There were smiles all round when Laurence Jackson signed on last year as concertmaster for the WA Symphony Orchestra. Jackson left a prestigious position as concertmaster of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra to relocate to Perth – an indication of WASO’s growing international reputation as a hard-working and progressive orchestra. The violinist has impeccable pedigree, studying first at the elite Chethams School of Music then the Royal Academy of Music before making his Royal Festival Hall debut in 1990. Since Jackson joined WASO the players and administration have been talking with warm appreciation about both his innate musical instincts and his friendly manner.
What music gets your heart racing?
That could be almost anything! From a Mozart piano concerto to a Strauss tone poem like Ein Heldenleben to Earth,Wind and Fire! It’s probably more about how I feel at that particular time, than the musical genre itself.
What calms you down?
I love to listen to jazz, at the moment I am revisiting Stephane Grappelli, who has always been a hero of mine on the violin and I am enjoying his collaborations with Django Reinhardt, both absolute geniuses in my book.
What do you sing along to?
Well, I cannot sing to save my life but I always have music swirling around in my head, often I come off stage and I’m humming the piece the orchestra has just played….I think I might be alone in that amongst many of my colleagues!
Last year you signed a three year contract as concertmaster with the WA Symphony Orchestra. It is now six months into your first year with the orchestra – how are things going?
It is going very well, I have had the privilege directing my colleagues for a week in a series of concerts at Perth Concert Hall as well as appearing as soloist with them. The amount of support I have had from everyone has been amazing; a very refreshing experience for me. WASO is a very dynamic, forward-thinking orchestra, there is a real “can do” attitude here in Perth and there is also a real willingness from the players to constantly improve as an ensemble and to develop our role within the Perth community.
|Jackson and his Vuilaume violin.|
In April you performed Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with WASO. How did it feel fronting the orchestra as soloist? (Read a review from Limelight magazine here.)
Personally, I always find it a real thrill to stand up in front of an orchestra and play a concerto. The freedom you have is amazing and coupled with a good orchestra and equally importantly, a good conductor, you can really define a piece in your own way. That’s not to say that it’s easy in any way! Particularly standing in front of your colleagues can be both positive in terms of the support and good will etc that you receive, but also possibly less than positive if you feel you have to prove yourself as a player. In my case, I was the ‘new boy’, so I felt I had to play my best!
Western Australia seems particularly attractive to European musicians for the life-style change as much as the music! How is Perth comparing to Birmingham, or Warrington where you grew up?
Well it may be a cliche, but it’s true, the lifestyle is fantastic in Perth and I am reminded of that every time I drive into work along Mounts Bay road and see the river and the park… it doesn’t get much better! The contrast to working in the UK is striking in terms of hours and sheer volume of repertoire covered in any one particular week. This was one of the main draws for me making the move to Perth: finding a better balance in my life and having time to enjoy and develop new interests.
Your successful leadership of the Maggini String Quartet from 1994-2006 produced 23 albums, a Gramophone Award, the Cannes Classic Award and the Diapason d’Or of the Year. Do you miss your chamber music days? Will you be pursuing small ensemble work in Perth?
I do miss the quartet a lot and probably more now than ten years ago. I particularly miss the fabulous repertoire for string quartet and also working in minute detail on pieces and general housekeeping, like intonation, rhythm etc. However, I don’t feel the urge to start another quartet, I feel that I have learned much from that chapter in my career and I now would very much like to explore the violin sonata repertoire, which is something I did much of when I left college and joined the Young Concert Artists Trust back in 1989.
You play on a violin made around 1850 by J.B. Vuilaume. How did the instrument come to make its home with you?
This is a remarkable violin….it originally made its way to the UK from Russia and was in a truly terrible state! I think it had five large holes in the body for a start and it took many years of restoration by my good friends at Oxford Violins, to enable it to be played professionally and sound amazing. I have had the violin for about 16 years now and I’ve not been tempted so far by anything more exotic.
What drew you to music initially? Why are you still playing?
Music was always being played around the house and encouraged by my parents, and I began the violin when I was a little boy aged about 6. They were not musicians but that environment, plus the lack of any distractions in that little part of rural England, meant that I would play all day long quite literally! I simply loved the violin and never wanted to do anything else with my life.
You have a soft spot for several English contemporary composers. You recorded the John Jeffreys Violin Concerto for Meridian and the complete repertoire for violin and piano by Sir Arnold Bax on Naxos. Are there any Australian composers that you have a particular interest in?
Not yet but I’m sure that will change of course.
The role of a concertmaster is somewhat paradoxical – it requires leadership and soloistic charisma but also empathy and behind-the-scenes skills to build relationships with conductors and artistic management. Where did you learn the skills to be a concert master?
That’s a hard question….I think the skills you mention in the question are absolutely what you need, unfortunately there is no handbook and no further education available (that I know about) and you tend to learn from trusting your instincts as well as from your mistakes. Perhaps the most important quality required, is the ability both as a violinist and a person, to be yourself and not to try to be anything other than that. I think you get appointed not just because you can play the violin but also because your colleagues feel they can work with you and that you will become their musical ally, so to speak.
|Laurence and his wife Sarah|
Did you bring family or pets to Perth with you?
Just myself and my wife, Sarah, plus 5 suitcases and 126 boxes!
What is your favourite place in Perth?
I don’t think we have one favourite place, we love Kings Park and walks down by the river and we do love going to the beach and having breakfast overlooking the ocean….you certainly can’t do that in Birmingham!
|Black bear, Minnesota c Laurence Jackson|
Do you have a soft spot for anything else in life or is it all about the music and the family?
I love nature and wildlife and I love to indulge my hobby of photography. Those that know me are aware that I am passionate about bears and I am looking forward to volunteering at the Animals Asia Chengdu Asiatic Bear Centre later this year. I have photographed brown and black bears in the USA and Finland, sometimes at surprisingly close quarters….but that’s another story!
Thank you Laurence Jackson for being involved in the Celebrity Soft Spot series. To see Laurence in action choose a concert from the WASO website.