Thursday, February 15, 2007

an interview with violinist James Ehnes

Canadian-born violinist James Ehnes is already a seasoned pro at the ripe old age of 23. A child-prodigy-esque solo debut, competitions, a Julliard education, critical acclaim, and a CD that garnered him the distinction of being the youngest classical artist (at 19) ever nominated for a Juno award have pushed this musician to the forefront of his profession.

Ehnes joins Orchestra London September 29 and 30 to perform Max Bruch's Scottish Fantasy Op. 46, and Scene Magazine caught up with him over the phone during a brief layover at his New York home.

Scene: What is one interest that you have that is as far in people's minds as you could get from classical music?

Ehnes: Well, they'd be very surprised at how much hockey I watch (laughs). And how much wonderful practising I get done during the Stanley Cup playoffs! I'll just have the TV on mute and hack away for hours. I watch a lot of sports on TV and I try to play as much as I can.

Scene: Did you ever want to give up music?

Ehnes: Not really. There was a time near the end of my competition circuit where I decided (to quit). I actually remember making the decision onstage. I was at one of these competitions and thinking, I hate this. That was a step for me, almost like deciding what it is I do and why I do it. It wasn't, "I don't want to play the violin." It wasn't even, "I don't want to compete so much." It was that moment of recognizing that the philosophy of the music competition didn't appeal to me.

I was very lucky, though, that through the competitions that I did do I was able to meet enough influential people to allow me to get out of that scene. It can be a real burnout for a lot of people.

Scene: If classical music goes the way of the Dodo, do you think it would matter?

Ehnes: It's not a valid question. Not gonna happen. I think it has always mattered a lot to a few people, and it still matters a lot to a few people. And it's always going to be in trouble, but in my lifetime it's not going to go. And I hope to do as much as I can to preserve it for the next generation after myself.

Scene: Your manager Walter Homburger handled Glenn Gould when Gould was alive. What's the best advice he's ever given you?

Ehnes: Patience. He's taught me that sometimes you have to be patient and wait and see how things will pan out. And he's taught me that anything that you don't earn, you never really have at all. Anything that's given to you without really earning it and deserving it becomes as unimportant as if it was never there.

And conversely I've also learned from him that there are times in life and in business when you have to just go for it, right then. He's certainly like that as a business manager. He really is a fascinating guy.

Scene: Tell me about the Bruch piece you're playing with Orchestra London.

Ehnes: It's got incredible beauty and these soaring lines, and it's got a lot of virtuoso pyrotechnics and whatnot, so you get your money's worth if you're looking for the violinist to play a lot of notes.

I can't imagine that it would be a disappointment to anyone, because no matter what you're looking for in a violin concerto, you'll find it in the Scottish Fantasy.

September 23, 1999
copyright 1999, Michelle Lynne Goodfellow

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