Laura Jeppesen, viola da gambist

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?

I was inspired to make a career in music simply because I love playing music. It never occurred to me to think practically about it. I have never been motivated by the thought of financial reward. In fact it still happens to me that when I am paid for a performance, I feel surprised at receiving a check (happily surprised, I admit).

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

One of the challenges I have felt as a gambist is that I have so often needed to play concerts in acoustics inappropriate for the instrument. The viola da gamba was cultivated at a time before concerts became public events. It was played in smaller, more intimate spaces, often in architectural spaces that promoted its unique resonance. Its bell-like tones make it a kind of bowed lute that depends upon a lively acoustic.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I think I would say that I am most proud of my most recent recording, Marais at Midnight. Cathy Liddell and I made that CD following many years of playing Marais together and I think our love for the music is palpable. I also think that the combination of viola da gamba and theorbo creates magic.

What particular works do you think you perform best?

I have a particular love for French baroque music. I have always loved everything French—the language, art, music, cultural history have always fascinated me. I have lived in France and spent a year in school there as a young teenager. Over the years I have come to feel an intimate connection with the language of Marin Marais.

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

Getting to know the people who share my love for the music I play inspires me when I play. They might be audience members but they are also the people with whom I play. Friendship, connections with people are important elements in my musical inspiration.

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

I am guided by decisions I make with my colleagues to form interesting programmes of music we find particularly beautiful. My repertory is circumscribed in that I seldom play music written after 1800.

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

I am now in the twilight years of my career and I find myself much less interested in playing conventional concerts. My husband (violinist Daniel Stepner) and I have been giving house concerts in our home for about five years. We have a nice following and people enjoy the intimacy and festivity of eating, drinking and listening to our music. I’m tired of concert protocol which seems so “in the box” — dressing up like penguins, bowing to an audience we don’t even see and playing the usual prescribed amount of time without making much contact with the people for whom we play. I think it is different for a singer who is looking at the audience and interacting. But if an instrumentalist does that it comes across like Liberace. I hate it when I perceive instrumentalists mugging or putting on a show for the large audience. I prefer a setting that was appropriate for my instrument during the Renaissance when concerts were intimate and communication natural.

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

People like the music they know. That means we need to keep playing and recording. Sharing our music with like-minded people is a good enough goal for me.

What was your most memorable concert experience?

One of my most favorite concert experiences was playing the Brandenburg concerti on Bach’s birthday in Leipzig in 1985 with Frans Bruggen’s Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century; and one of my favorite playing experiences was being an onstage musician for a run at the American Repertory Theatre of Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage. I was musical director for that production and it was some of the most fulfulling fun I’ve ever had.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being able to do something one loves without having to worry about paying the rent.

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

Three rules to try to live by:

  • Play the way you are.
  • Do not try to do too well.
  • Only play with people you love.

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

In a farmhouse in Provence with my husband and a guest room.