Ahead of our upcoming tour, we asked soloist Benjamin Baker about music, Mozart, and what he likes most about playing in Wales with Sinfonia Cymru. We will be on tour with Benjamin on 1st-4th March 2018 – more information and tickets here.
What is your earliest memory of listening to music?
It is probably Nigel Kennedy’s Four Seasons (one of the few classical CDs my parents had in the house) which I fell in love with as a 4 year old and danced around the room to. He became my first violin idol and it was this which gave me the ambition of going to the music school he went to, the Yehudi Menuhin School. Just a few years later I had the incredible opportunity of meeting and playing to Kennedy when he came to Wellington, NZ. This was a dream come true for 7 year old me! I was playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto at the time and Kennedy joined in. As we finished the first movement he reacted to our playing and said something that raised my parents eyebrows along the lines of ‘f***ing good rhythm’ and suggested I applied to the Menuhin School where he had studied and from there my ambition of coming to the UK started to become a reality.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
There’s a good friend of mine who makes sure that I’m never far from the music and lyrics of Nick Cave and I’m currently enjoying a renaissance in my appreciation of Ella Fitzgerald. On the classical side I’m listening to a lot of Poulenc before playing his violin sonata later this year and recently have been marvelling (again) at Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri.
You and Timothy Ridout have played together several times. What do you like about working together?
That’s definitely a question that should be asked in front of each other so we can exchange cheeky looks before attempting to answer! I think that an underlying friendship (if Tim agrees!) has developed through working together over several years. As we are often in different countries or continents it’s always an added bonus that when we work together we also get to catch up as friends!
You and Timothy have also both worked with Sinfonia Cymru several times before. What makes Sinfonia Cymru different from other orchestras?
Having played with Sinfonia Cymru in various capacities over the last few years, I continue to admire the integrity that flows through everything they do. It shows on many levels, from integrity to the music on stage and in rehearsal right through to the leadership of the organisation. The fact that an artist the calibre of Gábor Takács-Nagy is working with them is a wonderful endorsement of this and I’m incredibly excited to be a part of this project.
You’ll be playing Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola. What’s special about this piece and why should people come along to hear it?
I absolutely love this music and think it is Mozart’s best concerto for string instruments. I find its beauty and delicacy ravishing and I don’t imagine it’s possible we will ever get tired of playing it, no matter how many times we have both performed it between us so far!
What do you enjoy most about coming to Wales to play?
Outside of the concert hall, there’s nothing quite like the way the Welsh ‘sing’ the English language (and the Welsh language too, if only I could learn to understand more than a few words!) I have a close Welsh friend, pretty much an adopted family member by now, who I met on my first trips to Wales with Steffan Morris. I’ve had hugs before but she gave me my first cwtch and perhaps it’s those wonderfully warm cwtches that have kept bringing me back!
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I’m not really sure, my mind changes whenever I’m asked this question and music is such an immersive way of life, I don’t ever have time, or perhaps I just lack the motivation to think about it!
Do you have any advice for young musicians who are currently learning?
Whatever else is going on in our lives, play at least a little every day. There’s a wonderful quote from Yehudi Menuhin which I love and try to remember every day, no matter how I feel about picking up the violin:
“If I wanted to play the violin, I had to work. Because anything that one wants to do really well, and one loves doing, one must do everyday. It should be as easy to the artist, and as natural, as flying is to a bird. And you can’t imagine a bird saying well, I’m tired today, I’m not going to fly”.