Ahhhh. Another Monday. Have I told you how much I love Mondays? No? Because I REALLY love Mondays. I see a future post coming…
Today, however, we are shining our spotlight on yet another kickass female who is disrupting our little classical music world in an awesome and much-needed way. Elena Urioste is a concert violinist, one half of the duo behind Intermission Sessions & Retreat, and the founding director of the Chamber Music by the Sea festival. When she isn’t off performing concertos, recitals and chamber music concerts around the globe, she is running week-long yoga retreats for professional musicians in France and Vermont, and providing yoga workshops for students at music schools and festivals.
This November, 2019 She will embark on a U.K./European tour as soloist with the Chineke! Orchestra performing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Violin Concerto in G minor, and also has solo debuts with the Malaysia Philharmonic and Minnesota orchestras. The Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective will embark on some exciting residencies at the Cheltenham Music Festival, the Wigmore Hall (beginning February 2020), and at her own festival, Chamber Music by the Sea, and she and her Intermissions partner, Melissa will offer their Sessions at the Cheltenham Music Festival, Interlochen Arts Academy, and the Heifetz International Music Institute throughout the 2019 season.
Her latest Recording, Estrellita, a collection of miniatures for violin and piano with Tom Poster, was released this autumn on BIS Records. You can hear it here.
Today, Elena gives us the lowdown on how her life and her entire perspective on being a musician has changed since she discovered yoga, the tremendous value of vulnerability in what we do, and her morbid fascination with murderous composers!
TFTL: Do you have a morning ritual or routine? Can you share some of it?
EU: You know, I really don’t, but this is the perfect opportunity to make it one of my resolutions for 2019! I travel so much and one day rarely looks the same as the next, so on the days when I’m feeling out of sorts and especially far from my London or Philadelphia bases, I find myself wishing I was more disciplined about having a daily routine. On a recent plane journey I made a list of “Things That Make Me Feel Like Me” – from that list, I especially hope to stick to a regular plan that includes drinking hot lemon water or herbal tea first thing in the morning; followed by some sort of movement, be it yoga or a trip to the gym; and reading something in actual print (not off a screen). These are activities that I know center me, and I want to make a concerted effort to incorporate them into my daily life.
TFTL: What made you decide to start intermission sessions?
EU: My dear friend and partner-in-crime Melissa White and I both stumbled upon yoga in the summer of 2009, and our friendship was immediately deepened by our mutual love for this new physical, mental, and emotional practice. Over the years, we found ourselves frequently discussing the benefits we were experiencing as a result of a regular yoga practice: more limber muscles and thus greater efficiency in the practice room, better focus onstage, an easier time calming our nerves with mindful breathing exercises, and a greater sense of peace with the world around us. We talked a lot about how we wish we’d been introduced to some sort of mindful movement practice when we were in our formative years of musical training, and out of that notion the idea for Intermission was born: we wanted to find a way to impart all of the ideas we were learning and practicing on the yoga mat to our colleagues and students.
TFTL: What is the best part about your career?
EU: The diversity of activities that fill any given season. I’m so glad we’re now in an era where artists needn’t feel (as) pigeonholed into any one category: soloist, chamber musician, administrator, cross-over artist, etc. Rather, we are encouraged – occasionally even expected – to cast a wide net, which I think is a wonderful thing: you can’t be a great soloist without ample chamber music experience, an empathetic administrator without a real understanding of artists’ needs, a legitimate cross-over musician without mastery of each craft that you’re blending, etc. I remember a period in my early twenties when I was particularly busy with solo engagements for what felt like months at a time without any real variety and telling a friend, “I feel like I haven’t been musically hugged in ages.” What I meant was that I craved the intimacy and democracy of journeying through music with people I knew and loved; I felt lonely standing out in front, performing the same few pieces on very little rehearsal, and returning to an empty hotel room afterwards. These days, having the opportunity to balance concerto performances, recitals, chamber music projects with a commitment to diversity, running my own festival, and my work with Intermission makes me feel exceptionally fulfilled and lucky.
TFTL: Did you always have a clear picture of what you wanted your career to look like?
EU: When I was a budding violinist of 5 or 6, I fantasized about the glitz and glamour of being a soloist – largely, I suspect, because I enjoyed the image of prancing across the world’s most beautiful concert stages in fancy gowns. After 15+ years as an active performer, I’m really pleased to acknowledge that while concerto performances certainly fulfill one part of my soul, other spaces have opened up within me that crave other things: the more intimate, intricate world of chamber music; finding ways of making music a more positive place to exist through overlaps with yoga and nature; and taking charge and creating my own initiatives like festivals, collectives, and endeavors entirely unrelated to music.
