1. What would you say to someone who had never gone to one of your performances and asked what it was like?
Bear in mind, I can’t really answer this question because I myself have never “gone to” one of my own performances.
I used to usher at a chamber music series and often overheard newcomers being told by their friends what to think or what to listen to, or what he or she should have heard in the concert they’d just attended. People mean well when they try to guide people through classical music, but I believe it’s really important for the people who are newest to a genre or an artist to be allowed to discover it on their own terms. They will either like what they hear or they won’t, and although they may not know why they have specific reactions, those reactions are perfectly valid.
That doesn’t mean that we should all sit back and let things happen. It’s wonderful to give tickets or albums or even instrument lessons to people who are new to a certain area of music, and I’m all in favor of an open-minded exchange of opinions. I just think that everyone’s point of view is valid and that sometimes, a first impression is just as accurate and pure as anything informed by experience.

2. What’s the most important thing to remember at a musical event?
Everyone has his or her own thing. Listeners shouldn’t try too hard; they should just let the music get to them however it will.

3. How do you feel about applause between movements (sections of a piece) during concerts?
Fine with me! If people want to hoot and holler – or sit in quiet reflection – as long as it’s genuine, as a performer I like the feedback.

4. Do you have any small personal ritual before going out on the stage, at least for the most extraordinary shows?
I just try to make sure I’m rested, prepared, and well fed. That’s all!

5. You’ve been playing violin since the age of 4, and giving concerts since the age of 15. Are you still nervous before going onstage? How do you overcome stage fear?
I’ve never had stage fright per se. Going onstage, I’m glad if I feel that little edge of excitement; I play better when my adrenaline is pumping. It’s also more fun. To me, even the scariest performing situation is relatively harmless. Unlike in sky-diving, if something goes wrong in a performance, everyone leaves intact. Worst case scenario for the performer: you mess up and have to stop and start over (happens to me on occasion). No big deal. You just laugh it off and realize that everyone is on your side.
That said, I do try to be as prepared as possible before every concert. Doing a bad job because I was unprepared and knowing I could have done much better is the worst feeling. Every human being makes mistakes, and mistakes can be learned from. But neglectfulness is a waste of everyone’s time.

6. Playing the same piece night after night on a tour, is each concert a different experience, or does it feel repetitive?
It is indeed a different experience. Even in the same city, in the same hall, with the same orchestra and conductor, performances vary in unexpected ways from night to night. Part of this is the audience: every combination of people conveys a different energy and personality to the stage. The other part of it is the people onstage. When you think of how different any individual person feels from day to day and magnify that by at least fifty (because an orchestra rarely has less than fifty people onstage at any time), you can only begin to imagine how a collaborative, spontaneous interpretation can develop in an instant.

7. What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever played violin?
Depends what you define as weird. A dark and dingy club? The lobby of an automobile factory? An outdoor market? Funerals? Weddings? A student union? On a barge in the middle of a harbor? Next to a pool, being serenaded by coyotes? In a hospital hallway in Honduras, during a medical mission? On a patio in the jungle? All of those are both weird and completely normal. Music is music, and the chance to play in a new kind of place never fails to bring me to perceive music in a slightly different way.

8. Do you have a favorite memory of your past performances?
There are so many! I like the sea of memories; they don’t run together, but there is a definite flow to my experiences that makes for a very satisfying whole.

9. People often talk about classical music losing relevance amidst today’s chaotic and technology driven world. What are your thoughts about the state of classical music today and where it’s going?
I disagree. What I see is people finding a new freedom in their exploration of all genres of music. Through the Internet and technology, anyone can now seek out any artist, composer, or undefined niche of music they find interesting. All on their own, without even having to stand up or go anywhere. I myself have spent many a night in front of my computer, keeping company with a cup of tea and a bar of chocolate as I dig up rare recordings and listen to contemporary music.
We have to remember, despite – or perhaps thanks to – all of the hoopla about classical music’s so-called demise, that classical music has a strong grassroots structure. It builds and fills 1200-seat-plus concert halls; sells season subscriptions to concert series; rallies organizations of performers; supports concert presenters in nearly every town; brings groups of young musicians together to rehearse and socialize every week; and develops community-based, artist-driven outreach programs. Classical music can’t take things for granted and should continue to innovate and progress, but we classical fans are lucky!
Yet, this isn’t a competition between genres; we should all be exploring as many genres as appeal to us, and we need to support the growth of artists and artistic organizations – both within music and outside of it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from a non-classical artist, “You have it so good! Comfortable seats for your audiences; quiet, attentive listeners; great acoustics; clean venues; and your own dressing rooms backstage – man, I wish I had that half the time.” I think it’s time to be positive about all that classical music has to offer, as well as its proven longevity.

10. How is your relationship to the music of the 20th and 21st centuries? How can one bring contemporary music closer to the audience?
I try to spread my repertoire evenly among eras. I treat contemporary music just as I treat Romantic or Baroque: starting with the score and then finding a way to communicate to the audience what I hear in a piece. An audience knows a good performance when it hears one; and so, to me, presenting an outstanding concert is the most compelling way to bring listeners in on wonderful unknown repertoire of any age.

It’s not helpful to introduce new music with a cringe; an audience can tell when we fear they won’t like what they’re hearing. The most persuasive performances are ones given with conviction. Some of the most well-received concerts of contemporary music have been those presented as celebrations, because everyone gets caught up in the content and has a great time.
So, not everyone wants to hear every unknown composer. That makes sense. Let’s flip that around and remember that not everyone wants to hear every famous composer. If we cater only to a certain group, then we will completely miss the rest. That’s why variety of programming is essential. An audience is a diverse group of people, with great combined intelligence and perception. We shouldn’t second-guess or underestimate them – or condescend. If we present great music in great performances, that will speak plenty.