Gillian Smith

Nova Scotia violinist Gillian Smith just released her debut recording Into the Stone. Recently we spoke with Smith about the album, and about her passion for her profession.

When and why did you develop a passion for music?
When I first started learning the violin with Ninette Babineau and Pat Wyman in Halifax, I fell in love with the instrument. I just loved the sound! Later on I discovered string chamber music and was completely hooked - I remember listening to a recording of the Brahms viola quintets over and over again, thinking that it was the most amazing thing.

Are they the same reasons that you do it today?
I still love the violin as much (or more) than ever, and I also find teaching the violin very rewarding. I did my doctoral degree in violin performance with the American violinist Jorja Fleezanis, who is a huge proponent of new music (the John Adams violin concerto is dedicated to her and was premiered by her), and really discovered a love for new music in my studies with her. 

How have you evolved as an artist over that time?
I’ve worked to try to take more risks musically and to try to create more colours and sounds, and to expand my range of expression.

What are the challenges of the vocation?
Sometimes there are moments of self-doubt, but you just have to push through those!

What are the rewards?
It’s incredibly rewarding to perform and record great music, and to work with wonderful musicians. 

How would you describe your sound today?
I’d like to think that I can create a beautiful sound on the violin, with a range of different colours that I can draw upon. It’s definitely exciting to try to find new sounds and new ways of playing something.

What have been some career highlights?
I feel very lucky to have been part of recordings of the amazing music of Derek Charke (Live Wired and In Sonorous Falling Tones, which was nominated for an ECMA for Classical Recording of the Year in 2018) with Derek Charke, Mark Hopkins, Mark Adam, Jeff Hennessy, and others, and more recently to have been part of a recording of the wonderful chamber music of Carmen Braden, Songs of the Invisible Summer Stars, which was released in September 2019, with Mark Adam, Derek Charke, Suzanne Lemieux, and others.

What inspired the new recording?
I really wanted to create a recording of music by Canadian women, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to record phenomenal music for solo violin by the amazing composers Kati Agócs, Alice Ping Yee Ho, Veronika Krausas, Chantale Laplante, and Ana Sokolović. 

What was the process like?
I was very lucky to work with Jeremy VanSlyke of Leaf Music, who produced the album.  We recorded in the stone sanctuary of First Baptist Church Halifax, and it was wonderful to be able to make the recording in that beautiful space. I’m extremely grateful to FACTOR, the Government of Canada, and Canada’s private radio broadcasters for their support for Into the Stone.

Do you have a favorite track?
Alice Ping Yee Ho’s Caprice is a joyful, energetic work that really captures an emotion so vividly. It’s so much fun to play this piece!

What has the response been like so far?
I’m grateful for the positive feedback I’ve received so far! One of the tracks from the album - Veronika Krausas’ piece Inside the Stone - was recently selected as a Spotify New Classical Release Pick, which was very exciting.

Is your creative process more “inspirational” or “perspirational”?
Preparing to record the album definitely required some hard work, but at the same time I was striving to follow the composers’ directions in the music, which reveal their concept of the works, and to bring my own musical imagination to the process.

What makes a good tune?
A piece that really captures a mood or emotion; a strong rhythmic element can also be really compelling.

What are your thoughts on Atlantic Canada’s music scene?
I’m thrilled to be part of Atlantic Canada’s fabulous music scene and am so grateful for the wonderful collaborations and projects that I’ve been involved with here with such amazing musicians.

How could this be improved?
I’m most grateful for FACTOR’s support for this album, and it’s wonderful that there are many organizations from both the government and the private sector that provide support for musical projects of various kinds. It could only be a good thing if there were even more of this kind of funding, which makes projects like this one possible.

What do you have on tap for the rest of 2019 and going into 2020?
After the Toronto show I am looking forward to performing some great repertoire for violin, clarinet, and piano, including the fabulous Bartók Contrasts and Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat, with the wonderful Eileen Walsh, clarinet, and Simon Docking, piano.

Gillian Smith will launch Into the Stone in Toronto at the Glenn Gould Studio on Saturday, October 5 with special guest Emily Rho, piano. 

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