must pick ONE, and commit to it!  If you decide to play with the music, you must prepare with the music, so it is familiar to you and not off-putting.  If you decide to play my memory, you must also practise that way too.

Which brings me to my next point; how to practice playing by memory.  The trouble is, and it happens all to often to EVERYbody, that when we are alone in our practice rooms, playing by memory can feel so easy and effortless – of course our fingers know where to go!  We can allow ourselves to go into automatic mode where we don’t even have to think about what we are doing, just let our hands do it for us.  But all of that can go out the window when you put yourself on stage and a few people in the audience.  I know this feeling so well; suddenly you start actually thinking about what you are doing, you can’t quite remember where to put your fingers, how the tune actually goes, what chord comes next.  Oh God, even writing about this experience is making me cringe as this is really one of the most horrible things that can happen to a performer!! 

After one too many of these kinds of performances I decided to re-evaluate how I was practising and preparing for concerts where I knew I would be playing by memory.  Instead of slipping into auto-mode I chose instead to play with real deliberation in the practice room, slowly playing and thinking about every single note; where I was putting it, how my finger felt, how my hand shape felt, what I had to do with my bow, what the movements were exactly and, most importantly, all the while visualising and hearing in my head what note came next.  It takes a long time – this is definitely not a practice short cut.  It requires a lot of patience, a lot of repetition and a lot of brain power.  But I promise that it is worth it because you will ABSOLUTELY and without any shadow of doubt, know your music.  After I started practising this way (in my case it was Bach that I had particular trouble with) I found my on-stage experience of playing by memory SO much more comfortable – I could relax, feel safe, enjoy it! 

Performing by memory is difficult, and can definitely cause a lot of anxiety for many people.  So we have to try to minimise this stress as much as possible in whatever ways we can.  I’m kind of losing the belief that performing in general and performing by memory gets easier as you do it more and more – this is something that has been told to me since I was a child and I don’t think it’s true!  I think each concert experience is different and presents it’s own challenges and this probably won’t ever get any easier, just stay unique to each experience.  But isn’t this, afterall, what gives us the adrenaline which causes us to keep doing it again and again?!

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S. C. Eckhardt-Gramatté

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written about my work as a musician on my blog, and as I am currently working on (what I think is) a very exciting project, I thought today would be the perfect time to share it with you!  Sometimes I find being a musician somehow limiting, in a sense, because musicians really tend to stay within their own circles.  We meet, work and socialise with other musicians, we play concerts for people who love our music anyway and it’s not so often that we really get the chance to share our music with people who have absolutely no connection with it or have never heard it before.  Being able to share my musical life here is probably my favourite aspect of writing a blog because I feel like it gives me a platform to reach out further across the globe and share this INCREDIBLE music that I am so passionate about with absolutely anyone who stumbles across my blog – everybody has access to it.  Similarly, this is also something I love about reading other blogs – that I can read about lives and ideas that I have no idea about or ever thought about!  I know that when I read a blog post that has been written with such joy and love, perhaps about a blogger’s particular hobby or lifestyle that I have never heard of, I feel inspired to try it out myself, and I hope that is how you will feel when reading my musical blog posts.

A while ago I discovered a composer called Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté (I know, I had never heard of her before either).  At the time I was in the middle of creating a new concert programme just for solo violin, which is a pretty unusual concept.  There is a lot of music for solo violin, like the Bach sonatas and partitas, Ysaye sonatas, Paganini caprices etc. But I wanted to get away from the familiar stuff and play something new that nobody would have heard before.  I loved the idea of one solo violinist, alone on stage, producing so many different sounds and different styles of music – I thought it could be a really effective performance! 

Eckhardt-Gramatté (born in 1899) is counted as a Canadian composer, although she was born in Moscow and lived and studied all across Europe: in Paris, London, Berlin, Geneva and Barcelona.  She married the German Expressionist painter, Walter Gramatté in 1920, but after he died tragically in 1929 she remarried a German Art Critic named Ferdinand Eckhardt, hence her double surname.  They lived together in Vienna, where she established herself in post-war musical life, co-founding the International Society of Contemporary Music there. When her husband was appointed Director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1953, they both relocated to Canada, where she lived out the rest of her life until her accidental death in 1974.  She was an extremely gifted pianist and violinist, as well as a wonderful composer, and she never stopped giving concerts, performing with musicians like Igor Stravinsky and Pablo Casals.  

I came across ten solo caprices that she wrote for violin across a span of ten years, from 1924 to 1934.  Actually, the music was very difficult to get hold of because, as far as I know, only one copy of the caprices exists and it is kept at the Canadian National Library in Montreal.  When I phoned the library they could not find it and told me to call the library in Ottawa instead, which I did, to no avail.  After a phone exchange back and forth between the many Canadian libraries, however, I evidently finally managed to get the music on loan and I am so happy that I did – this music is simply AMAZING!

