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Profile: Julia Bishop, violinist

17/03/2021

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

The Early Music movement had become rather staid and academic by the time that the period instrument ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, was founded in 1985. It really broke the mould, and was the inspiration for Red Priest, the group that Piers Adams and I set up in the UK in 1997, and for which I played for the next 19 years. I would like to think Red Priest was similarly pioneering.

I was taught by Sir Roger Norrington at the RCM, going on to play for his London Classical Players and, later, the English Concert. I discovered my love of Early Music during my studies at the Royal College of Music when one day I heard the Baroque orchestra being directed by the inspiring Cat Mackintosh. I initially just did one term with the orchestra studying a Handel opera, but by the end of this was completely hooked.

Another great influence was Peter Cropper and the Lindsay String Quartet. Peter used to run inspiring masterclasses, showing me how to make music come alive, and how to make it communicate a series of strong emotions.

Tell us more about Red Priest.

I love hearing people say that they’ve taken up the Baroque oboe, for example, after experiencing Red Priest: it’s certainly attracted a younger age group to the genre. Our approach has always been not to make things too highbrow, to inject a sense of theatre, and to give people a bit of context by chatting between works.

After all, people weren’t too formal when making music in the Baroque era: goats and people used to wander in and out!

After Red Priest, I started my workshops for adults in Lewes. It’s been great to witness some people picking up the instrument after 20 years, and getting rid of bad habits.

I’ve teach Baroque violin pupils at Chichester Conservatoire, and I take the Baroque orchestra there. It’s wonderful seeing many students successfully develop into the style of playing that marks out the Baroque.

It’s great to be performing and working with conductor Crispin Ward, Oxana Dodon (violin) and Ivana Peranic (‘cello) at Chichester’s University.

I am now finding great inspiration performing concerts with soprano Ana Maria Rincon and harpsichordist Howard Beach in their newly-formed chamber ensemble Purcell’s Muse.

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

Launching one’s career is always challenging, but I was helped by the fact that the early music scene was lively, and I quickly found my feet.

Juggling work and family can be challenging, the more so if work means a lot of long-haul flights to the other side of the world, as it did for me.

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

Touring has a special place for me: you work intensively with other musicians.

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

Even if he’s not from the Baroque area, Mozart is the composer who most moves and heals me. It’s no surprise that he appears on so many tracks for young children. I am also a great fan of Monteverdi, Beethoven and Chopin, depending on my mood. Bach is not for relaxation, he’s often too intensive, but he is an absolute genius.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

I am proud of what we achieved as Red Priest, and a special mention should also be made of the London Classical Players’ performances of Beethoven’s symphonies (with Melvyn Tan) and English Concert’s performances of Mozart’s symphonies: in each case none of the musicians (including myself) stood out above the others, yet they were exceptional.

Which works do you think you most like performing?

I like music that is thoughtful, that moves slowly with a long line, which you can sing in your head as you play. So I am not that much of a fan of, say, Vivaldi’s stratospheric, gymnastic approach!

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

Don’t be discouraged by the current situation. Music will always be essential. Many people are keen to experience live music. And even if performances will now be both online and in-person, that makes it accessible to many more people.

If you are set on a career in music, be passionate – that’s the only way you will be able to do your best.

I often refer my pupils to David Cutler’s excellent “The Savvy Musician” book. It has a lot of pointers for success, focusing on the entrepreneurial side of the music business and emphasizing the value of creativity and risk.

I also like Tony Rooley’s “Performance: Revealing the Orpheus within”. It helps build up confidence and overcome nerves, showing how the performer can achieve a heightened state of self-awareness and sense of magic.

At any stage of your career, you may have to re-invent yourself; attitude is everything, and you are only limited by lack of imagination! That’s why I am optimistic that we will get things going.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

Once lockdown ends there will be a lot less travel, but I am not going to miss it. Infact travel restrictions are probably good for one’s health, and I am certainly not as tired as I used to be!

But things are getting busier professionally. For example I’m taking part in The Polyphonic Concert Club, a project initiated and managed by Robert Hollingworth and Polyphonic Films, comprising six filmed online chamber recitals including I Fagiolini and Red Priest, which has just been launched as a livestream (available until 29 April). We will be playing a selection of “vintage” pieces which will be able to be viewed on 1 April.

I am also looking forward to playing with Salisbury Baroque before too long and to returning to Benslow Music in August.

Julia studied at the Royal College of Music and has made the Baroque violin her speciality.  Thirty-five years later Julia is recognised as one of the most colourful exponents of the instrument. She has toured the world extensively and made numerous recordings with all the period instrument orchestras in the UK including the London Classical Players, the Hanover Band, the Academy of Ancient Music, the English Concert, with whom she was a member for six years, and as leader and soloist with the Gabrieli Consort and Players for five years.

​In 1997 Julia co-founded the ensemble Red Priest with recorder player Piers Adams, and from then enjoyed what was to be 19 years of huge success, regularly touring Europe, the Far East and America and making 6 highly acclaimed CDs.  In 2015 Julia stepped back from the group in order to be at home more with her young daughter, but still appears as guest violinist. As well as Red Priest, Julia is a member of Purcell’s Muse with Ana Maria Rincon, soprano, and Howard Beach on harpsichord.

In the last few years Julia has become increasingly popular for her lively and informative teaching on workshops and courses around the UK.  She is a regular tutor at Benslow Music and teaches Historical Performance at the University of Chichester Conservatoire as well as recently tutoring at the Royal Academy of Music and the University of York.

2019/20 solo recitals have included ‘Night Music’, a programme of evocative music for unaccompanied violin at Lewes Baroquefest 2019 and Bridge Cottage Museum, Uckfield Jan 2020, and a live-streamed duo recital with cellist Sebastian Comberti for Seaford Music Festival Sept 2020.

https://www.juliabishopviolin.com

Author: Simon O'Hea with Julia Bishop

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