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Profile: Catherine Lawlor, violinist

15/09/2020

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I come from a musical family – my father Michael is quite well known in the area as a composer and performer on cornett, shawm, recorder, modern oboe) as well as a woodwind and brass music teacher. My mother Sandra is an amateur flautist and pianist – there was always music on in the house. Originally, I wanted a double bass but was persuaded to settle for a violin instead.

I was fortunate to benefit from the excellent teachers in the music department at Peter Symonds College. Before then, I owe a special debt to Janis Moore, who taught me from the age of 7, and Adrian Adlam. I still meet up with my teachers and sometimes have the pleasure of playing along with them.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

What is positive about getting involved with music is that on one level it is always a challenge: there’s always something more to learn. Sometimes one’s opinions are challenged: prior to going to music college, I thought I understood technique, but soon realised that there is so much to learn and I am still learning. Pablo Casals was asked, at age 83, why he still practised. He responded: “Because I think I am making progress”.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I switch between performing chamber music, orchestral music, doing solos and recitals. It can be a challenge to find the right sound for all the various kinds of performances. With orchestral music, you need to blend, to contribute but not to dominate; with solos, you definitely need to project, but as a leader it’s a question of achieving something in between. With recitals, you have to match your timbre to that of the piano, and with chamber music you need to find the right timbre, to have your own voice whilst blending at the same time. I can always tell if a quartet has been used to playing together for some time by the extent to which they blend and interact.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have a special love for the French “impressionists” – Debussy, Ravel and Boulanger, and Franck too, and I feel I can perform their works better than those of other composers as a result. They create wonderful “sound worlds” – take the Debussy sonata for piano and violin, for example. Their works also allow for experimentation and innovation.

Other works that I have a particular affinity for include Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel, Ravel’s Mother Goose with its emotional journey, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, the Brahms and Beethoven Violin Concertos and quite by contrast Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (which I performed in my singing days).

I think the common feature they all share is their emotional journey and underlying narrative, and I think this is why I enjoy both playing and listening to these pieces so much.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

As a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I felt that I played Franck’s Violin Sonata really well in my final concert. It was a piece that I had revisited a number of times already and one that I always found challenging. It was a brilliant feeling to know that I had played it well and excellent timing that it was during my final recital for my degree!

I had to step in at the last moment to perform Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending having never learnt it before. I discovered some wonderful new things about it which weren’t obvious from listening to a recording of it. I find there are some pieces that are always so much better experienced live with their complex textures and I think this is one of them.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Not everyone will like how you play, so take criticism on the chin, if it is legitimate, use it to learn and improve. Remember that you always have fans, it’s just that if they like what you are doing they don’t always say so!

Don’t be afraid to put your mark on a piece, to seek a new interpretation.

Arthur Rubinstein’s dictum was to limit practice to 4 hours per day, and I think this works well for me. You need to take breaks and seek inspiration away from rehearsing.

Slowly the curriculum is coming to recognise the value in music in schools for general self-development as well as many other things, and the Hampshire Music Service is doing a fine job in the circumstances. I’m finding that if the head teacher is keen on music in a school, then it tends to flourish. I am always encouraging younger students to play and enjoy playing.

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

I’ve been busy working towards producing a CD entitled Myths and Legends along with the pianist Valentina Seferinova. It’s been fun exploring a theme through music. It will feature a wide selection of works such as Szymanowski’s Mythes, works by Delius, Korngold, Malling and Bridge. Valentina and I have tried to choose works that have a strong narrative and it has been really interesting to discover lots of works that have yet to be recorded and tell a story.

I hope that live performances will be possible again soon and that audiences will be happy to return: we need to demonstrate to the government that our profession is worth supporting.

My next concert will be on Saturday 24 October in Beaulieu Abbey Church where I will be playing as a member of the Nova Foresta Classical Players. It will be a nice varied programme.

About Catherine

Catherine Lawlor began studying the violin at the age of seven with Janis Moore and subsequently with Adrian Adlam. In 2009, she won a full scholarship to study with Marius Bedeschi at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and graduated with first-class honours in 2013. She continued her studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music, New York, under Daniel Phillips and completed her masters in 2015. During her undergraduate and master’s degrees she was awarded many prizes for both performance and academic achievement including the Balsam Scholarship for Chamber Music and the Graduating Masters Award.

Catherine is now a freelance musician who has performed as soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player in the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA. She has recorded for film, television and radio for Amazon Prime, the BBC and Avanti. In our area she is most closely associated with the Chichester Symphony Orchestra (she is its Leader) and the Solent Symphony Orchestra.

Author: Simon O'Hea with Catherine Lawlor

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