Q&A with APO Viola, Helen Lee

Where are you from?
Dunedin!

How long have you been a musician in the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra?
This is my seventh year in the APO.

What is your musical background? Have you always wanted to be a musician?
I grew up in a family environment where music was always enjoyed. My Dad managed to squeeze in his love of the piano around being a GP, giving me a very useful built-in accompanist growing up – although he did have to increase his practice once I progressed to pieces by Brahms and Schumann!

We also had family concerts where everyone was encouraged to participate in some way, whether serious or fun, and if you made a mistake you got chocolate. I’m really lucky to have grown up thinking of performing as a relaxed and enjoyable progression from practice.

As to whether I always wanted to be a musician – I did a year of music at university and decided that wasn’t for me (thank you very much!), so I changed to an English/History degree, and the happy results of that change was that it freed me up to really enjoy music as a hobby instead.

I ended up returning to my music degree a year later, as I found myself doing far more practicing than I had done while officially studying music! I was far more motivated and sure of myself by this point.

Can you play any other instrument, besides the viola?
Violin and very basic piano. I also briefly tried the oboe at high school – I think it is fair to say that my family were very happy when I gave that up (haha). It was generally agreed that my oboe playing sounded terrible.

What have you learnt from your career as a professional musician?
One thing I find really interesting, is how audiences differ by country. In the UK, the dash to the Tube after concerts looked like a standing ovation to me – however it was actually people trying to beat the end-of-concert-rush, and leaving while clapping almost as soon as things finished.

I also lived in Finland for a year and I found the Finnish to be the most well behaved-audience. No coughing, and never ever any clapping between movements. In fact they were so polite, that if they had any doubt of it being an appropriate place to clap they would just wait, even at the end of pieces. In contrast, on my tours in China – concerts seemed to be treated more like movies or sports games, with concertgoers snacking on popcorn and neon signs everywhere!

What are you most looking forward to in the APO’s 2021 season?
Definitely Mahler 5 with our Maestro Giordano Bellincampi. I just love the huge scale of it.

What are your interests outside music?
I enjoy spending time with family, reading, making/drinking cocktails, travelling and walking in NZ’s gorgeous outdoors, and swimming at the beach.

What makes you happiest?
A long, hot bath with a stack of books!

What might surprise people to know about you?
I got married last year with just five days’ notice! We had been planning an April 2020 wedding but by then, COVID had become an issue and we were getting worried about it being able to go ahead. We decided that just to be safe, we would pop to Dunedin and get married that weekend with only our immediate family in attendance.

It turned out to be a great decision as the day after we got married, the first lockdown was announced, and we went straight into a 6-week lockdown ‘honeymoon’ in a tiny apartment – trial by fire! It was certainly a memorable way to start married life.

Quickfire! What is your favourite-at-the-moment...?

Book: Whatever is within reaching distance

MovieThe Red Violin

TV ShowLove it or List it

Food: Chocolate

Song: At the moment I’m loving listening to Kiwi singer Tami Neilson’s music

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