Interview in April Magazine

Thank you to April Magazine and Jill Marshall for interviewing and featuring me in this article about “embracing the world with violin and viola”:
http://aprilmag.com/home/2016/11/14/miranda-cuckson-embracing-the-world-with-violin-and-viola

I am happy with how this article turned out but thought it would be nice to also share some “outtakes” from our (Oct 23) email interview:

— Do you prefer playing solo or as part of an ensemble?

I love to play both solo and with others. I would not want to do just one or the other. Violinists are lucky to have some great solo repertoire but it’s been very interesting to me to further explore what the instrument can do and encompass expressively on its own. The thing about playing solo is that you are the one who has to deliver and speak for yourself. You have to do it, no one else can do it for you. I like that situation of responsibility and having to focus on what you want to say and how you can do that. On the other hand, I enjoy the dialogue of playing with other musicians, the reacting to each other, the spur-of-the-moment interplay as well as drawn-out discussions about the work we are doing together. I like to sometimes step back and listen to others and savor the sense of being one strand of a bigger thing.

I feel it’s just as in life – it’s not even a metaphor, it’s the same thing. You need to be alone sometimes, to learn how to both support and critique yourself, how to express yourself and not rely on others. How to listen and think for yourself, not just accept what others around you are saying. On the other hand, you need to be feel part of the group and to understand your role in a larger context. How to have a discussion, how to embrace differences, how to cooperate in an agreed-upon structure. Interacting with a small group, a large crowd, or with one other person – it all teaches you a lot about yourself. It’s also just fun and enjoyable.

— Was the violin a natural choice for you ? Did (do) you play other instruments ?

My first violin was a hand-me-down from my older, Taiwanese-American cousins. So I didn’t actually request a violin but I did take to it very quickly. I always wanted to play my violin as soon as I was home from school. I also play a bit of piano and I like to sing (though my voice got kind of frayed from a bad bout of bronchitis a few years ago).

— Do you remember your very first performance in front of a discerning audience ?

The first performance I remember was at the Hoff-Barthelson music school when I was five or so. I was sick with the flu and my parents said I’d have to miss the concert. But I was so disappointed so they let me play, and I remember being onstage and feeling all hot and feverish but so glad to be playing. The first performance I gave for a discerning audience was probably my audition at Juilliard when I was eight years old. I played a Telemann concerto and the Valse Sentimentale of Tchaikovsky. The teachers were smiling at me when I finished, and I remember my future teacher Dorothy DeLay said to me, “Beautiful music, isn’t it?”

— You travel a great deal. Do you get down-time to explore the towns and cities where you perform ?

I love to travel – not so much the transportation part but visiting new places. Sometimes there isn’t much time to explore – there are rehearsals and concerts and then you have to leave right away afterward – so all you may get to see are the hotel and the hall, and maybe a few other places such as a school or a radio station studio, and the ride to/from the airport! But I love if extra time can be squeezed into a schedule. It’s amazing what you can see in one day. I love to walk around, to see important historical sites but also just to get the feel of the neighborhoods where people live and work. And to go to concerts in other places, to hear the local musicians.

— You’re an Australian-born American with Taiwanese/Austrian/English heritage. Have mixed heritage and vast travel experience brought anything specific to the way you approach creativity and accessibility when making/performing music?

Having a very mixed background has affected my perspective in many fundamental ways, and certainly as an artist. I think it’s given me a basic belief that communication and connection are always possible between different cultures and peoples. It has given me a continual interest in putting myself in others’ shoes, trying to understand where they are coming from and what are the particulars of that culture that they contain in themselves. And I think that attitude has carried over into what I do as an interpreter/performer of music: with each piece, I endeavor to put myself in the shoes of the composer, wherever he/she may come from and whatever musical language they are using.

Western classical music came from Europe – much of it from Vienna where my grandfather was from – and then spread as an art form to America and other countries of the world. We tend to think of European giants like Mozart and Beethoven as defining “classical music” but classical music has, in the best American spirit of inclusion, now come to involve artistic voices from all over the globe, from every country and ethnicity. I really like to program music by composers from various countries and discuss how their heritage or their world outlook has affected their music – sometimes that’s in an overtly folkloric way, sometimes it’s more subtle or abstract.

Many of us experiment with and partake of different cultures, and wonderful hybrids happen, but I think there will always be a tension between this hybridization and the preservation of cultural identities. That’s causing conflicts but it’s also a huge opportunity to adopt an outlook of respect and try to understand each other, to value those differences and specifics that make each group part of a strong whole. Artists are often in the vanguard of that kind of understanding and exchange, because we essentially deal with personal and universal experience, and communicating that with others.

— When you’re not working through a calendar of events, what kinds of things do you enjoy doing?

I love to take walks and do yoga. I really enjoy an interesting conversation with a friend over a meal or a cup of tea. I love to go to concerts. I have a passion for all art forms. Looking at visual art or a dance piece and understanding what those artists are doing is a great pleasure to me. I can’t draw but I’m very verbal and I’m always reading. I read more non-fiction than fiction these days and I get drawn into all kinds of essays and articles online..science topics, personal essays by people whose lives are different from mine..about music too. I like to look around for contemporary poetry that appeals to me. I enjoy cuddling my cat Oski.

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