Meet James Ehnes, violin

Meet James Ehnes, violin


We sat down with this weekend’s guest violinist James Ehnes to discuss Brahms’ Violin Concerto, his favorite things about Houston and much more!

How long does it typically take for you to prepare for a concerto?
(The Brahms Concerto) is one of the ones that comes around most often. I’ve performed it I’d say 30 or 40 times. For a piece like the Brahms, you have to get into it pretty thoroughly every time. The thing that’s nice about pieces that you’ve played a lot is that they don’t go away in your mind, they stay there, so when I pick them up, it’s not a question of if I remember how it goes or what I want to do with it musically, it’s really just solidifying it in the hands and getting the hands retrained. You can get into a routine of how you play things, so it’s important to try to give it some sort of a fresh start.

What makes the Brahms Concerto so difficult to play?
The thing about the Brahms Concerto is that there are parts of it that don’t sound very difficult, but they are. I think when the piece was first written a lot of violinists didn’t want to perform it because it didn’t look like it was a lot of work, but it really was! Part of what makes music great is that it makes unique challenges for the player.  If you haven’t seen it before, it seems difficult to the point of being unfair, but if you’re a violinist, you play the concerto – it’s what you’re expected to do!

What’s your favorite thing to do post-performance?
Performances take on a very different meaning in your life when you’re doing 90 a year – I just take it how it goes. The performances themselves are still very special, but one of the luxuries of doing enough of them is that you don’t have to get completely freaked out before them – so there’s no need to really “wind down” or analyze your playing.

This is your 6th time performing with the Houston Symphony – what do you like most about our fair city?
One thing that’s great is that I have a lot of friends in the orchestra, who take me places they really like. I’ve got some friends that live in Rice Village and like exploring really cool restaurants and bars. I’m disappointed I’m going to miss the Astros on this trip – I love going to the ballpark!

How did you know you wanted to be a professional musician?
Most people, when they start playing music, see it as a hobby. I didn’t know any amateur musicians as a kid, I knew only professional musicians, so I didn’t think music could just be a hobby. From the moment I started playing I thought ‘maybe I could be like my dad’ who was a trumpet teacher, and saw it as a very legitimate career option. At the point later on when you have to start thinking about that stuff, I never had to – I knew I’d play the violin.

Do you still get nervous before performance?
I do sometimes, but it has much more to do with outside factors in my life (being overtired, for example) than with anything having to do with a reasonable cause for being nervous. I pride myself on being prepared and knowing what I’m doing.

More facts about Violinist James Ehnes:

  • James started playing the violin a month before his 5th birthday, and also plays the viola and piano.
  • He performs approximately 90 concerts a year.
  • James doesn’t believe in pre-concert rituals – he thinks they ultimately do more harm than good.
  • Before the end of 2011, James will perform with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as other orchestras in Germany, Sweden, Canada and more!

For more information about this weekend’s concert, Brahms’ Violin Concerto, please click here.

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