Classical-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!!
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!?
You 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