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Dillon Jeffares - Violin

Interview

1- You are currently studying at the Royal College of Music with Professor Lutsia Ibragimova. How is this progressing?

Very well. I have actually known Lutsia for six years, from my time at the Yehudi Menuhin School where we first started working together. So it was a natural progression to continue with her at the College. These days, many students remain very briefly with their professors before moving on to another, but as my own professor says – it can take five years before significant development is seen in the student (and she is not exaggerating)! I truly believe she is one of the greatest violin professors in the UK yet is one of the most modest and warm hearted people I have met – like a mother. She was educated in Moscow during its golden era of Soviet violinists, so brings this rich Russian tradition with her to the UK. I am so grateful to have learned under this tradition. Nowadays, so few professors teach in this way, which is often seen as old fashioned because it is intensely personal, serious and highly exhausting for both professor and student, but I believe it produces very fine violinists and musicians with enormous respect and dedication for their art.

2- Is your family musical?

We love all types of music in our family, but there have never been any musicians. I would say that we are a cultured family that takes an interest in a great many things. We love reading and have travelled extensively, living in many parts of the world. It was while living in Japan that I first started to learn the violin, but back then it was more of a hobby.

3- You recently won the top 2nd prize in the Leonid Kogan Violin Competition, Brussels 2018. What pieces did you play and how were your feelings at the time?

This was the first competition I achieved any sort of success in so it was very memorable for me. We all know how challenging today’s world of competitions is for young violinists. So many competitions and so many fine violinists. No matter how prepared you are, there are bound to be things that do not work in your favour and even passing the first round is something of a miracle. I played the usual competition styled repertoire – solo Bach and Paganini with individual movements from a Mozart Concerto, Bach Concerto, Brahms Concerto and Wieniawski’s Faust Fantasy – spread over two rounds. What touched me most in this competition was the recognition and advice I received from the jury, some of whom were students of Leonid Kogan and David Oistrakh. A real honour and very inspiring! It is wonderful of course to receive a prize, but one should not think too much of it. There are many parallels between competitive sports and violin playing, but collecting trophies is absolutely (and should never be) one of them. To do a competition should purely be a challenge to push oneself. The worst thing to do is be conscious of the fact that you are ‘competing’. Easier said than done of course, but if that is one’s mindset the music will never be natural or sincere.

4- Early this year you played for the renowned violinist Maxim Vengerov. How was it like to work with this master?

This had an amusing back story. Although the Head of Strings Mark Messenger had planned this, I had no idea I was going to play to Maxim Vengerov until a minute before I walked on stage, and there he suddenly appeared, asking me what I was going to play! You see, it was supposed to be a routine ‘class performance’ in front of peers and a selected violin professor from within the faculty. I was so shocked that there wasn’t any time to be nervous. I remember playing the 2nd movement of the Bach Concerto in E major. The 2nd movement alone is I think one of Bach’s best works for violin. In the unusual, dark key of C sharp minor it is stunningly beautiful but takes a great deal of maturity to perform. To hear many positive comments from Maxim Vengerov was very encouraging and he pointed out what I was doing that didn’t make sense musically as well as advocating more exploration of colours. He proposed his personal interpretations to me which I noted down later to remember. The playing of Bach is possibly the most subjective and controversial thing in the music world, so opening up to new ideas is important. But one should nevertheless have enough courage to pursue an individual line of interpretation.

5- You had a notable performance last year performing the Mendelssohn Octet in London’s Wigmore Hall. How was this received by the audience and your feelings at the time?

This concert was particularly nostalgic because it was part of the leavers’ farewell concert that the Yehudi Menuhin School stages every summer in Wigmore Hall. It’s a great occasion because it marks the end of something very special that everyone who goes through the school experiences. To play the exhilarating Octet from the prodigious teenage Mendelssohn on stage with very dear friends in front of peers, professors, family, friends and the general public is a unique memory. Not to mention, Wigmore Hall itself. To see backstage all the signed portraits of many artists whom I admire was very inspiring.

6- What are your fondest musical memories, privately or performing?

One musical event I recall was grandmother taking us to the opera and I remember peeking over the ledge (I was very small then) to try and see the singers and orchestral pit. Such epic productions of opera are bound to leave an impact on a tiny child. With the violin I remember the first time I discovered how to use vibrato. Albeit not necessarily with the correct technique (!) it was fascinating to me that I could replicate the natural vibrations of a human voice. I remember walking around the kitchen at home, vibrating every note I played non-stop for hours – must have been maddening for my mother! Opera and vibrato is also why I am very partial to singers and their music. There is no better instrument than the human voice.

7- How often do you practise?

The age old question! The key for me is to do regular and good practice, but quantity is irrelevant. It depends on what I want to achieve and in what space of time. But I will say that I do not believe in crazy amounts of practice. There is much more to music and life than that. Recently I finished reading the biography of Tchaikovsky by John Suchet. I would not have had time for that if I spent day and night on the violin. The great violinist Nathan Milstein summed it up well. ‘It’s no use practising too much. First you have to find out how to do it best and be able to invent ways of doing it better’. Jascha Heifetz was said to take Sundays off! When I hear people say they practise for seven or eight hours a day, I am skeptical. There is a huge difference in playing and practising. Anyone who loves their instrument can play it for eight hours a day, but I’ve yet to meet someone who can practise for eight hours a day. In typically brusque language, Leopold Auer said that if a violinist cannot manage to achieve anything within three or four hours of work, he should do something else in life! Although, one should take this with a pinch of salt.

8- Would you consider teaching music in the future?

Yes. I had my first experience of teaching in Tokyo earlier this year when I went there to play a recital. I taught three very young violinists at different stages in development. I felt a responsibility to share everything I had learned from my own wonderful professor and continue the Russian tradition. Also, Japanese children are so remarkably disciplined that it was a real joy for me. It did dawn on me that teaching is not an undertaking to be taken lightly. Especially with a young child, you hold their development and chances of success in your hands. Even the most talented child can be destroyed by poor teaching. This is why I would not yet consider teaching seriously for I am too young and inexperienced. In Russia for example, professors often spent decades being assistants first.

9- Who would your dream accompanist be, from the present or past?

I should say Gerald Moore from the past. The fact he was associated mainly with vocal repertoire may make him seem an unlikely choice for a violinist, but that is what would make it an interesting partnership I think.

10- How do you balance your time commitments in terms of study, performance? What are the biggest sacrifices?

In the end the sacrifice is of a personal nature in that so much of our time must be spent on the instrument and in solitude. Like an athlete, one always has to be working to stay in shape. I remember taking lessons from Aaron Rosand many years ago in America and he said that violin playing and music is a way of life. When you think of it this way, everything else falls into place around it without too much difficulty. We will always encounter moments of stress and imbalance in life but knowing that we have done our very best and can never have everything is comforting enough for me. Unlike a conventional career path, music is never ‘done’ or ‘finished’. I cannot simply say ‘ah, all my work is done, I think I will fly somewhere and take two weeks off’. Of course I can, but almost indisputable is that the violin will come with me.

submission December 2018

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