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Fiona Pears: May 2010

Fiona PearsClassical-Crossover.co.uk is delighted to have been granted the chance to get to know violinist Fiona Pears a little bit better. Having worked and recorded with some of the biggest names in and out of classical music (including Heather Nova and Hayley Westenra) and recording four solo albums (her most recent album, Fire & Light was the first ever album to receive a perfect score on this site) whilst travelling the world, we figured there couldn't be anyone more fascinating!

You have made a career out of your violin - releasing four solo albums, recording for other artists, embarking on your own tours and performing regularly in other concerts. What made you choose the violin, especially considering that your mother was a piano teacher?
I remember going to a violin concert when I was about four years old and from that moment all I wanted was to play the violin. I did also play the piano and I know that as a child I found doing my piano practice much easier than the violin! There was always something so special to me about the violin and I found that one of the few ways I could really express myself was through playing. I think that doing the piano alongside the violin also helped so much in the early days and now I use the piano a lot when writing my music, so to have a mother as a piano teacher was a huge help!

If you were asked to name as many singers as you can that have sold several million albums, the list would be endless - but the list is rather limited for violinists and it's not often that a new violinist is launched into the public consciousness. What do you think it is about the violin that makes having a recording career with it so difficult?
I think that it's hard to get people to take the violin out of the box which has been created for it over hundreds of years. Often people still can't imagine hearing the violin like you hear a voice. What I mean by this is that I think a violin can sing and tell stories if played in a certain way. I always try and talk about the tunes that I write so that the audience can get a picture of the story behind them, and then I like to leave it up to them to create their own images.

Where do you think artists like Vanessa-Mae, André Rieu and Nigel Kennedy got it right?
I think that Vanessa-Mae and Nigel Kennedy are extraordinary violinists who have taken it to a different level in terms of the public image they have now. Good management and a record company pushing them have of course been a huge help also. André Rieu is different as he is more of a performer and overall entertainer than just a violinist. Personally, I would not call him a great violinist but he has created a great and exciting show for people to see. His violin is a focal point which again helps to change its image from something which has been very much slotted into a classical world into something which is more dramatic and entertaining.

Who were your childhood heroes and who are they today?
I would have to say that my Mother and my sister (on a musical level) as I always heard them playing wonderful music, and as I am eight years younger than my sister, I always wanted to be able to sound like her on the piano. I still remember trying to play the music she was playing and never being able to make it sound like she did, ha ha! I also listened to many old records of different violinists and orchestras. I was in love with so many recordings and artists that I could never write a list of them all. A few things that stand out in my mind still are: An old recording of Pictures at an Exhibition, recordings of Beethoven's Piano Concertos and some Menuhin recordings. I can't remember all the artists and pieces that I listened to but I know that I would spend hours lying on the floor and listening or when I was very young I tried to conduct the recording in front of the mirror!!

These days I still have so many musicians that I am in awe of that are from so many different bands and different styles of music. I love groups like Salsa Celtica through to old recordings of Grappelli and Django then new recordings of Roby Lakatos. There are also many singers I love listening to; I was a big fan of Kate Bush and when I was in my early twenties, I listened to her for hours.

Many classical violinists perform the same repertoire, but you compose and arrange your own music, which frequently draws from many genres. What inspires so many different sounds in your music?
I think that this comes from having a love of so many different styles of music. Also travelling and meeting people is a huge part of my writing. I do find that I am not a mathematical composer and I tend to be influenced by my emotions more than my brain telling me what to do.

When I first left New Zealand, I was just so blown away by the things that I saw and the people that I met. One of the first tunes I wrote was when I woke up on the plane and the sun was rising over the Black Sea. I had left NZ on my own for the first time and was flying to the Netherlands so I was in awe of everything and I remember writing tunes about so many things. I even wrote a tune about where I was staying in the Netherlands as it was a small village and the room I was in looked out over the fields with lots of cows in them so I wrote a tune called, 'Ode to the Cows'.

I still find today that this is how I write and I think that I am so lucky to travel and experience so many different feelings. I hope this will never change! I also love to explore the violin and find out what new sounds I can make. I love the idea of it being like a voice and being able to tell stories, so I try to evoke images in the music I play so that people can feel something or make up their own stories to the sounds.

