Caroline Pearsall, violinist

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

The first musicians who really inspired me were Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. This was followed by Queen, whom I adored. I started learning the violin when I was 9, but it wasn’t until I discovered Itzhak Perlman at the age of around 13 that I really started loving the violin. Everyone in my family played music, but it wasn’t something we discussed, just more of a social activity. Music was a place where you could explore emotions and dive into inner worlds and universes, and this is what really interested me the most. Living in England meant deep emotional expression was not really culturally permitted in everyday life, but in music, you could and actually people preferred it when it was highly emotional, so this really appealed to me. After that an important musical influence was one of my friends at music college, Joe Broughton, who plays folk but has a huge musical knowledge. He showed me whole other worlds of diverse musical styles and that really started my path to exploring folk and world music.

As an adult, Astor Piazzolla has been a huge source of inspiration as well as many other tango musicians (Osvaldo Pugliese for example) and many many others in different musical styles (Roby Lakatos, Maxim Vengerov, Dhafer Youssef, Bjork, Vasen (Swedish folk music)…) too many to mention!

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

There have been many challenges, as I chose to go off and study music from Argentina whilst living in France, so there have been many cultural and linguistic challenges, which have really broadened my perspective on the world and taken me out of the anglophone viewpoint. Also a lot of sexism, which I feel is the most constraining factor in the music industry, and this is a hard one to crack. And criticism – you have to find ways of countering the negativity you can get from others, and to keep your vision and reasons for doing music close to your heart!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m very proud of some performances where I had the most amazing experiences – in particular playing with the Grand Orchestra of Juan Jose Mosalini in Germany, the Orquesta Esuela de Emilio Balcarce in Buenos Aires, and with Anna Saeki in Paris. In each case the feeling between the crowd and the musicians was amazing, just full of love and a wonderful energy. I remember thinking if that is what rock stars feel on their tours no wonder they have difficulty readjusting to real life again afterwards!!

I’m also really proud of my latest album with my band the London Tango Orchestra, the result of many years of work together, and our best album yet!

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

Anything tango music, pop music, I love playing music that has groove and swing; also any classical composers that are very romantic or highly emotional. I love folk music too but would like to spend more time learning their bowing techniques and accentuations (eg Bluegrass or Irish folk).

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Going to art galleries, seeing dance performances, listening to great albums, reading literature and walking in nature. Also the stories I hear from people and books on sociology! I love trying to understand how humans work and what motivates and inspires them!

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I usually have far too many ideas to ever manage them all in one year, so I tend to have in mind repertoire several years in advance and am basically waiting for the right opportunity to perform them! Within tango music you can’t yet buy orchestral arrangements which means I either need to commission arrangements, arrange them myself or transcribe them from recordings, which all takes time.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

I really love smaller concert venues of around 300-500 people as it feels so much more intimate. Tango is so expressive and you need a certain vulnerability to express the deeply felt emotions, as well as telling the stories, which feels easier to manage in such spaces. However, it also depends on who you perform with. When you play with well-known performers who have devoted fans then the feeling of connectedness is there from the start, even in extremely large venues, and that is really what I’m looking for in order for a performance to be a ‘favourite’. You can having amazing gigs in the most unlikely places…

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

Many people tell me classical music is too elite and too disconnected from everyday people’s lives. There is still a lot of snobbery which puts people off, as well as it being very hard from them to find an entry point they can connect to. This is also one of the problems with ‘tradition’, it tends to fix things and can create quite strict rules and codes, which I think has happened to Classical music. Many of the values in classical music no longer correlate to people’s values today, even in the way in which it is taught. Most of my pupils wanted to learn film music and not Mozart so I think classical music needs to seriously reflect on what value it can bring audiences today and what kind of relationship it wants to have with people. Our economy is going towards an experience economy in which personalized and individualized experiences are the main aim. Currently, the way into classical music seems to be through film music, which people love, but when you play the same kind of music without visuals they don’t connect to it! More funding for children to learn instruments and take part in symphony orchestras would certainly help, but that is not the direction neoliberal governments are taking at the moment, sadly….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have had many but as I said before, the best for me are when you have this wonderful feeling with the audience and you feel like you are flying. I guess that would be called ‘being in the flow’, and when you are connecting seamlessly with the other musicians around you.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

