In three words I would describe my style as, comfortable, smart casual.
I love the versatility of beautiful jackets worn with anything from Jeans to dressed up trousers. Of course, as a professional violinist, I must always keep comfort and freedom of movement in mind, especially around the shoulders. The irony of my profession is the fact that we musicians need to look sharp on stage while performing, but with all the physical acrobatics, mental concentration and bright lights, we perspire like sports people. After a concert my tuxedo or tail coat is thoroughly soaked. Needless to say, my dry-cleaner and I have become very good friends. For traveling I always wear a jacket because I need handy pockets for my passport and documents. For rehearsals I usually start out wearing a jacket, until I start overheating. When it comes to jumpers, I definitely favour those which can zip open in front, to control my body heat in stages. For performances I wear either tails or a tuxedo. The dress code for classical orchestral musicians have remained very traditional through the past hundred years. Soloists and Conductors are more and more abandoning this tradition in favour of more comfortable and cooler options like wearing only a black shirt without a jacket.
Through the years there have been many occasions of either forgetting an item of clothing for a concert or simply getting your suitcase delayed or lost on tour, and having to borrow ill-fitting clothing from colleagues. I’ve had to once make a bow tie out of a shoelace. I looked like a Texan cowboy. One of my colleagues once pulled black socks over his sneakers because he forgot his shoes.
I started playing the violin at the age of four and a half. I guess it was my parent's decision. For a young boy growing up in a country who just won the rugby World Cup for a third time, this did not always make me very popular, even though I also played rugby at school and loved it like everyone else. At the age of eleven, I wanted to quit the violin. Through some miracle, the best teacher in South Africa heard me play and offered to teach me for free, if my parents were willing to let me travel the 1200 mile round trip every month to his home. This I did for five years and under his guidance success started to inspire me. By the time I was fifteen, I won my first International competition in the USA. After that, I had no further doubts that this was the only thing I wanted to do.
If I didn’t become a classical musician, I would have liked to be either a race car driver, a lawyer or a wine maker.
I think there is no instrument that is easy to play, but the violin is certainly one of the hardest. I would say I spend up to eight hours a day playing the violin. Typically, the London Philharmonic would spend two to three days preparing for a concert. Of course, many hours of individual practice might go into the mix as well. For solo concerts I might start preparing months or even a year before. One thing I’ve realised talking to and observing the greatest musicians on the planet, is that there is no success without hard work. Of course, the level of natural talent will in the end make a decisive difference, but without hard work, talent counts for very little.
Most musicians get nervous before a concert. One of the ways to deal with those nerves is to know and accept that it is absolutely normal to be nervous. I sometimes think that people who don’t get nervous, simply don’t care enough. I find my confidence in the knowledge that I’ve done my homework. But often I can’t be absolutely certain how I will play until I start the first note. Under stress our muscles respond differently. Before a concert I like to be alone, talk to no one, and carefully warm up my muscles. We are poets and acrobats at the same time. You have to be very soft on the inside but very tough on the outside. You get one shot to do something that you’ve practiced in some cases for months, so there is enormous pressure on the concert. You are dependent on how your muscles respond, how clear your mind works at that moment and how your violin and bow respond under the current climate conditions in the Hall. Often, I find that the air backstage can be very dry, but in the concert hall it’s often humid because of the audience breathing. This subtle indoors climate change can have uncomfortable consequences for the violin and the bow hair. Hair shrinks dramatically in dry conditions and stretches with humidity. The wood on the violin will shrink in dry conditions and swell in humidity. All this means that the instrument will become more unpredictable and more difficult to control. This does not help to calm the nerves!
I’ve been very lucky to play in all the most famous concert halls of the world. The biggest crowd was probably when I was eighteen years old and played a solo piece in the Hollywood Bowl in front of an audience of over 17,000 people. This performance was also broadcast live on television across the USA. Of course, nowadays we perform often on live internet streams. I can’t imagine how many people might be watching live or on relay.
The toughest part of our profession, apart from the stress of constantly learning new pieces under pressure of time, is the lack of sleep. Often, we have early morning travels, then a rehearsal, and between 8 and 10 in the evening you have to be at your absolute best. And tomorrow again! On the other hand, nothing can beat the buzz and thrill during a highly successful and exciting concert.
To unwind, nowadays I love nothing more than to work in my garden, or play with my kids. I live in Tonbridge, Kent where we have lots of green space. London is undoubtedly one of the most exciting cities in the world, but I love the relative peace and tranquillity of living in a small town surrounded by nature.
Life has taught me that it's true that when one door closes on you, another will open. I look gratefully onto all the doors which closed in my face during the years, because better ones opened up as a result.
My three tips for being happy in life are: Family, Family and Family.