Violinist James Ehnes is known around the world for his brilliant performances – solo, chamber and orchestral. He was born in Brandon, Man., in 1976, and now lives in Florida. For audiences in Winnipeg and Montreal, who will have a chance to hear him later this month, we take you behind the scenes with the violin star.
Ehnes made his orchestral debut when he was just 13 years old with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Twenty years later, he has dozens of recordings to his credit and has won numerous awards, including a Grammy, a Gramophone and six Junos. His schedule is virtually non-stop.
But did you know that Ehnes is also a skilled pianist? He once performed a piano concerto for half a concert, and a violin concerto for the other half. The man is full of surprises. Since Ehnes shares Mozart’s birthday, he celebrated his own 30th birthday and Mozart’s 250th by creating an orchestra with his friends. They recorded all the Mozart Violin Concertos.
And at his upcoming (sold out) concert in Winnipeg with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra on May 23, Ehnes is going to both play and conduct. The program includes music by Joseph Suk and Jean Sibelius, and Ehnes will also perform Bach’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, BWV 1042.
Not long after his concert in Winnipeg, Ehnes will introduce the James Ehnes Quartet to Canadians at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival.
Listen to Ehnes play the Largo from Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in C, BWV 1005.
We convinced Ehnes to step down from the podium to tell us what else we don’t know about him, and his work.
Q: If you weren't a musician, what would your profession be and why?
A: I know this makes me sound like a nine-year-old, but I would have wanted to be either a professional baseball player or an astronaut. Not the easiest professions to break into.
Q: What are three things people may not know about James Ehnes?
A: 1. I have been reprimanded at four different major league ballparks for cheering too loudly for the home team.
2. I once worked for Weird Al Yankovic. For a day.
3. At one point I knew the names of every Apollo astronaut, and the crews for every mission, but don't quiz me now.
Q: In what ways are you drawn to conducting and how do you feel on the podium, rather than beside it?
A: The draw of conducting for me is the repertoire; the orchestral repertoire is so vast and rich, and it is a joy being able to shape and perform this music. I do miss the actual physical part of playing, though. With conducting, you really aren't making any music yourself, it's all coming from other people. There's a certain disconnect there.
Q: How do you spend your time when you return to your hometown of Brandon, Manitoba?
A: Visiting with friends. My parents have moved out of the province, so the time I used to spend with my family I now spend trying to track down old friends from school days.
Q: What music is on your iPod?
A: Lots of music is on my iPod. I have probably 65-75 per cent of the standard classical repertoire, everything from Bach to John Adams, along with a small smattering of other stuff. No popular music past about 1985.
Q: You and your wife recently celebrated the birth of your first child. How has it changed you?
A: Caroline was born in March, and my wife and I are absolutely thrilled. Parents always told me how the feeling of love for a child is indescribable, and I certainly agree. I feel that my life is 1,000 times richer than before.
Q: Now that you have a child, what do you do to relax and de-stress?
A: Same as before – watching baseball and hockey on TV!
Q: How else has your life changed since baby’s arrival?
A: I suppose my sleep patterns are a bit different.... Fortunately, we have been able to travel together a bit, so I'm hopeful that we can all be together on the road a good amount in future years. It certainly makes the travel different, but it's much more fun.
Q: Tell us about the James Ehnes Quartet.
A: It's a joy. It's with three of my closest friends and favourite musicians, Amy Schwartz Moretti, Richard O'Neill and Robert deMaine. We only play about a dozen concerts a year, and all of us are busy with the other parts of our lives, so everything we do is because we really want to do it. It's a wonderful way to explore some of the greatest musical masterpieces and spend time with some of my favourite people.
Ehnes joins the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra on May 23 at Westminster Church in Winnipeg for a concert of works by Suk, Sibelius and Bach.
The Montreal Chamber Music Festival presents Ehnes in an all-Ravel concert on May 27, and an all-Bartok concert on May 28. Both concerts take place at St. George's Church in downtown Montreal.
James Ehnes on CBC Music
James Ehnes’ Juno-nominated CD casts Bartok in new light
Q&A: Pacifica Quartet does Shostakovich cycle, with kids in tow
on May 18, 2012