Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?
The reason I started to play the violin was very random, my father simply asked me one day; “do you want to start playing the violin?” when I was seven years old, and I said “yes!”. The first years I did not really practice a lot; what kept me going was the social activities around playing the violin. When I was nine years old, I started to listen to more CDs with great violin players, and I have a vivid memory of listening to Bruch violin concerto, 2nd movement, and it was at the time the most beautiful music I had ever heard. I started to play lots of concerts at the age of nine in the local area with an accordion player. Together, we played tunes by the Swedish national poet Evert Taube. And quite soon after, I went to Stockholm to perform this music on several occasions. Traveling to Stockholm and performing as a soloist at different concert arenas had a huge influence on me when I was nine. It was an exciting and overwhelming experience coming to such a large city like Stockholm, since I had only been playing in my hometown in Norway with about 15 000 inhabitants. At the age of 12 I was accepted as one of the youngest at the Young Musicians Talent Program in Trondheim. At this point I started to practice more and more and to perform classical music. I traveled every second week to Trondheim by plane, for lessons with my Professor Bjarne Fiskum, chamber music, music theory, concerts, and social happenings. This was truly one of my biggest inspirations, and when I look back at it, I realize how grateful I am for the extraordinary journey I have had through music. At the age of 12 I started to play the Harding Fiddle, the Norwegian National Instrument, also by a coincidence. A man from our town gave my dad a Harding Fiddle as a gift. I started to have lessons with the then 82 years old Harding Fiddle player Arne Viken, which always reminded me of the joy and love for music, through his extraordinary presence and joy with music. If I at times forget about this, I think back to his wonderful laughter and his wildly stamping feet while playing some tunes on the fiddle.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
When I was younger my biggest inspiration was Anne Sophie Mutter, who I simply adored for her temperament and colouring in her playing. In later years there have been a handful of people who have had a huge influence on my musical life and career, as well as my personal life. My experience is that being a musician is an opportunity for learning more and more about yourself, which is one of my favourite things with being a musician. It always challenges me to get to know myself on a deeper and deeper level physically, psychologically and emotionally. The more I learn, the easier it gets and I become more and more like a curious child! One of those who have had the greatest influence on my musical life and career the last few years is Timani teacher Tina Margareta Nilsen, who is an expert on how to use the body as a musician in order to reach your potential as a musician. My Alexander Technique teachers at the Royal College of Music, Judith Kleinman and Peter Buckoke also had an extraordinary influence on my playing as well as life in general. I am very grateful to these dedicated teachers who have included body and mind to music. How to use my body in a healthy, uplifting and musical way while playing is truly one of the greatest gifts and wisdom I have ever received, and every day I am exploring new things and deeper and deeper layers of it.
Another huge influence in my musical life, career and life in general is Ascension meditation. I started to practice this meditation every day one year ago. This has helped me getting back to the joy and love of playing and performing music that I had when I was younger, but somehow got somewhat lost on the way with pressure and stress associated with playing the violin. It has also helped me with creativity and being more efficient in every aspect of my life, including in the practicing room. I have never practiced as little as I do now, and never developed as fast! It has helped me become more present during performances, which is probably one of the most important aspects as a performer.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
My greatest challenges of my career so far has been to not let external pressures get in the way of my love for music and playing the violin. There is lots of competition and many great players competing for the same job. To allow the love for music to shine despite external pressures has been a challenge, especially since I do not see the point in playing music if it is not because you love or enjoy it. If the performer does not truly enjoy playing, how can the audience do so? I also believe that the world needs much more music and musicians, but it seems like very few classical musicians today are focusing on their own personal flavour and desires concerning what music they deeply love playing, and instead go with the mainstream way of a classical musician. I believe that when people find their special flavour, there will be room for many more musicians as well, since not everyone will go for only one of the jobs, and there will be more variety for the audience.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The performance that I am the most proud of is when I played as a soloist in the Norwegian Opera House, with Barratt Due Symphony Orchestra and conductor Dietrich Paredes. This was an amazing experience because I had a large symphony orchestra behind me, an amazing venue, and I loved the music that I played. I also felt a great connection with the audience during this concert. Every concert that has felt like a celebration of communication between the performers and the audience have been my best ones.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
The works that I perform the best are those that allow me as a performer to have freedom, pieces that invite me to take an active role in how I think it should sound and almost like having a conversation or some kind of communication with the composer through playing the piece. I love to improvise, and I love pieces that allow me to put in some extra notes or improvise cadenzas. I also love to perform pieces by Norwegian composers, which often are inspired by folk music. I also perform on the Norwegian National Instrument, the Hardanger Fiddle, and I think I have created my own style on the tunes that I play on this instrument.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
For me it is very important to choose repertoire that I actually have a strong desire to play. I think the audience notices when a performer is dedicated and in love with a piece. I also choose based on what concerts I am about to play and what would fit into those venues. I always want to have a varied programme and therefore try to choose pieces from different periods.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I went on a tour with the Arctic Philharmonic a few years ago, and one of the destinations was Vienna. We had a concert in the Musikverein, which probably had the best acoustic I have ever heard. And such a stunningly beautiful venue! I have been watching the New Year Concert from Musikverein, every January 1st since I was very young, so that also made it very special to be and play there.
Who are your favourite musicians?
At the moment my favourite musician is Hilary Hahn; she has an extraordinarily clear and powerful sound, and such an impressive and effortless way of playing the violin. She also has a great stage presence and a mind-blowing coordination.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
It is impossible to choose one. I had one concert in St Mary Abbot’s in London about a year ago, where I improvised my own Mozart cadenza, which felt very new and refreshing!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Stay innocent and joyful with playing music. Do not torture yourself psychologically and physically with locking yourself into a practicing room for too long. Howard Thurman said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
To recognize the silence that comes from within and rest into that experience. This is my wish for everyone.
Elisabeth Turmo performs with Elena Toponogova (piano) at the 1901 Arts Club on Friday 17th March in a concert celebrating two cultures, Norwegian and Russian. Full details and tickets here
Elisabeth Turmo (b.1993) is a Norwegian violinist currently living in London, studying at the Royal College of Music, where she is taking a Master in Performance. She is known for her stage presence and singing tone quality as well as conveying the stormful temperament of a Northern Norwegian. “She appears as a born soloist” – Jostein Pedersen