What was the Royal College of Music Junior department like?
I spent every Saturday attending the RCM JD for a good 11 years. Luckily for me, it used to be my favourite day of the week.
On top of my regular instrumental lessons on the violin, piano, and flute, I participated in multiple orchestral, choral and chamber music sessions. I met so many wonderful and talented people there, many of which I continue to keep in contact with.
My last day at the Royal College of Music Junior Department is one of my most treasured memories – I was leader of the Symphony orchestra in my final year, and we performed my favourite symphony, Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2, at St. John’s Smith Square.
Would you recommend people to do a music degree at Oxford University?
Absolutely! I have had many questions from musicians on whether to apply to a conservatoire or to a university after sixth form. The courses are very different in that the former is very practical with an emphasis on instrumental studies, whereas the latter is usually predominantly academic. Oxford offered an eclectic blend of modules ranging from 13th century motets to dance music. I still find it hard to believe that I submitted an essay on the effect of music on our perception of dogs in canine freestyle for my Dance music module. I also carried out an interesting experiment on whether imagery enhanced the delivery of a performance. As you can tell, the Oxford music course is highly versatile, and it helps to develop many transferable skills.
What I also loved about Oxford is that there was an abundance of extra-curricular musical activities, so I never felt as if I was missing out on any performing opportunities.
Who is your musical inspiration?
The musician who immediately springs to mind is Maxim Vengerov. I have admired his warm velvety sound, musicianship, and technique from a young age, and I vividly remember walking up to the stage in one of his concerts to hand him a card and a bear keychain. Many years later and by a twist of fate, I was invited to perform to him in a masterclass. As you can imagine, it was one of the best moments of my life (and perhaps the most terrifying).
Other great artists who continue to inspire me include David Oistrakh and Janine Jansen.
Why do you teach?
I teach and perform because it gives me the opportunity to share my passion with others. I think the violin is an impressive, versatile, and expressive instrument with a rich musical repertoire, and I want as many people as possible to enjoy its qualities.
I also teach and perform because it brings me tremendous joy and satisfaction. No student is the same and I love the challenge that comes with tailoring each lesson to the needs of my pupils.
All my students make me proud on a regular basis, but a stand-out moment must be watching one of my students perform a concerto we had worked on for many months with an orchestra.
Aside from my individual lessons, I enjoy participating in outreach projects as a yeoman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. This have ranged from giving assemblies at schools, introducing children to music and the violin, to giving interactive workshops to pupils to help compose a rendition of Peter and the Wolf for a performance at the Barbican.
I want my students and listeners to feel fulfilled and to enjoy the violin as much as I do.
I remember I used to feel highly motivated and inspired after my violin lessons and I strive to have the same effect on my own students. I also think it is important for my students to feel accomplished whether that may be from sight reading a new piece, obtaining a good mark in an exam, or mastering a tricky fingering in a musical passage.
What have been some of your highlights during your career so far?
Some of my proudest moments include appearing as a soloist in major concert venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and featuring on BBC Radio 3 for the Proms. I also have fond memories of being awarded first prize in the Oxford Philharmonic Concerto Competition and performing the Korngold and Mendelssohn violin concertos in the Sheldonian Theatre.
Other highlights have been participating in masterclasses with Tasmin Little, Shlomo Mintz, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Maxim Vengerov.
Where would you recommend people go to buy a violin?
I do not really have a particular recommendation as it does depend on your budget. The best thing to do is to try lots of violins out before deciding.
What sort of age would you recommend someone starts to learn the violin?
No one is ever too old to learn the violin and I do not necessarily think there is an optimum age. Having said that, I think there are many benefits to starting the violin at a young age. For example, young children tend to pick up new skills at a faster rate and early exposure to music helps to develop their sense of pitch. Most of the top soloists started before the age of 10 and around the age of 4 or 5. This does not mean, however, that you have missed the boat if you are any older than 10: a child’s physique, stamina and personality play a big part in deciding when to start and the right opportunity may not arise until much later. This is because the violin can be a very awkward instrument to begin with and is notorious for sounding rather squeaky in the first few months. It takes a child with a lot of patience and tenacity (and highly tolerant parents) to learn the violin.
What piece or pieces of violin music would you recommend people listen to?
The Sibelius violin concerto is an obvious jewel in the violin repertory. I also have a soft spot for Brahms and in particular his violin sonata no. 1 in G major.