Each caprice is very short, only about 5 minutes long, and each one has a different title in a different language, encompassing a totally unique personality and, with that, commanding completely different techniques and sounds from the violin.  It is said that she wrote each caprice almost by accident – they each tell the story of a sudden or poignant moment in her life, which inspired her to write some music down on a page.  Because of this they all have a wonderfully improvised and spontaneous feeling, reflecting these moments in her life, not at all like any carefully composed music but more like a little fresh breath of air.  

I wanted to mention three of my personal favourites from these caprices.  Caprice 1, ‘Die Kranke und die Uhr’ or ‘The sick and the clock’, was written as Sophie sat by the deathly bedside of a dear friend, the clock ticking ominously in the background.  I have recorded this caprice and you can hear it here if you like!  Caprice 3, ‘Chant triste-chant gai’, or ‘Sad melody-gay melody’ is an absolutely beautiful piece of music and gives us such a window into her mind and mood at this specific time.  Caprice 7, ‘El pajarito’ or ‘The little bird’ is probably my absolutely favourite.  It portrays a little bird locked in his cage, trying to break free, and I must try to make violin sound like a bird – so fun to play! 

What I really want to do is to put all ten caprices together in one programme and to record them all.  As I am also a European-Canadian, having lived in Ireland, UK, Austria, Germany and Holland, and also having Canadian roots, I feel something of a connection with this composer and I think that would be so cool to make a themed concert out of.  I would love to showcase each of these gorgeous and special pieces of music in a meaningful way, and hopefully introduce them to people who might never have heard of them.

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100th Post!

Today’s post marks the 100th blog post that I have written for Freya’s Nook!  When I checked this number in my blog statistics I was quite surprised and, I have to admit, a little proud.  I really had no idea when I started this blog, under a year ago, if it was going to be something that I would keep up or put a lot of work into.  But I have found it to be so fulfiling, such a wonderful source of joy and creative freedom and I am really pleased that I have made it to post number 100!

To mark this small milestone, I have decided to pick out a few of my favourite posts from over the past 10 months or so, to reflect on them and see how my blog has developed and grown.  Looking over my old posts has been really fun and interesting – there have been so many that I had completely forgotten about and I did have a few laughs (particularly at the oldest ones!).  I have chosen a handful of favourites to highlight here and I hope you will enjoy looking back at them too!  I have linked them all up so if you would like to re-read one, or indeed read it for the first time if you missed it before, please just click on the title!

Violence Vs Art
Although this was one of my earliest posts it is still very much relevant today, if not more so.  I wrote it just after the terrorist attack in Belgium last year and it covers a topic that I feel very emotional about; how as acts of violence in the world increase, we have an ever greater need for art.  I mention how important all different types of art are, simply for humanity, and I feel strongly that today, in the face of Trump and Syria and everything else, art is absolutely fundamental to us and can show us the way forward.

The Beauty of Berwick Church
This is a post that is very close to my heart.  I wrote it after a visit to the wonderfully intimate and pretty Berwick Church in Sussex, England, where I spent a glorious afternoon with my Mom and dog.  It is such a nice memory to have, as my parents have since both moved and I am no longer very connected to this place.  This part of the world is so beautiful and this church in particular has such an interesting story to it.

Be Strong, Simple and True – Eugene Delacroix
I wanted to mention this post, because I particularly remember feeling very pleased with the finished article after I had written it!  In it I talk about the philosophy of the great artist, Delacroix, told through his own personal journal, and how inspiring I found so much of what he said.  It is always a pleasure to re-read some of his passages and get inspired all over again!

I have written a couple of posts about certain people in my life that have been extremly important to me, and I intend to continue to write more like this.  But the one that really sticks out and has a fixed place in my heart is, of course, the tribute that I wrote to my friend Jacob, who did tragically almost six years ago.  

Comic Book Affair
This post was SO fun for me to write, as I had just discovered the fantastic world of comic books and graphic novels, and was so excited about it!  Since then my comic book collection has definitely grown considerably – I should definitely call this a lasting relationship now, rather than an affair – and I have taken huge interest in the incredible art that comes from these books.  I am proud to call myself a nerd!

The Musician
It took a while, but a few months after starting the blog I finally stepped out from the shadows, unafraid about whoever should read it (including people I know in real life), and told the world about who I really am and my life as a musician.  This was a hugely liberating moment, and since then I have written so many other musical-related posts which has been incredibly gratifying for me personally.  I plan to continue to feature as much of my musician lifestyle on the blog as possible and look out for some new musical projects coming up on the blog soon!

A Few Thoughts On The Non-Expert
The subject of this post is one that is really interesting to me; that we may do things, know things, take interest in things without being an expert in them, and that’s OK!  I was inspired to write about these ideas after a trip to the opera with my (non-musician) boyfriend, when, talking with him afterwards, I found that he had noticed and appreciated so many interesting things about the production which were very important, that an expert musican eye might not have seen.  I still think a lot about this, and the unbelievable pressure that exists in our society to be an expert, to be really at the top, of everything we do.

Favourite Paintings and Weekends In Series
I have so enjoyed getting stuck in with a few different series’ of posts on my blog, and two that I particularly enjoy writing are the Favourite Paintings series and the Weekend In Series.  I love writing about art in, what I hope, is a non-pretentious or scholarly way, just coming from someone who thinks it is interesting and beautiful and wants to share her feelings about it! And travelling is also a huge part of my life – I love to recount my experiences and tell my stories here!

