Violinists John Garner and Marie Schreer formed ‘Mainly Two’ with a view to expanding the repertoire for two violins and bringing greater attention to an often neglected medium.
Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?
Marie: Apparently, after visiting a violin maker’s shop, I kept nagging my parents to let me play the violin. I still love the smell of luthiers’ workshops!
John: I was always noodling on various instruments as a child. I started off with harmonica, because my dad used to play a lot. The opportunity to learn violin came through school when I was seven, so I decided to give it a go on the spur of the moment.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
John: All the amazing people with whom I’ve been incredibly lucky to study. I’ve also counted many talented individuals amongst my peers, in various groups along the way. There are too many people to mention. Meeting Marie has certainly sparked some beautiful music making and wonderful collaborations.
Marie: Growing up within a family of musicians has undeniably influenced me from the very start. I’ve been lucky to have had my aunt teach me the violin for fifteen years, before coming to London. She has been an incredible inspiration, both musically and personally. And of course, learning from and working with so many wonderful musicians enriches me every day.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Marie: I think the greatest challenge is to keep a good work-life balance. It’s so important to make sure not to overwork your muscles, and your brain too. After all, playing an instrument can be incredibly straining for your mind and body.
John: Finding the right path has been tricky for me: I’ve sort of flitted between various groups and styles for a long time. Having discovered jazz about six years ago, I now feel like I’ve struck a good balance in my musical life, and I’m happy with the goals I’m setting for myself.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
Mainly Two: Our début albums ‘Poetry’ and ‘Synergy’ signalled the beginning of this project, and laid out what we are trying to do. It was amazing to have such a talented team of composers involved, and to hear the variety with which everyone tackled writing for two violins. We’ll always have a soft spot for these recordings.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
Mainly Two: It’s difficult to say, as everybody writes in such a different way, and we have to approach each performance accordingly.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Mainly Two: Quite often we are hired by concert promoters or composers to perform new works at an event. If we’re putting on our own concerts, we craft programmes from our pool of new music according to the vibe of the gig. We don’t really operate season by season; more concert by concert.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Mainly Two: We were lucky enough to have the chance to perform in Zaha Hadid’s Design Gallery in London a couple of times. It’s a fabulous space with a beautiful acoustic, and it’s great to be surrounded by such elegant art and architectural designs. Zaha’s recent passing really shook a lot of people, us included, and she will be sorely missed.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
Mainly Two: We’ve performed the Prokofiev Sonata for 2 violins a few times, as well as many of Bartók’s miniatures. These are both great fun to play, and really demonstrate what two violins can do.
Who are your favourite musicians?
John: Abdullah Ibrahim, Esperanza Spalding, Oregon (Ralph Towner’s group), Bill Evans, Byron Wallen, to name a few.
Marie: David Oistrakh, Bill Evans, Imogen Heap, Olli Mustonen. They come to mind.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Mainly Two: We spent a wonderful few days in Puglia, Italy, where we gave three concerts. It was a beautiful tour, and we felt very welcome. Great food, great people, fantastic settings.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Mainly Two: Be curious and open-minded; take risks; pursue unusual avenues; be disciplined (it’s not always fun, but it pays off!) and dedicated; don’t flog a dead horse; learn how to take criticism; believe in yourself, even though not everyone will always like what you do; always remember why you love making music.