Interview with soloist Emily Davis

Q: When did your ‘love affair’ with the violin begin? Was their already music in the family?

I vividly remember being jealous of my older sister learning the cello when I was about 3 - watching her lessons, I wanted to imitate the movements and pluck all the strings noisily. However, my Mum felt two cellists in the family may be one too many so I was given a violin! As for the start of a love affair - I clearly remember the amazement I felt when I first heard the opening melody of Tchaikovsky concerto for the first time. I promise I'm not just saying that because Tchaikovsky is what I will perform with Wimbledon Symphony Orchestra!

I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by music from the word go. My mother is a pianist and an academic music teacher, and always supported me through lessons at a young age, helping me to concentrate. My father is a great organist, though not professional, and my brother is finishing his Horn studies at the Royal Academy of Music. It's safe to say Christmas at my house is always a little noisy.

Q: When did you decide to make music your career? Was there ever another option?

I'm afraid there was never another real option, though I went through the healthy childhood phases of imagining myself as a pop star/Blue Peter presenter. I'm quite relieved those were short-lived ambitions. For me, school lessons were always secondary in my head to when I could go to music classes every Saturday at the Junior Royal College of Music, and be a member of National Children's Orchestra and National Youth Orchestra. It was always where I was happiest and I'm grateful to have been surrounded by so many musical activities as a child.

Q: Do you have vivid memories of your first public performance?

I think I was too young to remember the first - I think it was "Open String Samba"!

Q: Tell us about your first concerto appearance as a soloist?

My first "big" concerto appearance was performing Prokofiev's first violin concerto, which is a piece I love. I think it is one of the most important 20th century concertos. It is so full of character and beautiful soundscapes, and is fiendishly hard at moments - but I'm glad it was my first. I loved the whole experience of totally absorbing myself in a whole concerto score, though I find many more new things in the piece every time I re-visit it. I do also remember being a little too excited about choosing a pretty dress for that concert...

Q: Your career has taken you around the world to the greatest concert halls. Which one gave you the greatest thrill the first time?

I'm afraid it's a bit of a cliché, but I would say Carnegie Hall. Not particularly because of the room itself, but I was in awe of its glamorous history. Otherwise - the Musikverein in Vienna was thrilling, as it is such a beautiful place to play in, and the acoustic makes everything sound golden.

Q: And you have played under some of the world’s most famous conductors what are your dominant emotions (hopes & fears) when you meet and work with a new one for the first time?

I always hope there will be a natural rapport and musical understanding, and that a conductor wants to listen as much to the orchestra's way of playing in front of them as they want to place their own ideas and interpretations on it. If there is that respect going two ways, it becomes easy to have a fruitful collaboration. It is always exciting to meet a conductor for the first time to see how the chemistry will be, and as a leader when you are often working closely with them. Though it can be intense sometimes it is also very interesting to meet these fascinating musicians up close.

Q: So, having tasted the ‘big time’ in halls around the world, what is the attraction of playing to a small audience in a church or local hall?

I love to play to smaller audiences and to be closer to them. It's exciting to play in big halls, but while we have the very traditional set -up and structure of concerts in these venues, there will inevitably be a divide between the performers and audience. To play smaller scale concerts means you can interact easily with the audience and it can often feel more "human"! It's nice to able to see who is at the back of the room - though only if they are enjoying themselves!!!

Q: You have just finished a spell in Norway as a Concertmaster of the Bergen Philharmonic. What was the attraction there?

I had a wonderful time in Bergen for a year and a half. It was a great home for me - and supported my musical wishes very well. It gave me a lot of flexibility to travel and also to practise more for my own projects as their working days are shorter. So I was able to fully immerse myself in the repertoire I was learning.

Q: Where does the Tchaikovsky rank in your repertoire of great concertos? Has there been one particular performance of it that you remember above all?

The Tchaikovsky is a special one for me as it led me (as mentioned earlier) to be really captivated to play the violin. It's one I have attempted to play – badly - from a young age, but only performed properly for the first time last year. I love the rawness of Tchaikovsky's emotions in the first movement. I feel I can imagine his state of being so clearly when playing it, and the music is still so alive now. He was also the master of the melodies that tug on your heart strings. Though I find other concertos more interesting in other ways, this one has a deeper personal feeling for me and after surviving the lengthy first movement, the rest is so much fun to play! My favourite performance I have seen live was by Janine Jansen. She always delights me with unexpectedly beautiful moments I hadn't realised were there before.

Q: When you take time out from your incredibly busy professional schedule – and all that travelling – what is your favourite relaxation.

My favourite thing is to come home from a long day, have a glass of wine and cook a big hearty meal with some music (probably not classical!) on in the background. I love food and playing around with it is a great way to clear my head. Having been in Bergen the last year, it has also become one of my greatest joys to hike in the mountains. I will miss that terribly and plan to find some great routes near my new home in Edinburgh!