Blogmas Day 22: The People I’m Thinking Of This Christmas
Blogmas! What a huge feat that was, and I am so happy that I managed it.  24 consecutive daily posts seemed very daunting, and I was extremely last minute on a couple of them… but I also absolutely loved writing it!  My special favourite was Day 22, when I wrote about all the people whom I would not be spending Christmas with, but who I was going to be thinking of.  It’s personal and emotional, but it means a lot to me to have written this for them.

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Blogmas #5 ⛄ My Christmas Music Selection

Now, I know that when someone says Christmas music, our minds probably go straight to Michael Bublé’s Christmas album, Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, All I Want For Christmas and the like.  But I thought, in case you might be sick of listening to the same old same old, that I would suggest a few alternatives!  There is some absolutely wonderful Christmassy music in the Classical genre, that you might not have heard before, so maybe this is the year to give it a go and discover something new.  At any rate, I wanted to share some music that I absolutely love with you all, so I hope you enjoy!

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio

As Bach wrote most of his music for the church, there is a lot of it that could be counted as, and definitely sounds, Christmassy! However, I had to choose the monumental Christmas Oratorio for my selection, which actually contains both secular and church music.  This is one work, written in 1734, divided into six parts and about three hours long in total!  The work as a whole tells the Christmas story, taking us from the birth of Christ through the journey and adoration of the Magi.  

However, it wasn’t intended to be performed all in one go.  Each part of the work is meant to be performed on all the different days of Christmas; part one is for Christmas day, part two for boxing day, part three for the 27th, part four for New Year’s Day, part five for the fist Sunday in January and part six for January 6th, or Epiphany.  Once divided up like this it doesn’t seem so long!  

I find the music of the Oratorio to be incredibly joyful and there is so much variation in it that you really can’t get bored; each part, and each movement within each part, has a different combination of instruments and voices.  The movements that I find particularly beautiful are the Chorales – they are slow and mesmerising, very touching.

When this music was first published, it would have been performed during the feasts of each day mentioned above.  I was thinking that it would be a cool idea for this Christmas, to listen to each part of the Christmas Oratorio during each dinner on the days that it was composed for!  Anyone want to join me on that?!

John Eliot Gardiner conducts English Baroque Soloists & Monteverdi Choir.
One of my favourite chorals takes place at about 14”50!

‘La Bohème’, Giovanni Puccini

This is one of my all-time favourite operas and, as it takes place in the cold of winter, I think Christmas time is the perfect time to listen to or watch it. If you are new to opera, or aren’t yet a fan of it, this is also the perfect introduction – you can’t help but fall in love with this music!

It is the story of a group of poor bohemians living in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 1840s. We follow an artist, a musician, a writer, a philosopher and an actor amongst others, as they live their lives in almost poverty and freezing cold (so cold that they resort using the manuscripts from the writer as kindling!) but yet still managing to find love and happiness.  However, it is not a happy tale.  This was also a time when consumption was extremely common, and the love story that develops between the characters turns tragic (don’t worry, I will say no more).  

I will say that if anyone knew how to write a good tune, Puccini did!  This opera is just full of intensely gorgeous melodies that linger in you head long after it’s finished.  Although the story is sad, the music is very uplifting.  

If you are interested in going to see an opera and you live in the UK, I would have a look at the ENO website – it’s very accessible and not at all ‘elite’.  Actually, usually on Christmas Day in the UK, they show an opera in full on TV; a couple of years ago it was this one!  I really recommend watching this opera or definitely checking out if there is one showing around Christmas. If you can watch it from the comfort from your own home – even better and a brilliant way to spend the afternoon!

Act 3, taken from the televised production, with sub-titles

One of my favourite arias from the opera, performed by my favourite soprano, Anna Netrebko!

‘Fantasia On Christmas Carols’, Ralph Vaughan Williams

I decided to put this one in, not just because I love it, but also because it is an excellent alternative to the bog standard carols that we usually hear.  If you like Christmas carols and enjoy the tradition of listening to them at Christmas, but are also feeling a bit sick of the same ones over and over, why not give this short piece a listen!

Here we have a fantasia (or sort-of medley) of some old-school, traditional English carols: ‘The Truth Sent From Above’, Come All You Worthy Gentlemen’, and ‘On Christmas Night All Christians Sing’.  Before he wrote this piece in 1912, Vaughan Williams travelled around the South of England, collecting and writing down as many folk songs as he could find.  These songs, at the time, only existed in people’s heads – they had never been written down before – so we are actually very lucky that old Ralph gave this to us! 

The way that he has combined these carols in this one piece is definitely rooted from this folk music.  Written for choir and orchestra, the melodies are layered and weave in and out of each other, making a gorgeous sound, from the very first cello solo at the beginning.  This is definitely a lovely one to have on in your living room at Christmas.

London Symphony Chorus and the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Richard Hickox

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