We are indeed fortunate to have the talented Kirsten Williams leading our orchestra. Not only is Kirsten a gifted musician but her charm and style give pleasure to both players and audience. As our new concert master it’s time to learn a little more about her.
Where were you born and do you come from a musical family?
I was born in Sydney. My mum was a fine pianist although she decided not to pursue music as a career, instead choosing English and History high school teaching. My dad (who was a feature writer on The Australian and later The Sydney Morning Herald) adores classical music and always has it playing on the radio at home. Much of my upbringing involved hearing my mum play the piano, particularly as we children went off to sleep, and the record player always had a concerto or symphony being played during Sunday lunch. My grandparents were keen choir and ensemble singers. My brother and sister both learnt music but chose medicine for their careers.
How old were you when you started violin lessons?
I was 4 years old when I started having violin lessons and played on an eighth size violin.
Your memories of music at school
I went to Pennant Hills Primary School where we fortunately had a string orchestra that my mum and some of the other mums started up. I then went to the Conservatorium High School until Year 10 which was when I started my diploma, the Diploma of the State Conservatorium of Music. It was a fortuitous time to be at the Conservatorium—there was a lot of emphasis on the actual learning of one’s instrument, access to two private lessons a week, orchestral and ensemble work and many performance opportunities.
Your studies in Switzerland…and did you ski?
I commenced Post Graduate violin lessons with Prof Igor Ozim in Switzerland when I was 19.He is one of the finest violin professors in the world, particularly good with the technical side of violin playing. I didn’t ski when I was there (actually I’ve never skied!). I was always taught to not take part in sports where I may break an arm or damage a finger!
You’ve played with some of the best orchestras…
I fortunately won a 1st Violin position in Covent Garden, London when I travelled there. It was an incredible experience and very busy schedule. Carlos Kleiber and Bernard Haitink were two of the conductors who were extraordinary to work with and many wonderful singers. I stayed there only for 6 months as I won a position with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Sir Neville Marriner as conductor and with leaders Iona Brown and Ken Siletto who also lead and directed the smaller conductorless ensembles.
When playing as soloist do you suffer from nerves?
I have always had to contend with nerves, since I was a teenager, I think it just goes with the territory. I have gone through stages where it has been quite crippling and have learnt various coping strategies that worked for me. These days I am rarely overcome with nerves, but—being one to always have to factor in a certain amount of stage fright—it means I am always well prepared for performances. I have also learnt to welcome a certain amount of adrenaline and to channel it into passion and joy in performing.
Favourite composer and piece
I have always particularly loved playing pieces, concertos, chamber works and symphonies of the Baroque, Classical and Romantic composers. Two of my favourite works are actually the Fauré and Brahms Requiems: the music is extraordinary and the combination of choir with orchestra is uplifting to the max!
I am completely drawn to playing music in healing capacities and I’m always looking for where this might lead me. I have been playing to the premature babies at Westmead Children’s Hospital in the Intensive Care and High Dependency Units for a number of years now. I play very softly with a muted violin; I make up little lullabies and gently lilting music at around a heartbeats speed. I also set an intention for healing before I start as I am a strong believer that the vibration of our thoughts and intentions also impact our environments and those around us. Often the babies will become more settled with the gentle loving music and the parents seem to really enjoy it also.
For last two years I have travelled down to Goulburn for the day to teach disadvantaged children Grades 2 and 3 to play the violin. I try to get down once a week but it is sometimes impossible with my SSO schedule, nevertheless I get down there as often as I can. It is such a privilege for me to be welcomed in to help give these children the opportunity of music, to be present with them, simply because they are extraordinary despite the difficulties in their home lives and/or their emotional and mental challenges. All the little violins have been donated and are locked up in one of the classroom after their lessons.
What make of violin do you have?
I play on a beautiful violin by an Italian maker by the name of Raffaele Fiorini and it was made in 1857.The Sydney Symphony now own a fair few amazing string instruments and I have the good fortune of playing on this one.
Thank you Kirsten!