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Interview with Jennifer Pike

26 May 2015 | Imogen Greenberg

Jennifer Pike is a British violinist, who won the BBC Young Musician of the Year award in 2002, when she was just 12. Since then she has become one of the best violinists of her generation. Her upcoming recital at Conway Hall in June is part of the Rhinegold LIVE series. London Calling spoke to her about this recital and other daunting occasions.

London Calling: You’re performing a recital at Conway Hall in June. What can people expect from it?

Jennifer Pike: It’s quite a unique event and it should be quite a lot of fun because it’s a free rush hour recital. If you’ve had a long day at work, and you want a free glass of wine and a very informal 50-minute recital, it’s the perfect way to relax. There’s going to be quite an informal atmosphere. It’s a really nice programme, and there are some great pieces in there. Vaughan Williams, I must mention. Lark Ascending is a real favourite in this country and I love that piece.

LC: You performed it in Westminster Abbey for the World War One centenary service...

JP: That’s right, yes. It was amazing, but absolutely terrifying as well. I was right up in the organ loft in Westminster Abbey, and there was this huge drop. I was very careful with my bow, because I didn’t want to drop it! I just forgot about how I was feeling before, I was just swept up in the tranquillity of that occasion. That piece has a special place in people’s hearts; I think that’s why it was chosen. It was written just before the outbreak of World War One and Vaughan Williams served in the army. It’s got amazing poignancy, of striving for peace. It’s just a joy to play.

LC: You’ve just got back from New York, playing Carnegie Hall. It’s such an iconic venue, what was that like?

JP: It was incredible! I actually played Lark Ascending! It was a dream come true to play there. It’s something you dream about when you’re just starting the violin. I always thought one day, I hope I’ll play there. It was a magical experience.

LC: You won the BBC Young Musician Award when you were just 12. Were you daunted by it all?

JP: I was excited and of course I was daunted too. I think at any age you would be. It was on telly, with 2 million viewers, and there was a live audience. The enormity of the situation as well, playing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Sir Andrew Davies. It was a hugely exciting experience. I knew it was a huge occasion. I wasn’t thinking about the results though, I just wanted to enjoy it. I know it’s a cliché, but I did go in to the competition with that attitude. I’m lucky I didn’t have friends and family that put pressure on me.

LC: Watching you perform that piece, it just looks ridiculously hard for a 12 year old! Just how complicated is it?

JP: I’m sure you’ll find lots of 12 year olds who can play it! There are so many talented musicians! The Mendelssohn violin concerto is absolutely gorgeous. It’s very difficult. Technically, it’s very difficult. Musically, it has lots of challenges as well. I was quite ambitious in terms of what I wanted to do with the violin at a young age. I wanted to take on challenges. It never gets easier, the Mendelssohn!

LC: What made you want to take up the violin in the first place?

JP: That’s a good question. I never really know why the violin in particular. I was lucky that I went to lots of concerts when I was younger. The experience of going to live concerts is very different to watching something on YouTube. The whole experience of live concerts was so exciting, to see all the different instruments in an orchestra! Concerts like the Rhinegold concert show there are events in classical music that anyone can go to if they want to. The live concert experience, you just can’t beat it.

LC: You’ve been lucky enough to play Stradivarius violins. They have a sort of mystical aura about them, perhaps because they’re worth so much! Can you really feel and hear the difference?

JP: Yes, you can. Strads are so beautifully made. Looking at a photograph isn’t the same! I’ve been very lucky that I’ve held these instruments and played them. There’s a difference not just in how its been crafted, but also the sound they make. There’s also that element of who’s played it before you. Every violin is unique. It can’t really be graded, its all what people feel when they play and hear it. But it’s not all hocus pocus!

But when I first picked up a Strad, I found it very difficult. You have to adapt your technique for every violin. It took me a few months, and it takes some people a year to unlock how you play an instrument to get its best sound.

LC: The Rhinegold events are free. Do you think there should be more events like this, to encourage those who aren’t interested in classical music, particularly young people?

JP: Definitely. An event like this is a great thing. But these events can’t be the way forward because it’s not feasible, from a musician’s perspective, to have free events. It’s not sustainable.

The government needs to do something about bringing music in to school. Its sounds like a cliché, but exposure to music at a young age, is the best thing to do. Politicians sometimes don’t understand that it’s an investment in a child, even if they don’t do it professionally. Classical music helps, with team building and communication skills. The research shows it’s great for maths. It can’t be underestimated in value. Also just for the sheer enjoyment! It’s underrated.

When cuts have to be made, arts are the first to go. It’s desperately sad. Musicians are resourceful and we will pull through, but these sorts of events aren’t enough. It has to come from the government too. Fingers crossed that will happen.

 

The Rhinegold LIVE recital is on the 10th June at Conway Hall, and is free. To book a ticket, please see their website.

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