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?
My parents put me on to the clarinet when I was 8 (I think so that I had an outlet for all my excess energy!) and although I was completely rubbish for a long time I adored it and by the time I was 12 I couldn’t imagine pursuing anything else as a career.
I have two important influences. The first is my Mum, who comes to all my concerts and has unfailingly encouraged me (she also has developed a very good ear over the years so she’s very useful!) The second is my clarinet teacher from the Junior Department of the Royal Academy of Music, Liz Drew. She is an extraordinary teacher and I had two brilliant years learning with her. They were the best lessons I have ever had and she taught me a discipline that has been invaluable. We had so much fun together and I will be forever grateful to her.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I used to have huge issues with performance anxiety and for a while it was completely incapacitating. I have been working with a performance coach for the past 6 years and she has completely transformed my career. Performing is now my greatest joy and I am so lucky to have received such amazing help to overcome the anxiety.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I recorded an album last year with producer Tom Hammond and sound engineer John Croft. It was one of the most musically enriching experiences of my life and although I find it almost unbearable to listen to myself playing, it was such an exciting project that I think I would have to put that up there!
Which particular works/composers do you think you performbest?
I love playing the Mozart clarinet concerto and I love that it develops every time that I play; I’ve been very lucky to play it several times. I also love playing the Malcolm Arnold Second Concerto which is not very well known and a real masterpiece. I’ve done that a few times and have written my own cadenza which I am quite proud of. I get very excited every time I’m asked to play it!
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
I take a lot of inspiration from my students; I teach at the RAM Junior Department and I think I probably learn more from them than they do from me. I also do a lot of exercise which keeps me calm in what can be quite a stressful profession!
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Mostly I choose what music I am excited about at the time; I always play better when I’m enthused so I try to programme according to where my excitement is lying at the time.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I run a concert series in France and we play in the Marcilhac Cathedral; it is a glorious acoustic in the most beautiful of locations. I think that’s probably my favourite venue so far!
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’saudiences?
I’ve been doing a lot of outreach work recently and I am now so aware of the work we need to do to expand participation in classical music. I think probably this comes from broad musical education, reaching as many children as possible so that they get a flavour for it at a young age. I think we could also benefit from concert structures which are more welcoming. I recently played in a concert in Orkney where the audience moved around all the way through and it was brilliant because it maintained engagement with some very diverse repertoire. I think the more experimental and open minded we are the better!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I played the Mozart Quintet with some very good friends at the Berkshire Chamber Music Festival (I’m the Artistic Director there) at the end of the third lockdown. To be able to play some of my favourite repertoire with outstanding colleagues was completely brilliant; it’s a feeling I won’t ever forget.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
I think that so long as you always find some joy when you are playing then you are successful.
What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?
Don’t be afraid to push musical boundaries! Practice is important but so is knowing that you can shape your own career in music; we are seeing a wonderful blossoming in creativity where musicians are starting to craft unique freelance careerswhich don’t follow a traditional trajectory and that is really lovely to see.
What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?
We need to do much more about improving diversity in all areas of the industry. We can all do something to help with this. For example, we are not programming enough female composers or enough composers of colour and as performers we have a responsibility to be broadening the repertoire to include composers who have been neglected over the course of history. There is so much amazing music out there, we just need to make it heard!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The perfect reed!!
What is your present state of mind?
I’m working up to a big concert on the 30th of September in memory of a great friend, Tom Hammond. I’m playing the Clarinet Concerto by James Francis Brown. It’s an extraordinary piece of music and I am so excited to perform it but I’m currently very focused on getting it up to scratch so I would say I was quite preoccupied!