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  • Writer's pictureSiqian Li

Laure Chan: Our voices should always be heard

I am thrilled to feature Laure Chan, a talented British Franco-Chinese violinist, as the inaugural guest artist for my interview series, The Interlude: Dialogue with Artists. Praised by Maxim Vengerov as "an instinctive musician with feeling for what is right", Laure enjoys a varied performance career as a soloist and ensemble player. She has performed in world-class concert halls throughout the UK, Europe, Asia and America such as the Royal Albert Hall, Philharmonie de Paris, Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Concertgebouw, Elbphilharmonie, Herodes Atticus, Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre and the Lincoln Center. In December 2023, Laure made her solo debut at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.

In our conversation, Laure delved into the profound inspirations behind her newly released second album “Schumann Violin Concerto”. She shared insightful details about the album's creation process, providing a captivating glimpse behind the scenes. It was truly inspiring to witness Laure's open and uninhibited approach to her work, demonstrating a deep commitment of her thoughts and emotions to her music. 

After a delicious brunch made by Laure, we sat down with a hot chocolate and started our chat……

Siqian: Thank you for being my first guest artist and I am really looking forward to hearing more about your new album! I gather that you had previously released your debut album “Tribute to Bach” in 2021. I am curious about the artistic visions behind both albums. Could you tell me more about what aspects have remained consistent and what has changed in the creation of your second album?

Laure during the recording process

Laure: Sure! In a sense, both albums highlight a specific composer, and I often like to create something with a clear artistic concept. This approach helps me choose works in a certain way, creating a storyline within the album. My debut album featured staple works by J.S.Bach, whilst incorporating my original works inspired by him. I have quoted some of his works in my pieces featuring a variety of styles, such as tango, and even subtle blues and pop elements. On the other hand, my second album promotes a lesser-known work, Schumann’s Violin Concerto, which was hidden for most of the 19th century. It differs from my first album including iconic works such as Bach’s Toccata and Fugue, and the Chaconne from Partita No.2 in D minor, as it explores a piece which gained recognition after being obscured for about 80 years.

Siqian: It’s fascinating to observe the original shaping of these two albums. Can you identify any connections or common threads between them?

Laure: Certainly, one thing that connects them is that I incorporated original compositions in both albums. I intend to continue to add my own personal voice as a performer and composer in concerts and recordings. Additionally, there is a connection between the two albums through the Chaconne by Bach, which was the main inspiration behind the first album, and interestingly played a role in inspiring the Schumann Violin Concerto.

Siqian: Oh really, what was the story behind it?

Laure: So the Schumann Violin Concerto was written in D minor, the same key as the Chaconne, and when you hear the solo violin opening of the first movement, you can hear some recollections of the Chaconne. When I came across this connection in the programme notes as I was learning it, I thought it was very interesting, although I didn’t have the intention to record it back then. So looking back now, I thought it was a beautiful coincidence!

Siqian: That’s the beauty of life, isn’t it? You mentioned that you incorporated original compositions in both albums, and I believe audiences would greatly appreciate the fusion of new compositions with the classical repertoire. I think it serves as a means for young musicians to build a bridge in connecting music from the present to that of centuries ago. 

Laure: Certainly it is.

Siqian: Regarding the Schumann Violin Concerto, considering its neglected history, was there a specific reason that motivated you to choose it as the focal piece for your new album?

Laure: The album's concept was inspired by my collaboration with the Sinfonia Perdita, founded in 2020 by my friend, conductor Daniel Hogan. His vision for the orchestra was to promote lesser-known works. It was Daniel who encouraged me to learn the Schumann Violin Concerto, which he is passionate about, and we performed it together in 2022. After several discussions about recording together, we thought it would be a great idea to record our first collaborative album with this young professional’s orchestra and revive this beautiful and neglected violin concerto. Also, I wanted to release a piece that had received less attention, instead of an extensively recorded staple of the violin repertoire with certain interpretations already ringing in the audience’s ears.

Siqian: Absolutely, to make something more special.

Laure: Yes, it allowed me to create a more personal interpretation, and be less influenced by the recordings of others.

Siqian: So this was a shared idea between you and Daniel?

Laure: Yes, thanks to him I learnt this concerto in the first place and we decided to record it.

Siqian: Then can you tell me how you felt about this concerto in the very beginning stages of learning it?

