Q&A with Jeremy Blackman

We posed a few questions to NPCO violinist Jeremy Blackman ahead of his performance in our upcoming Essence Series at Melbourne Recital Centre on Tuesday 28th July.


Q. What made you choose the violin/how long have you been playing?

It was very much a family thing. My Dad plays violin and piano, and my Mum played the flute – neither of them were career musicians, but they instilled in me a love of music and a sense of dedication to the instrument from a young age – I started having lessons when I was 6. Dad also managed the MSO for a few years, and our house was always full of musicians playing string quartets, piano trios and other chamber ensembles.


Q. What/who is your chief inspiration?

 I have to admit, Sting has been a huge inspiration since I was a kid – ever since the release of his album ‘Dream of the Blue Turtles’ in 1985. His song Russians, using the Prokofiev melody from his Lieutenant Kije Suite, appealed to me upon first hearing. I always loved the blend of pop, classical and jazz influences in his solo work. I tend to be drawn to the ‘fusion’ artists who combine different musical traditions – the violinist Nigel Kennedy is also a hero of mine, his ‘East Meets East’ album with the Kroke band is a longtime favourite.


Q. Tell us about your current violin. And wish lists?! 

I play a Nelson Oliver violin – a Melbourne maker from the first half of the 20th century. It’s actually one of the violins from a complete string quartet made from the same wood. I found its ‘sister violin’ a few years ago in a shop; they’ve both had very different lives judging by their looks – the varnish on mine melted on a trip to Malaysia and had to be restored, but the sound actually improved in the end! I’ve played it for over 20 years and can’t imagine using another – we both have our strengths and flaws and know each other well. I love its warm, even, open sound – perfect for chamber music. I would love a hardanger though (Norwegian folk fiddle).


Q. How do you balance your current job at The Alannah and Madeline Foundation with practising/performing?

Combining a full-time job and performing professionally is not easy. As all performing artists/sportspeople know, most of the work is in the preparation – always improving and staying sharp. But motivation is rarely a problem – those moments of connection and transcendence in music are so pure that you always want to do your best to find them again, and you can’t do that if you’re under-prepared and off form. These days, I just have to plan my practice carefully – stay really targeted and focused. Exploring new music, folk and jazz is also a great motivator; the violin is so versatile!


Q. Any pre-performance habits or superstitions?

Not really – it’s all about trying to channel the energy and excitement, control nerves and get rid of any tension in the shoulders. Before any performance, I always tell myself: “If you let your nerves and worries get in the way of playing well and connecting with the audience, you’ll really regret it later.” Guilting myself seems to work!


Q. Favourite place/s in Melbourne

The Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre is definitely a favourite – such a warm, beautiful space, and dedicated to music! I just love being there, either as a performer or audience member. Anything to do with great food and wine wins me over too: The European in Spring street, The Counter in Auburn Village, and the Camberwell and Prahran Markets.


Q. Currently reading/listening to..

I have a background in English literature, and I bought a copy of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ 20 years ago this December – I was a poor student and paid the equivalent of a week’s worth of dinners for it (2 minute noodles and beer). It’s been taunting me on the bookcase every since! I’ve finally started and promised myself I would finish it before the end of the year. I’m absolutely loving it – funny, astonishingly clever and completely over-the-top! Music-wise? Fleet Foxes, David Grey’s new album ‘Mutineers’, Band of Horses; and I’m once more obsessed with Ravel’s String Quartet in F and the Shostakovich Piano Quintet.


Jeremy performs in NPCO Essence Concert 2 with Gemma Turvey (piano) and Anna Orzech (cello) on Tuesday 28th July 6pm at Melbourne Recital Centre Salon. Tickets $38 Book Online or visit melbournerecital.com.au