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15 Questions to Ruth Palmer

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’m at home in London

What’s on your schedule right now?
I’m playing here in St John’s Smith Square; Mozart and Korngold concerti, and I’m getting ready to record Bach Partita No.2 at the end of March

Can you still remember the first time you heard a piece of classical music?

No, I was surrounded by it from birth as my parents are musicians.

What was the deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?
I had been playing the violin since the age of 2, but I made the decision to turn professional when I went to music school aged 10. At that point I figured I had been playing for so long and invested so much in it that it would be a bit of a waste not to carry on!! I made the decision to be exclusively a soloist at the age of 14, after playing in the NYO for a year and discovering that I wanted artistic autonomy.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?

The hardest part is being all things to all people; violinist, artist, interviewee, travel agent, business woman, innocent wide-eyed English girl! The best thing is the flip side of that; I have the freedom to be whoever I want to be both artistically - through fantasy and imagination, and in a wider sense – I enjoy being my own boss.

Do you consider it important that more young people care for classical music? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved?
Yes I do, I think there needs to be a multi-faceted approach. The most important thing is to keep music education standards in schools very high, and for everyone to be given the opportunity to sing and to play a musical instrument from an early age, say 6 years old. Other approaches should include less dumbing down of culture in general e.g. on television, and less snobbery and blind reliance on established methods of operation from the core-classical music industry.

How would you rate the importance of the internet and new media for classical music?

I think that as a tool for reaching new audiences it is very important, but unless that communication translates to people coming into the concert hall for live performance, that the new audience isn’t getting the full benefit of what classical music has to offer.

With so many different recordings of a particular piece available – how do you keep yours fresh and different?
By asking myself difficult questions like the one you just asked me. Why should someone want to listen to me? I have to bring something of myself to the performance; only then it is unique and valuable.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

There are as many different types of live performances as there are people. I think a good live performance is one in which the performer and the audience are receptive to each other’s mood, and where the performer is totally dedicated and has prepared honestly about what the music means to them.

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
It is the artist’s awareness of his or her own perspective on the composition, and a musical commitment to that point of view.

How do you balance the need to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
I start with the music. During my preparation I ask myself what the music makes me feel, then I ask myself when in my life I felt like that (very occasionally it is in the present). I use those memories as a subtext for the composition. This is only during the preparation though; by the time of the performance the music has its own emotional life.

What’s your view on the relationship between musical education and classical music?

It is very important; we are all living on the shoulders of giants.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
I would do concerts with two intervals and one large piece in each section. The first third would be a piece of solo Bach on piano, cello or violin, the second a chamber music piece like Messiaen Quartet for the end of time (Messiaen would be 100 this year), And the third would be a large orchestral work like Beethoven Symphony No. 6 which was premiered 200 years ago.

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?

It is like one of my limbs.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

I used to want to play the cello, and my brother and father played the cello so I used to steal their instruments and have a go, but my vibrato and bow hold were all wrong, so it didn’t sound very nice!

Picture by Jochen Braun

Shostakovich (2007) Quartz

Ruth Palmer

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