14 February 2023

It was pure magic to play Fauré's first sonata barefoot on a carpet of fine red dust - Elena Urioste

By Lark Music

For more than 34 years the Royal Philharmonic Society has annually hosted the RPS Awards to recognise inspirational individuals, groups and initiatives whose music has lifted hearts and minds across the nation.

In support of this event, Lark Music has sponsored the Instrumentalist Award, and this year’s shortlist includes extraordinary violinist Elena Urioste.

The Artist

How did you get into music?

My earliest musical inspiration came from the television show Sesame Street. At the age of two, I saw Itzhak Perlman featured on an episode, chatting and playing his violin. I was instantly enamoured. Apparently I began pestering my parents for a violin immediately, and after three years they finally relented. I was fortunate enough to attend a public school that boasted a stringed instruments programme, and so I began Suzuki lessons in kindergarten at the age of five. Shortly thereafter, I began studying privately.

What do you think makes your music/performance unique?

I like to think that listeners are drawn to the inherent “humanness” in my playing, or more specifically the sides of humanity that are subtle rather than flashy: vulnerability, intimacy, honesty. When I think about the performers and performances I’ve found most captivating over the years, they share one thing in common – a sense of beckoning the listener into their world, rather than shouting at them (metaphorically!) from the stage.

How did you find your style?

I’m not sure my style is necessarily “found”, or ever truly will be, as I hope to continue evolving for as long as I have a life in music, but the things that have guided me to where I am at this moment include listening to loads of old recordings (since childhood I’ve been drawn to the likes of Fritz Kreisler, Pablo Casals, Josef Hassid, and the Guarneri Quartet), and seeking out inspiration from musicians who aren’t (or who are no longer) part of the strict classical tradition as we know it, such as Radiohead, Chris Thile, Brad Meldhau, Whitney Houston…the list goes on.

Do you have a favourite violin?

I’m by no means an instrument junkie; I’m beyond grateful to play what I’ve been so generously loaned, and manage to fall deeper in love with my 1706 Alessandro Gagliano every day. I haven’t had too many instrumental “affairs” over the years, but I did once have the opportunity to play the Vieuxtemps del Gesù for a set of performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2010, and that was pretty excellent. I swear there’s a wild animal living in that violin.

The Journey

On your journey to becoming the violinist you are today, what were three things that affected or that helped define you as the musician you are today?

  • A question, posed by a friend during a particularly vulnerable moment in my life in 2014, and one that I often encourage students or colleagues at a crossroads to contemplate: “What is the one thing only you can do?”
  • A statement, posed by my beloved mentor Joseph Silverstein during my conservatory days: “You have the tools to have a fulfilling life in music”. I took this to mean that I needn’t get fixated on one single path, that I had and should continue to broaden a toolbox of skills so that my life in music could be a genuinely heart-fulfilling one rather than merely “successful”/ultimately limited in its single-trackedness.
  • A parallel practice: yoga, and its application to my music-making, notably through conscious breathwork, joint and muscle alignment, and performance anxiety management.

What was the most interesting venue you’ve played?

Two spring to mind, coincidentally both in the southwest region of the US: a red-rock grotto off the Colorado River as part of the Moab Music Festival, accessed by boat and one of the most exquisite natural acoustics you can imagine. It was pure magic to play Fauré’s first sonata barefoot on a carpet of fine red dust, audience members perched among the rocks, birds chirping and water trickling in the background. A few years later, I had the privilege of taking Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps to a corrective girls’ school outside of Sedona, Arizona, and the reactions and observations by the young women in attendance ranged from shockingly astute to seriously, unforgettably touching.

Who do you want to collaborate with?

Chris Thile. I think he is one of the most formidable talents, thoughtful musicians, and magnetic stage personalities out there today. Every time I hear him play, I am reminded of what music is all about: exploration, experimentation, storytelling, authenticity, and JOY.

The Awards

How do awards like this help musicians?

Awards like this one, and recognition in general, tend to build confidence and add a certain spring to your step – it’s a bit like putting on makeup (theoretically, at least – in practice I actually detest putting on makeup). Whether or not the average passer-by can tell that your complexion has been smoothed, cheekbones highlighted, eyelashes plumped is sort of beside the point; the confidence that a bit of extra “oomph” brings to the wearer can be immeasurable. The self-belief, the self-carriage, the dose of added sparkle, be it in the form of eyeshadow or recognition from a prestigious organisation like the RPS, can set you on a path where you believe you can flourish, and therefore you continue to do so. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.

The Future

You have many interests outside of music, is there anything you would like to share with us?

A bit of background about my yoga journey can be found at www.elenaurioste.com/yoga, but suffice it to say that in 2017, my dear friend and fellow violinist/yogini Melissa White and I decided to truly practice what we’ve both been preaching and co-founded Intermission, a programme which explores the parallels between music and yoga. In June 2019, I chose to deepen my practice and knowledge of yoga, and received my RYT 200-hour certification from the Kripalu Centre.

Additionally, it means so much more than I ever could have anticipated to continue pursuing my musical life – as a performer, teacher, curator, collaborator, director and more – alongside my newest role as a mother. Donning these multiple hats has been simultaneously bonkers and empowering, inexplicably making me feel capable of taking on even more than ever before (even though the sensible thing to do would be to rest whenever possible!). Keeping a tiny human alive and thriving has somehow propelled all my other dreams into hyperdrive. As long as I have the energy, I want to keep making magic happen for us all.

Want to find out more about Elena or connect?


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