Fire & Light Fiona PearsYour fourth album, Fire & Light, consists mostly of your own compositions and it's even more special as you perform with the world famous City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. How did the concept for Fire & Light come about, and how did the CPPO get involved?
To be honest, when I started writing the tunes for Fire & Light, I didn't really have a concept in mind. I had always dreamt about recording with an orchestra and after going on a trip to Prague, when my husband Ian Tilley was working with them, I got to hear how wonderful they were; my mind starting racing with the thought that I could possibly record a CD with them. I was about half way into writing the music for Fire & Light when Ian and I started talking seriously about using the orchestra alongside my New Zealand band. After lots of talking and budgeting, and hours and hours of working on arrangements, we figured that we could make this happen. As Ian had recorded with the CPPO before he knew how good they were and how much we could get done in the time that we could afford. I still can't believe that we made it happen! It was a combined effort as I could not have done it without Ian.

What direction do you see your albums taking in the future?
For my next CD I want to almost go back to basics. I have written about twelve new tunes that I would like to record with my band but also add in something different. I am not sure what this will be yet, but I like to have a different feel to every CD that I do as it makes it interesting for the listener, and a challenge for me. The similar thread that runs though each CD is the compositions that I write. Even though they have changed a little bit over the years, I find that there are habits to my writing, and I love the story telling that comes with each tune. On this new CD there are still Celtic, Tango and Classical tunes but they each have a fresh story behind them. I even wrote two tunes when I was in Tokyo which are very influenced by my time there.

Your career has taken you to many international venues all over the world, from the US to Asia; can you pick out any highlights from all of these countries, and any particular venues?
I have been so, so lucky. I have played in many amazing venues. There are so many highlights from years of performing but here are a few of my favourites:

The Harbour Light Theatre in my home town is an amazing place. It is small and only fits about two hundred people but it has been one of my favourite venues for about fifteen years! It has that special vibe to it that makes it a warm and exciting place to play. I also loved performing in the Birmingham Symphony Hall in the UK, Joe's Pub in New York, Ronnie Scott's in London, the Dunedin Town Hall in New Zealand, the Wellington Old Town Hall in New Zealand, the Sydney Opera House... Oh, there are heaps... I have been so spoilt!

You have moved your base from New Zealand to the UK. How have you found the transition?
I am lucky to be able to have a base in both countries now. I can almost live in the summer months all year around which is very nice for my fingers! I do not like playing in the winter when it is very cold and I have to do about an hour of scales just to warm my fingers up!

The lovely thing about living in both countries is that it has inspired a lot of compositions. Feeling homesick has been very hard and I have written a lot of music about it. I will always feel homesick for New Zealand when I am away from my dear family and friends. I am quite a homebody so this has helped in London as we have a lovely home there where I can indulge myself in DIY work around the house when I have time. This makes me feel like I am back in NZ sometimes. I also love the excitement of living in London; it is so different from our little home in Lyttelton. I think Ian and I are both lucky to have such an interesting lifestyle.

You are quite well known for your connection with Hayley Westenra; how did the collaboration begin, and what is she like to work with?
She is just lovely to work with. I first met Hayley about six years ago in 2004. This was her first world tour after Pure was released. I was then asked to keep working with her in the UK, US, Asia, Australia and New Zealand for several years. I have had wonderful opportunities during this time to meet people and perform in stunning venues. I do think that I am so lucky to have had this chance. I also met my husband, Ian Tilley, on her first tour so we have had the chance to travel and work together as he has been her MD. How lucky can a girl get!?

Fiona Pears LiveYou have performed with many household names already, but are there any other artists that you dream of performing with?
There are many musicians that I would love to perform with but I don't really dream about it. My dreams are to perform with my own band as much as I can and keep trying to write more music that I hope people will like. I really love the musicians that I am working with both in NZ and the UK and I just hope to keep working with them for many, many years.

What are the main events in your diary for 2010?
To record a new CD! I am also doing a NZ tour in October/November with Arts on Tour NZ, along with two shows in the North Island of New Zealand with the Waikato Symphony Orchestra. After this I will do a large show at the Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch on February 19th 2011, which I am busy arranging a lot of music for. This is going to be a big show with about twelve musicians with me on stage. I am rather excited about this...! I am hoping to have my CD finished in time for this concert so will start recording in NZ in October between tour dates. It should be a fun and busy year!

To find more information on Fiona's live dates, check her Gig Diary. You can purchase her five star album, Fire & Light, here.

Interview by Nicola Jarvis

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