Getting to Know You: An interview with Paul Casey

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Paul Casey © Photo by Paul Casey
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Violist Paul Casey will be performing at the upcoming NAC Orchestra Bursary Benefit Concert this Sunday, March 4th, 2012. I had the opportunity to spend some time getting to know Paul a little better as we chatted about music, and about some outstanding memories from his experiences with us here at the National Arts Centre, including as an alumnus of the Summer Music Institute.

AW:  What got you interested in music?

PC:  I always listened to music growing up; my mom always had the radio on and was a big fan of Beethoven.  One of the first concerts I went to was an NAC Orchestra concert when I was 6 years old.  Apparently I pointed out the violin and showed a lot of interest in the instrument.  My parents registered me in lessons right away, but I was definitely the one who picked what instrument I wanted to play.

I took up the viola when I had to do an independent project at Canterbury High School.  I thought that it would be easy to learn viola, and ended up falling in love with it.  I was then asked to play Principal Viola in the Ottawa Youth Orchestra, and again when I was in the National Youth Orchestra.  Although I didn’t officially switch to viola until October of last year, I’d been considering the change for a long while.

AW:  What is one of your most memorable moments in music?

PC:  Every time I sub with the NAC Orchestra I get such a nice feeling, and I can’t help but smiling like a complete goof when the audience applauds the orchestra. Also, when I performed part of the Handel/Casadesus Concerto as soloist with the NAC Orchestra at this year’s FanFair concert in December, though it was kinda nerve-racking, it was extremely memorable.  To be up there with such an amazing orchestra, and the adrenaline pumping… I’ll never forget it!

AW:  You were invited to participate in the 2011 Summer Music Institute* (SMI) Young Artist Program (YAP) as part of an additional ensemble.  What was the best part about your experience with SMI?

PC:  Having the opportunity to work with all the amazing coaches was so great! Each one of them approached the music from a different angle, so we really saw the pieces from so many different aspects. Since I was in about 4 groups, I had so many opportunities to perform, which is so rare in summer festivals.  Also, the musicians that were in my ensembles were pretty wonderful (and super talented), and I still keep in touch with all of them.  The cellist who was in my ensemble is actually now my girlfriend; we met at YAP.  We always joke that someone over at the NAC is playing matchmaker for us.

AW:  If you were to pass on any advice for upcoming participants, or recall one of the best pieces of advice that was given to you during SMI what would it be?

PC: The best piece of advice I heard while I was attending SMI was from Steve Dann, one of the viola coaches.  He said that when working with an ensemble, especially short-term at a summer music festival like the Young Artist Program, it is so easy to fall into the trap of disagreeing and arguing with each other about musical choices.  He said the best way to approach this is to “just say yes” to a colleague’s musical suggestion. Playing it will often prove him/her to be right or wrong, and it can save so much precious rehearsal time!  I think it is important to not only come prepared, to know your music before you go, but it is also so important to approach the process with an open mind and willingness to try things that you maybe think are not such a great idea at the time.

AW:  If we were to turn on your iPod right now, what would you be listening to?

PC:  It’s not classical (laughs).  I listen to a lot of different kinds of music.  Rihanna, Cœur de Pirate [Paul met this Montreal artist’s mother at a music camp he taught at in Ireland last summer], Sigur Rós – I would love to arrange some of their music for a quartet - The Barr Brothers, and the song Call Your Girlfriend by Swedish pop sensation, Robyn.

AW:  Is there anything that you could listen to over and over again?

PC:  Actually the song Cheers (I’ll Drink to That) by Rihanna saved my life this year!  I was practicing for the NAC Orchestra viola auditions this fall and was having a really hard time mastering the excerpt in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  I couldn’t for the life of me get it, or feel it, and I was almost ready to break my viola out of frustration.  I took a breath and turned on Rihanna’s Cheers (I’ll Drink to That), and realized that it was the perfect tempo for the Beethoven.  I turned it up – really loud – picked up my viola, and played through the Beethoven excerpt with Rihanna on repeat until I got it.  Sure enough, they asked me to play Beethoven 5 at the audition, so I walked into the audition singing the song to myself!

AW:  The Bursary Benefit concert is coming up this weekend on March 4th, and you will be playing Stravinsky’s Elegy. Why did you choose this piece?

PC:  I was asked to select a solo unaccompanied piece and I knew right away that I wanted to learn something new.  I’ve been playing Bach Cello Suite No. 3 quite a bit, and I definitely wanted something different.  It was between two pieces for me; Penderecki’s Cadenza and Stravinsky’s Elegy.  I thought the Penderecki piece might be a bit hectic for a small room, even though it is one of my favorite pieces.  I think the Stravinsky will be quite beautiful, and sound really great in the room. The whole piece is performed with mute, so it should help create a very intimate atmosphere in the Salon.

AW:  This is the first time you will be performing with members of the NAC Orchestra in a chamber ensemble, what are you looking forward to most?

PC:  I’m really looking forward to working with Yosuke [Kawasaki, NAC Orchestra Concertmaster] and Jessica [Linnebach, Associate Concertmaster] one on one.  I’m interested to hear what they have to say about the music we will be playing. They both have a sound that is rich like butter, and they’re both such brilliant players, it should be a lot of fun!

The Bursary Benefit Concert is on Sunday, March 4th, at 2:00pm in the NAC Salon. Tickets are $15.00 at the box office and through Ticketmaster. We’re also happy to accept donations at the door.  You can learn more about the concert here.

In the meantime you can listen to Paul’s rendition of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3

Paul Casey Viola – Bach Cello Suite No. 3, Prelude

*This year’s Summer Music Institute Young Artist Program will be taking place June 11-30th.  We will continue to catch up with SMI alumni, faculty and participants in the upcoming months.

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