Tasmin Little’s year of big achievements

The violinist received an OBE, released an album, and performed Delius’s concerto at the Proms, writes Nicki ffrench Davis

VIOLINIST Tasmin Little’s final performance of 2012 is tonight with the City of Cork Symphony Orchestra in Cork City Hall. It has been an exciting year for Little.

A month ago, she was in Buckingham Palace to receive an OBE from the Queen of England for her services to music.

Little, who dissolves the perceived barriers between audience and performer, is as friendly and joyful in interview as she is on stage. “It was so exciting, and I had absolutely no idea it was on the cards,” she says of the OBE. “In May, I got a letter from Downing Street saying I was being considered for an OBE. It didn’t say I was definitely getting it, more ‘we think we might offer this to you, would you accept it if we did?’ They asked for a reply, but said I wouldn’t hear anything until June. So it was a nail-biting few weeks, wondering had they even received my reply — and then, there my name was in the Queen’s birthday honours. It’s been such a special year, with the Olympics and the jubilee, so it was lovely to be part of all that,” she says.

“The ceremony was on Nov 21 at Buckingham Palace. We didn’t even know if it would be the Queen herself making the award, until the ceremony itself. I was allowed three guests, so I took my two children and my mum. The Queen was amazing. She was on her feet for an hour and a half, and she talked to everyone,” Little says.

This year was the 150th anniversary of composer Frederick Delius’s birth and Little has championed his music since she was a teenager. For her 19th performance at the BBC Proms, she was invited to play the first Proms performance of Delius’s violin concerto.

“I was thrilled that they wanted me to play the concerto. I spent so much time playing it when I was younger, it was very special for me to play it to such a big audience. It was really full, even though the rest of the programme was Peter Maxwell Davies’ new work and Shostakovich, so none of it was exactly crowd-pleasing music. But there were queues round the block,” she says.

“Vasily Petrenko had never conducted the work before, but he was superb, with a wonderful ear for detail. The orchestra was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, with which I did many of my first professional concerts, often playing Delius, so it was really like coming full circle.”

It was Little’s Naked Violin project in 2008 that brought the violinist out from the shadows of her superstar contemporaries, such as Nigel Kennedy and Anne-Sophie Mutter, with whom she studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School from the age of eight.

The Naked Violin involved Little making a free album download of solo violin pieces, with a personal introduction to each piece. She received the Gramophone / Classic FM Award for ‘audience innovation’ in 2008 for the project.

For the Naked Violin concert tours, Little has performed in prisons and schools and on an oil rig, as well as in some of the world’s finest venues. The concerts feature not only her insightful introductions, but also questions from the audience. “It’s always fascinating to know what’s on people’s minds, to get a handle on their concerns and interests and engage completely with them,” Little says.

The new issue of BBC Music Magazine has named Little’s latest album, of sonatas by Richard Strauss and Respighi, as its chamber music choice. “I’m very pleased,” she says. “I’ve received lots of wonderful accolades for playing concertos, but it’s lovely to have this for chamber music. They are brilliant pieces.

“Both Strauss and Respighi were noted for their orchestral work rather than for chamber music, and you can sense how both composers have somehow managed to get that orchestral texture into music for just two instruments.”

“I’ve known the works for such a long time, and the Respighi since I was a teenager. I had a recording of Jascha Heifetz playing it, which I loved. The BBC reviewer mentioned how my playing reminded him of why the piece was a favourite of Heifetz, which was lovely.”

Little says she is thrilled to be returning to Cork. “I played Tchaikovsky with the Cork Symphony Orchestra in Dec 2008, and I came back the following year with my Naked Violin tour, for Cork Orchestral Society, in the lovely Curtis Auditorium. So, I have to say, I’m rather partial to Cork. I hope I have an hour or two to spare for some Christmas shopping as I’m very behind — I hope the Cork shops are ready,” she says.


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