Yeoman Interview – Alix Lagasse

Multi-award-winning Belgian violinist Alix Lagasse holds the coveted Musicians’ Company Silver Medal for outstanding musical achievement. A keen recitalist, orchestral and ensemble player, she made her concerto debut with the Brabants Orkest and has since performed at renowned venues across Europe and the USA. Alix was awarded the Philharmonia Orchestra MMSF Fellowship 2016-18 and performs around Europe with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester.

Where and when did you first pick up the violin?
I started playing violin at the mere age of three. I have a sister who is two years older than me and was already playing violin at the time. As I was too young to be left alone at home my mum would take me to my sister’s violin lessons and I would sit at the back of the class colouring or drawing. One day I announced I also wanted to start learning the violin. My sister’s teacher protested as he felt I was probably a bit too young to get started but we gave it a shot anyway and I have never stopped playing since. My mum tells me often that I was so small when I started that my teacher made me stand on top of the coffee table during my lesson so he wouldn’t hurt his back!

Who has had the biggest influence on your career?
This is a very tough question to answer as I feel many people have had a huge impact on my musical journey. I think all my violin teachers have been main influences each in their own unique way. However, I am especially grateful to my current professor Itzhak Rashkovsky who has given me the confidence to believe in my own skills and artistry. I don’t think I know anyone who is more in love with playing the violin and it is extremely contagious! I have had a few very tough years on a personal level and he has been there for me all the way. I don’t think I will ever be able to express to him in words how much that means to me but the way I try is to pour my heart out while playing and I think that’s probably the way he would like to hear it most!

What is your proudest moment?
I would probably say being awarded the Musicians’ Company’s Silver Medal at my RCM graduation last year in July 2016. I remember we all went up on stage to receive our diplomas and shake hands with the directors and back in my seat I was quite tired from all the commotion when they announced that I had won the medal. I didn’t realise what had happened until a friend who was sitting behind me poked me on my shoulder and whispered, “I think that’s you”. I received the medal for “outstanding musical achievement” and “ongoing dedication to the Royal College of Music”. It’s probably the latter part that I am most proud of. The RCM has given me so much throughout the years and really formed me into the person and musician I am right now. The idea that they feel I have been able to give something back to them is very rewarding.

Any embarrassing or awkward moments?
Absolutely! I still remember very well a performance I did of the De Falla’s Spanish Dance at a closing concert of a music course when I was eight years old. I started off with the Suzuki method when I was three and hence had been playing all my pieces by memory, which had never proven a problem before. However that day for some reason I got stuck at the recapitulation of the piece and kept going in circles back to the beginning of the piece three or four times in a row until a teacher decided we had probably heard enough of De Falla and came to get me off stage. In hindsight I realise it must have been very funny for the audience, however, I remember it ending in big tears on my end!

A few years back I was getting ready to go on stage for a duo concert for the opening of a new concert hall with a violinist friend and as we walked on I slipped on the brand new varnished wooden floors and fell flat on my back. It was extremely embarrassing, however, we laughed about it a lot backstage and still do now. And thankfully my violin was fine!

You’ve travelled widely. Where do you feel most at home?
I don’t need much to feel at home. A cup of herbal tea, a book, a blanket and some of my family and friends around is all I require to feel at peace.

Name three pieces of music you love
My list of favourite pieces changes constantly, and quite often it is influenced by what I am currently working on. I am soon going back on tour with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester so I have been listening on repeat to much of the big symphonic repertoire including all the Mahler and Bruckner symphonies. If there is one work that will never ever leave my CD cupboard it is Vivaldi’s sonatas for cello and harpsichord. My parents would play it to me as a baby to soothe me and when I was slightly older to comfort me after nightmares. Still now it calms me down when I feel stressed, anxious or sad.

What makes a great composer in your opinion?
I am not a big fan of compositions that require words or an explanation for the performer or audience. I realise that of course most composers had a reason or a purpose in mind while creating most of their works, however, I personally feel most connected to music that evokes those feelings rather than music that requires spelling out what a composer meant beforehand. Music is a journey and every performance is a unique interpretation of that music at a certain time in a certain space. Music that allows me to do exactly that is what makes in my eyes a great composer.

What’s the best advice anyone’s given you?
My father reminds me daily to dream big and work hard. Trying and failing is better than not trying at all. It reads like very simple advice, but we all need to be reminded now and then that we need to believe in ourselves and that a lot of things we think are not possible can be achieved with focus and determination. Another piece of advice I keep close to my heart is to never to go to bed angry. We live in a very beautiful but equally cruel world and regret is one of our worst enemies.

Name six people you’d most like to invite to dinner
Charles Dickens, Meryl Streep, Jacqueline Du Pré, Claudio Abbado, the Pope and my late great grandmother. Out of all of them I probably would like to speak to my great grandmother again most. She passed away when she was 98 and was in all likelihood the wisest woman I have met in my life as well as my biggest fan. I was quite young when she died and now I am a bit older I would love to hear more about her life and have her give me her best life advice.

If you weren’t a violinist, what would you be?
Whenever I was asked this question as a child I always had a million answers at the ready and it would make all the grown-ups laugh. I wanted to be a pilot, a chef, a ballet dancer, a stewardess, a librarian, a veterinarian and a princess of course. I don’t think much has changed in that respect. Life has so many opportunities for us and I think we should all be able to indulge in lots of other interests alongside music. Of course we have limited time in a day so sadly it is not possible to develop all of them to a professional level. Currently I am especially fascinated by nutritional therapy and law and I enjoy reading up on both.

@alixlagasseVN