Max Baillie, 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?

This is a photo of me just a few days old sitting on my dad’s cello, so as you can see I was brought into the family tradition pretty early! He and my mum have both been huge, my dad for his generous playing and my mum for encouraging my interest in exploring other kinds of music, by getting me interesting albums and taking me to cool concerts.

Later I would say Ivry Gitlis has been my biggest influence. A student of Enescu, Ivry was a true maverick violinist with a completely unique style. I’m lucky to have known him and learned from him.

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

To prioritise and give time accordingly to my own projects. And to take proper time off in healthy doses!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

The discs I made with my two bands ZRI and Lodestar Trio, because they are genuinely new versions of the music on them, and the album of violin cello duos I made with my father.

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

I love being able to flip styles as a musician! But better to ask the audience that question!

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

I live by the sea and I swim all year round. It clears my head and that makes space for ideas. But being inspired on stage is about staying spontaneous, and making sure that rehearsal isn’t just about creating the version of what you are doing but one possible version.

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

My bands always have a few programmes in the devising stage, so when these become ready they are obvious choices. I also run a concert series in my hometown St Leonards on sea, and like to programme for that—the next one is with amazing Serbian pianist Ljubica Stojanovic on October 14th and we’ll play some of the great violin sonatas by Debussy, Janacek and Franck, red blooded music full of fantasy!

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

I like to play off the beaten track, mostly because I think taking music out of context makes audiences receptive to it in a different, and positive way. I played the Kodaly duo with my dad in the belly of a small fishing vessel with 40 people crammed into it, beached next to an estuary in Wales. I had to sit because the ceiling was too low and I would have crashed my bow into it. I also once played Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy in a massive underground cave in France and it made an epic setting for that mad piece.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a listener, one of the, has to be hearing Ivry Gitlis play the slow movement of Bach’s A minor concerto at a festival in Holland. His bravura was stripped back and it as as though a wisened voice from the next world had visited just for those moments. Everyone was in tears.

Another was hearing Malian ngoni (Malian lute) player Basseckou Kouyate and his family band Ngoni Ba play in London at SOAS. Basseckou is a living legend; his band was so groovy, bluesy, beautiful, earthbound, truly cosmic!!!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Joy and spontaneity in music making, and playing with people who inspire you to play at your best. The rest— engaged audiences, and a sustainable career, follow. (And I’m not saying any of these things, even developing the technical freedom to be spontaneous and free as a player, are straightforward.. )

What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?

Let curiosity be your guide! Own and direct your own progress— teachers are only a supplement to this. Trust your instincts. Work hard. Set your priorities clearly. Be brave and go for it!

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

A more valued and active place for music education in our society. A casting off of some of the more artificial conventions of classical music performance, its formality and sometimes stuffiness. Some of this relates to the spaces we use, which in their very layout can encourage a sense that we all have to behave, that the experience is a formal one. But it’s also related to traditions of how performers behave on stage, and what they wear. For example, howcome some orchestras still wear tailcoats to perform? That’s so archaic!

What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?

The importance of learning to improvise as part of music education. It’s part of classical music culture that’s been mostly lost over time, and it’s so important to freedom in music making… and also to escape the identity crisis of being creative musicians not only re-creative.

What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 year’s time?

After Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival I’m launching Lodestar Trio’s debut album Bach to Folk with a concert in London at St James Clerkenwell on October 3rd. Then I have some recitals with Ljubica Stojanovic, and the next longer project in October is guest leading a chamber music tour around the UK for Manchester Collective — Thomas Ades’ Arcadiana, Jorg Widmann, and Brahms.

In 10 years… Well, musically, I’d like to still be making albums and touring with my groups Lodestar Trio and ZRI, and playing lots of chamber music. And maybe there are some un-encountered collaborations waiting for me out there…. !

Max Baillie performs with his Lodestar Trio at this year’s Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival on 29 September and 1 October. Details here

A graduate of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Cambridge University, and Berlin’s UdK, British-German violinist and violist Max Baillie is sought after as soloist, chamber musician, and orchestral leader in the UK and abroad.

Max’s musical life reflects his interest in the cross-pollination of musical styles. Artists has worked with include Steve Reich, Mischa Maisky, Bjork, John Williams, Thomas Adès, Bobby McFerrin, Zakir Hussain, James Thierrée, and many more. From folk tunes in the Welsh hills to major festivals across the world, Max leads a dynamic life which embraces classical, improvisation, contemporary, and experimental music.

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