Touring Life

1. Would you describe your daily routine – do you have any free days ever and when do you give yourself free time – and what do tours look like during intensive concert seasons?
I do have free days, in theory. On the other hand, I enjoy living with constant challenges combined with a minimum of panic, so I like to work steadily and not in frantic spurts. Because I work in the arts, with a constantly shifting schedule (I might get up at 5 a.m. for a flight or stay up until 2 a.m. at a post-concert shindig), I don’t have a set daily routine. Ideally, a day’s activities will follow 9.5 hours of sleep; involve some sort of conversation; include some exercise; provide me with time to practice what I am immediately performing and work on something that I am learning for the future, as well as time to complete some work-related communications and make some decisions; and be rounded out with some writing or reading. I try to stay in touch with my family and friends and get outside from time to time. I also cook for myself while listening to my favorite podcasts, so I make time for that as well. Then there are the projects that come up at different times throughout the year: the recordings to edit and produce, my YouTube channel video updates, my interviews with composers for the site Sequenza21, random articles I’m asked to write, and interviews, occasional photo shoots, and television appearances to fit in somewhere in the mix. I love the variety and the chance to travel and meet so many interesting people around the world. I do make sure every year to take at least one chunk of time away from touring so that I can take care of normal life and recharge.

2. How do you relieve stress?
I do silly things that a grownup isn’t supposed to do – like go to amusement parks and jump on beds – and I escape to places where very few people are to be found, like the Arctic Circle. Or I pick up a piece of blank paper and write or draw.

3. How would you describe your first experience with visiting Europe?
My first European experience was in Budapest. Before we took off, I was very excited to go to a country in which everyone around me would be speaking a language I wouldn’t know. I had grown up with a British ballet teacher, a Ukrainian violin teacher, and a Taiwanese piano teacher, and I had met many musicians from other countries as well, so I was used to being surrounded by cultures other than my family’s. That trip was really eye-opening, because Hungary in the mid-90’s was not only different from the United States but different from how it is today. Everything was new to me. Once I got to rehearsal, though, I saw that musicians are similar everywhere, in that the music is the most important thing in the working process, and no matter what else is going on around, the concert becomes the focus.

4. What is your general opinion – are there any differences in understanding of classical music between European and American audience, and especially, any differences in the way artists are educated and nurtured on two sides of Atlantic?
Every audience is different every night, no matter what city or country one is performing in. Even two consecutive concerts in the same hall bring varied audiences. The biggest consistent difference I see between countries is how concertgoers show their appreciation: in North America, for example, they might stand up when they really like something, whereas in some countries in Europe, they might applaud rhythmically, in unison. Those are factual variants, however, and have little to do with how the audiences understand the music. The understanding is a personal thing for each audience member. Two people can be sitting next to each other in the same concert and come away with polar opposite impressions of what they have just heard.
As for education: every musician has a different experience with his or her education; I think more depends on the individual teacher than on the country in which one studies – but that is something I have concluded because of my experiences, and other people may disagree.

5. Have you ever left your violin somewhere?
Yes, I have, but I remembered five minutes later, and there was no harm done.
I left a bow backstage once, though, all night and through the next morning; I would have left town without it had my dad not looked in my case at the train station and noticed it missing. He caught a cab to the hall, retrieved it, and joined me and my pianist in the next town. That was scary and memorable.
Also, once, when I was little, we drove all the way out to my violin teacher’s house for a lesson, but I forgot to bring the violin. I felt pretty embarrassed. But I’ve never left my violin at home for a concert. I knew a little boy who did, and he had to borrow mine on the spot.

6. You mention in your online journal that you like to cook. Do you prefer cooking quick and easy meals or gourmet style from recent cookbooks?
I don’t often have the time or equipment to make gourmet food, but whenever possible, I try to cook for myself. It’s really important to me to eat the best ingredients possible, and while restaurants can offer wonderful dishes, it is often a daunting feat – not to mention a pain in the butt for a waiter – to find out the exact contents of a recipe and where the ingredients have come from. Also, in some parts of the world, it can be hard to locate what I would consider staple foods. Of course, I like to try all sorts of different cuisines, but I have to remember to balance that with what my body needs to function best in a touring lifestyle.
Nutrition is crucial when one lives on the road. When I’m traveling – which is all but a few days a month – I bring along some cooking supplies: a small crockpot, or a hotplate, or a steamer. I’ll go to local butchers and pick up local cuts of meat and to farmers’ markets for local vegetables, and then, wherever I’m allowed, I’ll make dinner.
When I’m not on the road, I’ll sometimes take a whole day just to cook a big feast for myself. Cooking in my own kitchen helps to remind me that I’m finally home.

7. What is the strangest or most exotic food you have ever tried?
I look at all foods from a local perspective. After all, many of the foods Americans are accustomed to strike visitors as strange or are acquired tastes.
The more unusual foods I’ve enjoyed overseas have been raw quail eggs, extremely fermented (“10-year”) kimchi, various regional game, and a wide variety of exotic fruits and vegetables. Nothing too wacky there, but I’m sure I have many more adventurous eating experiences ahead of me! The only thing I don’t think I could ever try again is sea urchin.
I’m told that when I was a baby, I didn’t waste food – I didn’t throw it, and I ate every last scrap on my tray. I grew up in a junk-food- and candy-free household, so as a kid, I had no interest in hot dogs, pizza, hamburgers, or lasagna; if my family went to a dinner party, I’d raid the “grownup” table. I also loved spicy Asian cuisine; my favorite Thai soup was a fiery Thom Ka Kai.