Q&A with James Ehnes

APO's Josh Clark chatted with award-winning virtuoso violinist James Ehnes ahead of his performance with the APO for The New Zealand Premier Series: Star-Crossed Lovers.

Tell us about your process for learning a major solo work with orchestra.

Every piece has its own individual challenges, but I’d say the general process is to read through it, getting an idea of the shape and proportions, then focusing on some of the challenges in the solo part, then studying - a lot! - The orchestration and how everything fits together.

What draws you to Bernstein's music?

I love the balance between the cerebral side of Bernstein’s personality, and the side that always wants to be the “fun guy in the room”. I feel like the Serenade threads this needle perfectly; I think it’s one of his most engaging and successful works.

Is there a composer or work you haven't performed, that you would like to?

There are lots of pieces I’d love to play that I haven’t yet! I think the two concerti by Szymanowski are very high on that list; I love his music but these pieces just haven’t come around for me yet.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?

I owe a lot to many people. I think my father was probably my greatest musical influence, though I could never be where I am without my two teachers, Francis Chaplin and Sally Thomas, or my first manager, Walter Homburger.

What is your favourite venue in the world?

Auckland Town Hall, of course! Honestly, I have a lot of favourites, and the Auckland Town Hall is one of them. Carnegie Hall in New York will always have a special place in my heart as I lived in New York as a student, so whenever I have the chance to play there it is a dream come true.

What is the greatest challenge you have faced during a concert?

There have been many! I was once playing when there was a total power outage, and the room went 100% dark. That was pretty alarming for everyone!

What has been the high point of your career so far?

From a musical standpoint, any night can be a special night, and I think that is my favourite thing about the job. I’ve been lucky to have had a lot of really special and memorable musical experiences.

What are you looking forward to exploring while you are in New Zealand?

After my concert in Auckland my family and I are taking several days for a family vacation. We will be in the South for our last few days, with friends near Queenstown, and we are tremendously excited about that.

What is your favourite thing you do four yourself?

Spending time with my wife and kids. I’m so happy they will be with me in New Zealand.

What is the best piece of advice you've ever receieved?

I think it comes in many forms, but it was summed up best by Benjamin Franklin, who wrote “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.”

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