My personal goal has always been to do my best to discover my own (creative) potential, even if it means going against the grain and doing things my own way and unlike those around me. Success means different things to different people. For me it would be a combination of feeling good and fulfilled on several levels – musically, emotionally, physically, intellectually and creatively. Of course, having financial success would be wonderful too but very hard to manage in these turbulent times, and especially when my main interest is a very niche musical style! I do believe real success includes the ability to make a decent living from doing what you love without having to compromise too much. I also believe real success is when you have managed to connect your heart and soul to a life that feels completely authentic to you – so you have no cognitive or emotional dissonance about what you’re doing or why. I think this is also where our best energy lies. It’s essential for me to keep the spark of joy about music alive, even during times like Covid or economic crashes, when it can be very tough to be working as a musician.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

My path is not really the norm, as I learned tango music from Argentina in France, so I had to learn both languages and both cultural codes, values and the administrative system in France which was very very very complex! Most people’s journeys into music are simpler!

However, that being said there are a few rules that I think apply everywhere.

One would be that if you have a vision you must go for it and give it all you’ve got, don’t hold back and be prepared to make (sometimes difficult) decisions.

Get good at filling in funding proposals!

Learn how to sell and market yourself – you must accept it as a necessary skill and it will serve you well.

Learn how to value yourself and how to negotiate to get that value expressed in money.

Find people who inspire you and would be willing to teach you or help you in some way.

I believe a musician’s life must now equally incorporate the physical and digital worlds.

Never give up and be ready to adapt and grow. Stay curious.

Doing last minute (sometimes stressful) replacement work is one of the best ways of getting into a music scene.

As a woman, be prepared to meet sexism and misogyny – and don’t let that put you off – we need active women in the music industry trying to create and do new things.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

In 10 years I would like to have made many more albums and be composing music. I have tons of artistic projects that I would like to create but it’s always a question of time and finances! I also would like to be running my own tango music festival and tango music school, both online and offline and will be starting work on that in 2022.

Also to have written some books and to have done a PhD!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think perfect happiness can only be a fleeting thing so I am aiming more for a sense of contentment and acceptance. I think it’s really important to live one’s own life and to have tried everything you wanted to try. I think happiness also comes from feeling like you have contributed something positive to the world, be that artistically, personally or otherwise.

What is your most treasured possession?

My husband (if he can be called a possession!!), my dog, my violin and the viola I inherited from my dad!

What is your present state of mind?

(December 2021) Perturbed, as I’m wondering what the digital transformation will mean for musicians going forward, the effects of Brexit are impacting me a lot and I’m afraid of an economic recession after Covid! I am therefore upskilling by gaining new technology skills but the future is somewhat unclear at the moment, although I do have some exciting album projects coming up which I’m really looking forward to!

ABRAZIO ABIERTO, the new album from the London Tango Orchestra, or which Caroline Pearsall is director, is available now.

The London Tango Orchestra is the largest professional tango group in the UK, a real “orquesta tipica” founded in 2009 by Caroline Pearsall and the first of its kind in the UK. LTO’s music has been used in the TV show The Real Drakoolavs and the orchestra were included in a tango documentary filmed by the BBC. 

Caroline Pearsall was born in Southampton, England, to musical parents. She studied at the Birmingham Conservatoire with Philippe Graffin, Peter Thomas (CBSO), David Angel (Maggini Quartet) and Rohan de Sarum (Arditti Quartet). She received her BMus(Hons) degree and a Postgraduate Diploma. Her curiosity and fascination with new timbres and techniques on the violin led her to working with the contemporary music groups Ensemble Multilaterale, Ensemble Alma Viva (with guitarist Pablo Marquez) and Ars Nova.

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