There’s a bit of a conception around child protégés, being put under pressure or missing out on childhood. You were just 8 when you were awarded a place at The Yehudi Menuhin School – how was the experience growing up?
I did indeed start very early and went to the Menuhin School very young. Something as challenging as the violin is of course going to require dedication, but I don’t think that necessarily has to ‘take away your childhood’. With regards to pressure, I think it is definitely possible to expose children to high pressure too young, which is why I choose to stay out of competitions until I was a bit older. Therefore, I think it is very important that whoever is looking after a child’s musical development, whether it is their parents of their teacher/school, that the child’s welfare is put before promoting them as a performer. That can come when they’re older and ready to deal with the pressure.
Why did you choose the violin? Who were your inspirations to focus on violin?
My brother Samuel is a violinist, and I think he was the first person who inspired me to pick up the violin. I grew up listening to the recordings of some of the great violinists of the past century, and the beauty and limitless expressive capabilities of a violin in the right hands were irresistible to me.
Being a BBC Young Musician Finalist at just 16 must have been incredible – what did it mean to you?
BBC was really was a once in a lifetime experience. Being able to share classical music with such a wide and diverse audience is both special and rare.
You’ve given solo performances in some major concert venues, is that a thrill or intimidating?
I’d say definitely a bit of both! A few performances spring to mind, most notably my first concertos with professional orchestras in the wonderful Roundhouse and Cadogan Hall in London, when i was about 13/14. What really made it so special for me, was that I was more nervous than I had ever been, but it was so exciting! It was occasions like this in my early teens that got me addicted to the thrill of performing. For me, classical music really is about live performance, and though playing in famous concert venues is always exciting, concerts in smaller venues can be just as special.
You’ve probably seen more of the world then most teenagers – do you enjoy the travelling?
I love the travelling once I get there! I hate airports and waiting around, I always get the urge to go and practice! But, experiencing different cultures and different countries is one of the real perks of being a musician. My most memorable trips were to Ukraine and to China, as I felt I learnt so much about different approaches to music and performance, as well as seeing some amazing sights.
What’s the best thing about being a professional musician?
That’s easy- being able to do what I love the most everyday all day.
You’re still very young, how do you see the future? What are your ambitions?
Difficult to say exactly. At the moment, I’m focusing on studying- I moved to Berlin last September to study with Prof. Antje Weithaas at the “Hanns Eisler” Hochschule für Musik (which was always my dream!), so my goals currently as learning as much as I can from my Professor as well as getting as much concert and competition experience as possible. I would absolutely love to be a concertmaster, or to have a world-class string quartet one day, but we will just have to see!
What does music mean to you – how does it enrich life?
Music has been central to my life for so long, that I think it has gone much further than enrich me. It has shaped me in a way that I think nothing else could. But, for non-musicians, music has an extra-ordinary power that is difficult to explain. There is a wonderful quote by Goethe (I think) that sums it up: Music starts when words end. It takes great art and a great artistic to make someone feel emotions they didn’t even realise they had, but music has that ability.
Is there a particular piece of music that has a special meaning for you, if so what and why?
There are lots of pieces that are very special to me. If I had to choose one, it would probably be Bach’s chaconne in d minor. For me, the chaconne is one of the most perfect pieces of western art ever created, and even after hearing hundreds of performances, it’s genius is never diminished. There is something very special about a live performance of the chaconne- it is highly emotional and the silence after the final unison is some of the heaviest silence I have ever experienced, as if the audience is coming to terms with what they’ve just heard.
Can you tell us a little about what Harrogate audiences can expect from your performance in July?
The audience in Harrogate can definitely expect a very exciting program from Boris and I. We are starting with Prokofiev’s wonderful second sonata, and then we are playing the two ‘French sonatas’ by Debussy and Ravel, and finishing with Waxman’s virtuoso and eclectic Carmen Fantasy. My favourite element of this program will be the Ravel; it is such an interesting and unusual sonata, with its jazzy blues for a second movement and then the exhausting and exciting ‘Perpertuum mobile’ as the last movement. For me this is actually a new program, so I’m especially excited to get to know and perform these wonderful works.
What would you say to someone who is unfamiliar with classical concerts to encourage them to come along?
I think if you are unfamiliar to classical concerts, then that is even more of a reason to come! There is nothing more exciting than a live performance of wonderful music- I think people who are unfamiliar think it might be boring, but come along, and I’m determined to prove you wrong!
Anything you’d like to add?
No and no! Really looking forward to it!
Louisa Staples and Boris Kusnezow will perform on Friday 13 July at Wesley Chapel Harrogate as part of Harrogate International Festivals’ Young Musician Series. Book online or call 01423 562 303.