TFTL: Practicing: Love it or Hate it?
EU: Honestly, it really depends on the day. I am admittedly not the most devoted practicer – in fact I’ll often go a few days without playing and barely notice – but there are some days where it feels absolutely delicious to spend some time woodshedding and delving deep into the music’s innermost tunnels. Other days, it feels like crap. I do my best to understand why: maybe my muscles aren’t cooperating, maybe my mind is caught in a backlog of emails that need addressing, maybe my heart is somewhere else entirely. If there’s a good reason why practicing isn’t in the cards on any given day, I try to honor that, and devote my energies to a more productive end. I don’t really feel guilty about it; rather, I just try to notice what’s going on and not attach emotionally to it. When I’m on my deathbed looking back on my life, am I going to muse, “I really wish I’d practiced more?” Unlikely.
TFTL: Who were some of your role models as a young musician?
EU: I owe my initial exposure to (and subsequent obsession with) the violin to Itzhak Perlman, whom I saw performing and chatting on Sesame Street when I was two. My favorite violinist in my early childhood was probably David Oistrakh, and general idol Jacqueline De Pre, but over the years my taste has moved from big and bold to more warm and intimate. Fritz Kreisler, the Guarneri Quartet, and Claude Frank became and remain some of my greatest role models.
TFTL: How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a professional musician?
EU: I think within months of picking up the violin for the first time. I had always been a bit of an exhibitionist, twirling across the empty stage at Tanglewood when I was a toddler, and once my music education began I couldn’t really imagine another life for myself… although there was a period of time, maybe between ages 7-12, when I believed that since concerts were at night, I would need a job to occupy me during the day. Various dream day jobs included being a neurosurgeon, bio-medical engineer, and paleontologist.
TFTL: What do you think it takes to “make it” in today’s classical music world?
EU: I think that depends on what your definition of “making it” is. If it means a top-tier solo career, I imagine it takes infallible technique, remarkable immunity to jetlag, a self-driven commitment to exploring the same music over and over, and a lower prioritization of “normal” things like down-time, spending time with friends and family, and rest. If it’s a great orchestral position, I would assume that nerves of steel, the ability to blend with your colleagues while maintaining your own character and musical beliefs, and respect for authority are key. And so on.
But really, I wish we would all stop subscribing to previous generations’, or even our own colleagues’ definitions of “making it” in the music world. What if “making it” just meant, simply, being fulfilled by a life in music?
There was a time when I would have answered this question, without pause, with “A thick skin”, but over the past few years I’ve realized how harmful that mentality can be. Very few people, at their cores, are immune to the pressures, insecurities, and occasionally even cruelties that musicians are subjected to. What would happen if we were all more open about our vulnerabilities? What if we were honest about our struggles and helped each other by sharing our tips for weathering the inevitable storms? Isn’t it possible that a graceful vulnerability would make us all better musicians, or even people? (editor’s note: YES! YES! YES!…oh, sorry….read on…)
TFTL: What is your favorite thing about going to a classical music concert these days?
EU: Seeing my friends do beautiful, inspiring things onstage!
TFTL: What advice would you give to an 18-year old freshman at a music conservatory?
EU: Do not underestimate the value of friendships with your fellow students. Let them inspire you musically, support you when you’re down, and know that a large percentage of future opportunities will be due to friendships you had with people you met along your musical path. The combined brain and heart-power of two or more musicians who love and respect each other is unstoppable!
TFTL: If you could have dinner with any classical musician, dead or alive, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
EU: I’ve always been morbidly fascinated with Carlo Gesualdo. I’m not sure whether the murder of his wife and her lover would be an appropriate dinner conversation subject, but I feel like a meal with him definitely wouldn’t be boring.
TFTL: Quickies: Tea or Coffee? NYC or Maine? Summer or Winter? Morning bird or Night owl?
EU: Tea on concert days, coffee as an occasional delicious treat. After 10 years of living in NYC, literally anywhere but NYC. Truth be told I’m an autumn gal through and through. Morning bird!
TFTL: Where can people find you? (website, IG, FB, Twitter, etc.)
Facebook: Elena Urioste