Canadian-born violinist Lara St. John has been described as “something of a phenomenon” and a “high-powered soloist.” HPO sat down with this world-renowned artist to learn what inspires her creativity and how she keeps her feet firmly planted on the ground.
WHEN DID YOUR INTEREST IN MUSIC START?
Well, I was two when I began playing so I can’t say I entirely recall! However, both my brother and I had perfect pitch from, I guess, birth (even before we knew that A was A, we always sang things back in the same key). My love of music has been a constant in my life since the beginning, for which I am very thankful!
WHAT STOOD OUT TO YOU ABOUT THE VIOLIN?
Well, I’m not sure anything stood out to me particularly, because I was two! However, it is one of those instruments, unlike, say, wind and brass instruments, that comes in tiny sizes so I suppose it seemed a logical choice for a toddler. I believe I started on a 32nd size.
Since I have been doing it my whole life, it’s the instrument I am best at, obviously, and consider it more of a vessel than an instrument.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT PERFORMING MUSIC PROFESSIONALLY?
Well, there is a kind of rush which comes during performance which I have sometimes compared to the surfer’s wave – the wave that some folks spend their lives trying to catch and re-catch. Also, I get to meet a lot of folks and see a lot of places! An added bonus.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE MUSICAL MEMORY?
Again, this is really tough! I have a lot of favourites….One standout for me was re-creating Piazzolla’s Central Park concert 25 years later at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park in 2013, with the same pianist, Pablo Ziegler, and the original instrumentation (violin, piano, bandoneon, guitar, bass) for some 5,000 people on a perfect summer night!
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT PREPARING FOR A PERFORMANCE? DO YOU GET EVER GET NERVOUS?
These are basically the same questions – because with proper preparation, there are, at least for me, no nerves. Being excited is not the same thing – I am always excited to walk out on stage! The only time I get nervous is when I am ill-prepared, which hasn’t happened for ages, because I hate that feeling. My mantra is basically, if I have done it once, I can do it again! So especially for new works, I make sure to do run-throughs for friends before the public appearance.
IF YOU HAD TO PICK ONE GOAL YOU HAVE IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
My biggest goal is to commission as many new works as possible in my lifetime.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO ASPIRING YOUNG MUSICIANS, WHAT WOULD IT BE?
For young violinists it would be: make sure you are always practicing relaxed. I see so much tension when I give masterclasses, which pains me, the audience, the music, and not least, the student. It sounds easy, but relaxation on stage is hard to achieve and is of utmost importance, foremost for the music but also to avoid injury which is a commonplace occurrence in our field. The only way to perform relaxed and confidently is to practice that way!