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?
Despite coming from a non-musical family, I’ve been immersed in music since the earliest I can remember myself. Starting to sing at the age of 3, followed by learning the recorder and, finally, switching to violin at the age of 6 was nothing out of the ordinary in my home country, the Czech Republic, given its strong musical tradition. During my early years, my mum was essential to my pursuit of the instrument: she would sit in on every single one of my violin lessons until I was about 13 years old. She provided the motivation and oversight of my practice, too, and has helped me to cultivate the self-discipline to which I owe my achievements in later life. The biggest artistic inspiration for me were the recordings of Maxim Vengerov and later Hilary Hahn.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
The greatest challenge for me has been centred around moving to the UK to pursue university studies. With several auditions lined up, nowhere to practice and sharing temporary accommodation with two other girls, I had put everything on the line for a chance that the London conservatoires would deem me worthy of acceptance, and so did my parents, who had only limited understanding of the industry. I was quick to find out that some of the top professors charged as much as £300 per consultation, accommodation was not guaranteed, and that only limited support was available to students even after being accepted. It was a lot of pressure, but I was lucky to have a church in central London offer a room for practice and a Czech charity ‘Velehrad’ provided financial support when I needed it the most. I’m sure there’s a lot to be said about the challenges surrounding accessibility of music education, lack of government support for the arts and the difficulties of entering an extremely competitive job market with a performance degree, but I’ll leave all that for another interview.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I’m very proud of my recent performance of the Mendelssohn concerto with the Finchley Symphony Orchestra and of the final recital at Guildhall School of Music and Drama for which I have been awarded a Concert Recital Diploma for exceptional performance.
Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?
I find my personality best expressed through works which are lively and fiery, such as Ravel’s Tzigane. I also enjoy modern works which allow for the freedom of artistic interpretation. A lot of the time, I feel restricted performing the works which had been done millions of times before, where a certain tradition needs to be maintained (or does it?). This, unfortunately, is imposed and enforced through competitions and various assessments throughout the education process. Contemporary works, on the other hand, are something of an untouched canvas, allowing for much more creativity. In general, I don’t perform works where I don’t feel that I have anything to add to the tradition.
What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?
There are many things I enjoy outside of classical music, such as travel, reading, sport, nature, but most of all, getting to know different people and cultures, diving into their stories, struggles and emotions. I am also fascinated with what lies beyond the piece I am performing, what the composer’s life looked like and the general social and cultural context of the work, which provides a comfortable starting point for any interpretation.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
A lot of the time, the repertoire will be limited by the event (i.e. being asked to perform a specific work by an orchestra or a venue), who I perform with (which instrument, orchestra, singer etc.), or what is required by an assessment (if you are a student). However, when none of the above apply, I choose the works that, grouped together, tell a specific story, while also attempting to diversify the industry as much as possible by introducing new of lesser-known works.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Performing in large and well-known venues is rare and magical; however, I also find the more intimate venues rewarding. For example, last year I gave a recital in Café Yukari in Kew with pianist Jeremy Chan. The small, intimate Japanese venue was extremely welcoming, and I found the performance very rewarding in offering an opportunity to connect and build a relationship with the audience.
What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?
In general, I think both musicians and classical music connoisseurs need to stop taking themselves so seriously. The glorified gatekeeping, in my opinion, is at the root of the lack of mainstream attention and interest in the field. When performing complex works, attention needs to be paid to educating the audience in order to make it less intimidating for an average concertgoer to attend. And I don’t mean the 500-word programmes which require a music degree and a dictionary to comprehend, but active engagement with audiences both during promotion and at the actual event. To encourage younger audiences, it would be smart to diversify the venues and expand the list of performers, too. Perhaps, more people would be encouraged to buy tickets to a performance by someone who did not come from one of the 10 most famous conservatoires in Europe playing on a £10m instrument while wearing an outfit more suited for a period drama. Being relatable is something that is currently missing from the industry, but classical music is not alone in this.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
To date, the most memorable concert for me was the first time I performed as a soloist with an orchestra. I was 17 years old when I performed Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole with South Czech Philharmonic after winning a competition. Tearing up as the results came in, that’s when I fully realised that what had up until then was a distant dream was becoming a real and tangible part of my life.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success to me as a musician is sustaining a living doing music alone, while being true to yourself as an artist. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but if achieved, it will protect you from being burnt out and overworked, the two things, unfortunately, very common in the classical music industry.
What advice would you give to young/aspiring musicians?
The advice I would’ve given my younger self is cultivate independence and originality. A lot of the time, teachers’ opinions are treated as the ultimate truth, but unfortunately, like all people, they make mistakes. Get a few mentors to expose yourself to different perspectives. Another piece of advice is for the sake of your mental health, make sure you have interests in your life which are not linked to your career. This will help with inspiration, letting off steam, clearing your mind, and will ultimately make you a better, more well-rounded performer.
What’s the one thing in the music industry we’re not talking about which you think we should be?
I believe we should be speaking openly about the lack of diversity, elitism, and nepotism, which are all interlinked in classical music.
What’s next? Where would you like to be in 10 years?
In 10 years, I’d like to be surrounded by a kind, supportive and curious music community, challenging myself to take on new ground-breaking projects and generally being a driver for change.
Leona Gogolicynová’s Slavic Soirées concert series begins at Velehrad London in Barnes on Saturday 18th February. Further information/tickets here
Leona Gogolicynová was born in the Czech Republic and started to play violin at the age of 6.
She completed DiS. degree (specialist with a diploma) at the Conservatoire of Ceske Budejovice in the Czech Republic in classical violin, Undergraduate and Postgraduate degrees at Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, where she received a high distinction in her violin studies and was awarded a Concert Recital Diploma for exceptional performance in her final recital. After her graduation from GSMD, Leona was invited to stay on as a Fellow in the 2021-2022 academic year.
Leona has performed as a soloist with the South Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Finchley Symphony Orchestra, the St Clements Players and City of London Soloists. She has participated in masterclasses with David Dolan, Miriam Kramer, Andrew Watkinson, David Waterman, Tomotada Soh, Martin Chalifour (LA Phil), Ivan Straus, Jan Talich, and others. The venues Leona has performed in include Barbican Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Cadogan Hall, Milton Court Concert Hall, LSO St Luke’s, Koncertní síň O. Jeremiáše, Chinese National Orchestra Concert Hall in Beijing.