9th Apr 2019

From the principal’s chair: ECO leader Stephanie Gonley

We caught up with ECO leader Stephanie Gonley ahead of her forthcoming concert as soloist and director (Cadogan Hall,16 April)

You’ve been leader of the ECO since 1991. Has your approach to rehearsing for a concert when you’re both director and soloist changed over the years?
Probably, but it’s an evolving process rather than conscious decision-making – for me, anyway – and therefore almost impossible to pinpoint. When I first started directing I was pretty young and had the bad habit of imitating the ideas of musicians I admired. I learned quite quickly that it was possible to be influenced by people without necessarily emulating them, the musicianship behind the ideas being a more inspirational guide.

I’m not really aware of approaching music differently according to whether I’m playing solo or directing from the leader’s chair. The former of course requires more multi-tasking, and I’m more reliant on the support and skills of other players around me. With the latter, the emphasis is on communicative playing, both in rehearsal and concert. The more I can demonstrate energy and character, the less need there is to talk in rehearsal. There’s still a fair amount of talking though as I can only play the first violin part, and it’s challenging for people sitting far away to pick up on every nuance. But I try to communicate as much as possible through clarity of expression.

What advice would you give to a young violinist wanting to follow a similar career path?
Having been lucky enough to be given these opportunities early on in my career, I only really feel qualified to offer musical rather than career advice. If I can help a young musician to grow into these roles, it’s likely to be through teaching or coaching over an extended period.

When you mention the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto one automatically thinks of the E minor, but for April’s concert you’ll be performing the D minor, written by a 13-year-old Mendelssohn and a very different work.
The D minor Concerto is a very endearing piece, but yes, it’s completely different from the much more mature E minor. One would barely recognise it as being by the same composer. It’s rather quirky and requires an inventive approach to highlight its naive charm.

The rest of the programme includes Bartók’s Divertimento and the Schubert Rondo in A major, both popular with the ECO, and Suk’s Serenade for Strings…
Yes, we used to play both the Bartók and the Schubert a lot and I’m excited to get back to them. The Suk is almost new to us but maybe we’ll start programming it more after this concert; it’s a wonderful piece, really exuberant and uplifting.

Sailing seems to be a popular hobby amongst ECO members. Do you have a similar outlet away from your musical commitments?
I really enjoy cooking and have recently taken up sourdough bread making, which is strangely absorbing. It’s also a great way to de-stress. I highly recommend it!

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