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Joana Ly, Violin


1. Is your family musical?

I’ll have to say very musical: Both of my parents are professional musicians (my father is a pianist and my mother a singer), my grandfather plays organ and accordion and my aunt is a music teacher. Also all of my cousins (from my mother’s side) play an instrument and even my dog likes to join in and “sing” when she hears something she likes while we practice or rehearse.

2. Which famous musicians do you admire? Why?

There are so many musicians I admire so I’ll just mention a few. Perlman has been since ever my favourite violinist, I love his sound and the way he sings every phrase. Kreisler as well, for his charm in every phrase and his lovely intimate sound. Gitlis in another violinist I have to mention, he’s playing really speaks to me – I never heard anyone so free that makes so real how limitless music really is.

3. What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?

I’m very lucky to have had so many moments of absolute musical bliss in my life. They mostly happened while playing in chamber music or in orchestra but also when hearing someone else playing.

Some recent moments I can think of was during an orchestra programme with Haitink playing Bruckner 8 when everything felt so right, just the way it should be and another one was while playing in an orchestra that accompanied Ivry Gitlis playing Chausson’s Poeme. It was precious.

4. How was it like to study under Hugo Diogo, during your final 2 years at the Aveiro Conservatoire?

It was really interesting and useful to get that extra “knowledge”. I was really surprised how different the viola is from the violin. I really enjoyed those two years, Hugo was a very good and very patient teacher. At the moment I have been neglecting my viola a little bit but it’s definitely part of my plans to start practicing it more regularly again and maybe even do some chamber music as a violinist for a change.

5. You later went to the Academia Nacional Superior de Orquestra in Lisbon. Tell us a bit about your time there please?

It was an important step for me – leaving home to start a new life in Lisbon. The school was really focused in orchestra which gave me a solid training and discipline. I have great memories of playing in orchestra there but mostly of chamber music. I was very lucky to have a wonderful chamber music teacher and such great colleagues/friends who were a great pleasure to play with.

6. Can you tell us when and where you had your solo and orchestral debuts please?

First time I played as a soloist with an orchestra I was about 15 and I played Mozart’s A major concerto with the orchestra from my home town. As for orchestra, I started in the school’s string orchestra when I was about 10 and I remember really enjoying it but the first time I played in a symphony orchestra was when I was 13 and it’s a moment I will never forget. We were playing Dvorak’s New World Symphony but in fact during the first minutes of the first rehearsal I wasn’t playing at all, I was so overwhelmed with all those different sounds. It was a feeling I will keep in my memory for life.

7. You are currently studying at the Royal College of Music, London. How does the experience here differ than in Portugal in terms of educational style and cultural mix? How is it like to study under your tutor Radu Blidar?

The experience is totally different so it’s almost impossible to compare the two institutions. My old college was really small – we were about 90 in total – so everyone knew each other quite well, in fact almost everyone lived in the same neighborhood, just around the college. It was a bit like a big family, with the good and bad things that that brings. In RCM the dimension of everything is huge – from the number of students to what is going on in the building (there’s always so much going on in term of concert, master-classes, etc. that often you wish you could be in two places at the same time, and since that wish never comes true, you end up having to make a choice and missing one of the things you really wanted to do or watch). Also the type of things that are going on in college are as diverse as you can imagine – from baroque dance to experimental music. So, obviously, as someone that comes from a small place to RCM, my perspectives widen up immensely, which is what in necessary at all times. But being in such a busy place also requires to be extremely organized with your time and priorities. I must confess that it took me a bit of time to get used to this faster rhythm. In Lisbon everything was more slow paced, I was used to practice whenever I felt like and didn’t have to plan my days much in advance, but here there isn’t any other way.

Also, there are some fields I didn’t even think of exploring until I arrived here. I’ve been doing quite a lot of outreach projects which I really enjoy and can be so much fun and at the same time really touching.

Studying with Radu Blidar has been a very enriching experience – he’s such a good and committed teacher. He teaches how to teach myself and make my own decisions – basically he supports the search for each one’s individuality. I never had a lesson when I was bored or not interested, in fact, quite the opposite – I feel I’m more and more involved with his lessons and ideas, which is quite rare and very special. I really trust him and respect him as a teacher and musician and hope to continue to come to him even after finishing RCM.

In terms of cultural differences, clearly Lisbon and London don’t have much in common, although I love both cities for different reasons – Lisbon for its beautiful old part, the nice relaxed atmosphere, its light and weather and of course the beach! London for the cultural diversity, the busy musical scene and the fact that you can do anything in this city (OK, apart from going to the beach). I think the only thing that was an actual “Shock” was the weather, the lack of sun, but at least now I really know how to appreciate it when I go back to Portugal! With all its differences, London really feels like home at the moment.

8. If you could do a duet with anybody alive or dead, who would that dream partner be?

Jacqueline du Pre. It’s difficult to put in words how I feel about her playing – I think her expressiveness is somehow so natural and honest that she becomes the music itself, and I’m always overwhelmed by hearing or watching her play. But since we are wishing for things, I would actually prefer to do a piano trio with her, and the pianist would be Vladimir Ashkenazy.

9. Have you played outside Portugal or England yet?

Yes. I’ve been in festivals in Holland and also touring with Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra through Spain, Italy, Holland, France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

10. How often and for how long do you practice?

I try to practice 4 hours every day but this varies sometimes, depending on what I have during the week (like a busy orchestra schedule) and what I have upcoming (some important concert or audition).

11. Do you or would you like to teach music?

I already have some students and would like to have some more. I really enjoy teaching – when I teach, I’m teaching myself as well and learning from the students, because I really have to explain my ideas very clearly and this organizes my thoughts for my own practice. I find it a great responsibility to teach, especially young children, since you are really moulding their playing and even personality, and I’m both a bit scared and thrilled with this responsibility.

12. How do you balance your music with other obligations? What are the biggest sacrifices?

I have to keep balancing all the sides of my life and making sure the right priorities stay in the right place. Sometimes it’s difficult when there’s so much going on, the expensive London life that doesn’t pay for itself, all the admin side of booking concerts and getting involved in different projects, not even mentioning the personal side. All of these things can easily get in the way of the actual music making which is the reason I’m here after all. Sometimes I find myself practicing but thinking of something to do with the practical life so I have to stop myself and really focus on just the music.

13. You clearly enjoy Chamber music, who are your favourite composers?

Chamber music is my absolute top passion. I find quartet playing the “perfect match” and therefor one of my favourite composers is Haydn. Beethoven as well but there are so many others – Janacek quartets are probably some of my favourite quartet music. I also really enjoy playing in piano trio, especially Beethoven, but again, some of my favourite trios are from other composers like Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

Also, one piece of chamber music that has been in my “wish list” for a long time is Schoenberg’s verklärte nacht.

15. What are your future plans?

I’m now in my last year in RCM and my plans are still a bit open. One of the possibilities would be going to Amsterdam. It would be a dream come true to go to the string quartet academy there to follow my passion for chamber music and really make that my main focus in the profession. Also, that way, I could still be connected to London and continue working here in different sorts of projects.

submission June 2012

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