Can you tell me a bit about your musical education? When did you first decide to take up violin as your instrument of choice?
I started learning because of a wonderful cellist called Liz Anderson who came to my nursery and played for us. I was totally transfixed, asking her loads of questions afterwards. So, the next year, I started lessons with her in a group of seven of us, mixed string instruments. We sang, played games, played music together, so right from the start, it was sociable and collaborative and fun. I loved going there.
I never really thought about taking it particularly seriously though. The mum of my closest friend at the time was a professional musician and always said to us ‘don’t do music professionally, keep it as a hobby’. She didn’t want us to lose the fun. So, it was never really on my radar but I loved doing it.
When I was nine, I went to Wells Cathedral School and had a specialist music education from then on. We would often play together in the evenings, improvise, make up tunes. I spent my holidays doing National Children’s Orchestra and then National Youth Orchestra and I had another incredible teacher at Wells called Patricia Noall, who is an incredible musician and a really wonderful, logical teacher, who met everyone on their level and taught them differently depending on their personalities.
When I was 12, I learnt the Bruch Concerto and from that moment I was so in love with it and obsessed by it, I knew that it was music I wanted to do. When I was 17, I went to the Royal Academy of Music and studied there with Clio Gould, for both my undergrad and postgrad.
Has it sunk in? How does it feel to have won the AMC?
It has now. It was a bit of a shock at the time! It’s an incredible thing to say. To be able to have that at the top of my CV, it will open so many doors for me. It makes people take notice. My win being reported by The Strad and many other publications, who both published articles and shared the videos from the competition, have given my playing and the win an international audience.
I got very badly ill and couldn’t play for a long time, I was wheelchair bound. It was a difficult time in my life but I got to the point where my health had improved enough that I could play an hour most days, but not enough that I could start working again.
The competition was something I had wanted to do for years but had never had the time while freelancing, so I applied, continued with my hour a day and thought to myself ‘I’ll see what happens’. It was amazing for me to have it to focus on and work towards, and to enjoy preparing for. It was a strange way to come to it; a major win that came out of a real low point in my life, that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to enter otherwise. I would have been too busy with the daily grind.
Did the long gap between the section final and final of the AMC, and the fact it was held behind closed doors, help or hinder your preparation and performance?
On the day, I absolutely loved playing at ROSL. It was such a nice atmosphere; I think everyone was just so happy to be there and have this opportunity to make music. The panel were really warm and welcoming. There was such a good feeling as soon as I walked into the room. And to get to hang around and chat with the other competitors and the panel was really a highlight of the year. Winning the AMC is a huge deal, it means so much to me. It’s amazing to have the support of the organisation.
In terms of preparation, the long gap wasn’t that fun! I got to a place back in March 2020 during the Section Final where I thought ‘I’m really happy with how I am playing, so I can just go on stage and enjoy myself’. I think that’s probably made the difference in the end; being completely myself on stage and I think that connected with the judges. I wasn’t interested in just spending the long gap just staying home and making each piece ‘winnable’. I actually changed my programme a week or two before the final. The great thing about the AMC is that its a free choice of repertoire, so I was able to show what I really like to play and my personality.
I would start my practice every day in the months leading up to the final by asking myself ‘what do I feel like playing today?’ It could be something old or something new. I was just enjoying playing the violin for the sake of playing the violin and not necessarily for the sake of preparing something for a competition. Obviously, I was working on my technique all the time, but I found that if that was where I wanted it to be; everything was there in the arms and in the mind, the music would follow.
Winning the AMC is a huge deal, it means so much to me. It’s amazing to have the support of the organisation
Even though the Gold Medal Final was held behind closed doors, you can watch all the performances on the ROSL YouTube channel
You also took part in our ROSL at Home series. Have you done many other recorded and livestreamed performances? How does it differ from performing for a live audience?
It can be tough, actually. With livestreaming, it’s the same as a concert in many ways. It’s happening now and that’s how it’s going to go. You’ve only got one opportunity to get it right. You focus on working towards it and then on the night, whatever happens happens. I really love that; the spontaneity of music making.
Whereas with recording, there’s added pressure because you can do it as many times as you like. You always find yourself asking ‘should I stop and try it again?’ You can let go a bit more in a concert than when you’re sitting alone in a practice room. So, I have tried to learn during the pandemic to treat recordings in the same way as live performances.
How has the past year been for you as a musician? Has the closure of venues made life as a professional difficult?
Yes. In terms of playing, it’s still enjoyable, but career-wise, it’s been really tough. There’s been virtually nothing this year. I’ve now got cancellations all the way through to June 2021, which is quite tough. At least at this point, I feel I can plan ahead with a little more confidence.
I’ve been lucky to some extent. In the last two or three years, I’ve split my time half and half between the UK and Norway. Norway locked down a couple of weeks earlier than the UK and was out of the woods significantly earlier. By the time I was allowed to travel in July, I had a lot of projects that I should have been doing since March, which all got bunched together. So, I had quite a steady flow of work between August and Christmas. It’s been nice because there hasn’t really been anything in the UK, or only the very occasional thing.
Working conditions here in Norway are very nice for violinists, it’s a very fun, very relaxed environment. If I were go into an orchestra as a freelance musician in the UK, you tend to do one day’s work at a time, so you have to piece together lots of single jobs. Whereas over here, you tend to get a patch of five or six days in a row, where you get the chance to settle in, get to know your colleagues. It feels more familiar, as if you were a full-time employee of an orchestra.
How important is funding like the prize money from the AMC given current circumstances?
It’s absolutely incredible for us as musicians. Having that financial backing opens up the opportunity to say yes to things, and to have the luxury of time for those things. It becomes OK to take that recital that may take tens of hours of work and practice, that means missing a week of other work elsewhere. It’s key.
So much is moving online now, and increasingly you need high-quality videos, so it can be expensive establishing yourself as a musician. It’s important to have that support. It makes it feels like the years of training were all worth it.
I’m hoping I can use a chunk of the prize money for career development. Recording an album is very tempting! I would also like to put some of it towards buying an instrument.
But aside from the finance, it’s the people you meet and the connections you make as well. They will last a lifetime.