Natalie Klouda, violinistcomposer

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My great grandfather’s family had a builder’s shop in Hoyland, Yorkshire but somehow (I imagine through the church) he became a professional pianist and organist. His piano was in my home growing up and whilst neither my mother or father play any musical instruments, I was lucky enough for it to be there, so I tinkered and created tunes. I particularly enjoyed putting the sustain pedal down and imagining I was painting rainbows by running my hands up and down the length of the keyboard, all white or all black notes. When I entered the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of eight playing the violin, I had the opportunity to learn more about composition with many passionate musicians and teachers including Malcolm Singer and Stephen Goss. I was introduced to Boulanger, Ligeti, Reich, Cage, Glass, Stravinsky – composers I had never heard of. I was particularly struck by Stravinsky as I found his music incredibly powerful and I remember dancing around my room endlessly to the 4th Movement (Burlesque) of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No.1, a movement I found exhilarating. My violin studies were intensely monitored and prescriptive so composing gave me a chance to look into music on my own terms and I loved the time I carved out for myself away from everything, just creating, when school was finished for the day. I kept composing for myself throughout my violin studies and beyond – it is still precious ‘me’ time and I’m eternally grateful that I was encouraged to explore it early on.

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

Time. Juggling performance, composition and having children – three very different worlds to be immersed in and yet each endlessly inspiring to the other.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

I love commissions with a topic or dedication. Having an excuse to research and try to understand something which I previously might have had no knowledge of before is something I absolutely relish. Then letting my feelings and discoveries inspire the piece that I then write means that I have no choice but to take my head out of the day to day, and allow myself to be carried along on that journey.

For example, a recent commission is in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Ralph Vaughan Williams and will be premiered by the phenomenal Sitkovetsky Piano Trio on the 5th May 2022 at Investec International Music Festival. For inspiration I decided to look to the things that inspired Vaughan Williams himself, in particular nature and literature. I also listened to some works of his that I was less familiar with in order to have a more complete picture of where his inspirations took him. Having grown up with his string orchestra music, I was inspired by his intensely emotional and emotive writing. His writing would take me on an intense journey though vast lands of wonder. I have hugely enjoyed making time to read about, connect with and listen to the English countryside, my home and heritage and every note in this new work draws on my journey of discovery.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles or orchestras?

The Investec International Music Festival commission is enabling me to write for performers I grew up with. I studied alongside Alexander Sitkovetsky and Wu Qian at the Yehudi Menuhin School. In fact, there is an LWT documentary clip of both myself and Alexander composing together when we were eight and nine years old at the school! Music was always such a huge part of our lives from the moment we met that it is the most natural thing in the world for me to write for them. I hear their playing as I am writing and it inspires my ideas.

If I don’t know the performers I am writing for, I will often ask about their musical/instrument loves and hates. For me it is natural to want to understand their desire for the piece so that there is the best chance for them to connect with the work and ultimately enjoy performing it.

Of which works are you most proud?

The works I write when no one has asked me to because I could have been watching TV, but I didn’t!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say my pieces have tended to be dramatic, atmospheric, multi-tonal, quirky… nothing is set so I am compositionally flexible!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To have shared something of my experience on this incredible planet by creating an honest and meaningful musical performance or moment on stage or on manuscript paper.

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

Work hard. Listen to yourself. Acknowledge what you like & dislike. Be daring. Be more ‘you’!

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

This is a big topic!

If I had a large funding pot, I would make it a priority to subsidise concert tickets for children. If children can get to see concerts their enthusiasm and desire to want to join in and be part of the music will start an important link with classical music!

I would also encourage all parents and classroom teachers to provide children with the opportunity to listen to every type of music including a broad spectrum of classical music. It is valuable for children to know that music is art and that we are free to like or dislike any art as it is our own experience and no single person’s opinion is right or wrong, whether you are old or young, every reaction is valid. That then leads on to every emotion we have being valid, and it is time well spent trying to understand or think about our reactions to things and people.

I worry that minimal funding is leaving a huge number of children unable to access a meaningful musical education. Cutting off yet another generation from the life skills that learning instruments can give them. Dedication, perseverance, determination, sensitivity, listening, acknowledgment of emotions and feelings -to me these are all things which we all need. To have a ‘safe space’ to learn about all of these hugely important skills and aspects of life is invaluable for children.

I would like the educational sector to acknowledge all of the studies that show how beneficial a musical education is. Firstly, for general wellbeing and secondly in helping to create bright sparkling confident little people who are ready to feel what it is to be human and to hold it dear, in an age when computers and robots are transforming our world.

Outside of schools I would create performances that fit into younger working people’s lives to enable classical concerts to be open to a wider audience. Many more top quality shorter 1- hour concerts. Meeting a friend to go to a 1-hour concert and grabbing something to eat afterwards whilst discussing what I’ve heard is my idea of a perfect evening!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

With my family and friends, enjoying an unpolluted, war-free world full of music and cooperation!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Creativity and balance.

Natalie Klouda’s new work composed for the Investec International Music Festival receives its premiere on 5th May 2022 in a concert given by the Sitkovetsky Trio. 

Natalie Klouda is a British violinist and composer. Her early training was at the Yehudi Menuhin School, where she was greatly influenced by Yehudi Menuhin. A project to write compositions for his 80th Birthday engaged her passion for both chamber music performance and composition.

As a chamber musician Natalie has performed in major venues across Europe and in the USA including the Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Concertgebouw and Carnegie Hall and has recorded for the Resonus Classics label. Natalie was a founding member of the award winning Finzi Quartet, and prizes for their performances included the Austrian ‘Wiener Klassik Prize’ for interpretations of Joseph Haydn, 1st Prize in the 2010 Royal Over-Seas League Competition and a Swiss Global Artistic Foundation Award.