Laure: It is always tempting to listen to recordings of a work early in the learning process, but as there are not that many references out there, I tried to focus on the score directly, which allowed me to connect more personally to this music. That being said, I was inspired by Isabelle Faust’s interpretation in which she performed and recorded the piece with a Baroque Orchestra - I was struck by how the work was reminiscent of the Baroque and Classical era, despite it being a concerto of the late romantic period. Whilst learning this work, I found it quite awkward to play violinistically, and the structures seemed rather unconventional, which made it a challenge to memorise. Beyond the notes on the pages, as I connected to the work on a deeper level, I sensed and understood that this was an emotional portrayal of Schumann’s state of mind - restlessness, anxiety, and perhaps confusion - given that he composed it towards the end of his life, and that it shouldn’t necessarily be a comfortable experience to play or to listen to. Yet, there was also this juxtaposition of both suffering and joy within the composition.

Siqian: Do you enjoy playing music that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable?

Laure: I think a lot of great pieces of music are uncomfortable to play. To me, mastering technique is far beyond just learning the notes. You have to let go of parts of your body to establish a deeper connection with music, not only on an emotional level, but a spiritual one too. That’s not always a comfortable experience, and letting go of control is a great challenge as an artist.

Siqian: I completely agree with you, great and deep music is never comfortable! I am also curious about your collaboration with Daniel Hogan, how did it all start?

Laure: Daniel and I initially crossed paths in a composition class at the Junior Royal Academy of Music. Years later, he approached me to learn the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, which we then performed in 2014, marking the first concert of our collaboration. Since then, we have collaborated with several different orchestras performing violin concerti by KorngoldDvorak, and Schumann. Our collaboration will continue this year with performances of the Brahms Violin Concerto and Prokofiev Violin Concerto No.2. Notably, this album actually marks 10 years of our collaboration.

Laure and Daniel in front of Abbey Road Studios

Siqian: That’s such a special occasion!

Laure: Yes, another beautiful coincidence.

Siqian: What aspirations in music do you share with him?

Laure: Daniel is one of the most passionate and driven musicians I have ever met. Beyond our musical connection, we share similar values and have developed a long-term friendship. I think our shared musical aspirations are rooted in this connection. Making music with him is always a great joy, and through the years of our collaboration, I’ve noticed his unique ability to instil enthusiasm and concentration in a genuine way. When performing alongside him onstage, I feel safe, which allows for creative freedom and spontaneity. Together with the Sinfonia Perdita, comprised of full-time working professional musicians and conservatoire students (many of whom are mutual friends of Daniel and mine), we wanted to bring new energy and vitality into this recording, and we aspire to showcase this hidden gem of the violin repertoire.

Siqian: I think it’s so important that you connect and share a similar passion and values with the people you collaborate with, and it’s always so much fun to work with friends.

Laure: Yes, when we worked together, the atmosphere straightaway became far more relaxed. There was a feeling of equality, and a collective abandonment of egos in the room, which was incredibly refreshing, because playing music is nothing about ego: it’s about connection, emotion, and expression.

Siqian: It seems like a delightful working process! I understand that the album was recorded at the renowned Abbey Road Studio. Could you elaborate further on the preparation process?

Laure: Initially, this project was to be recorded in September 2022 at a church. All plans had been finalised six months in advance, but due to unpredictable circumstances, the original schedule was cancelled abruptly on the day of our rehearsal! Faced with this last-minute change of plan, I tried to quickly find an alternative venue which could accommodate us under such short notice - it was not to be. Months later, after scouting several venues, Abbey Road Studios presented itself as an opportunity. It was a dream I didn’t even see coming, and of course, it was super relieving and exciting to record at such a legendary and iconic studio. As a result, recording there brought an unparalleled dimension to the experience and elevated the whole artistic process.

Siqian: Even just listening to it feels incredibly exciting! It must have brought such a powerful and refreshing energy to the creative process.

Laure: Absolutely, and entrusting the Abbey Road in-house team alongside my producer and mastering engineer from Giraffe Productions made the artistic process even more enjoyable as things were handled seamlessly, professionally and efficiently from the recording, editing and mastering process, ensuring a smooth process.

Laure, Daniel and the Sinfonia Perdita

Siqian: That’s wonderful! I am sure that it allowed you to concentrate entirely on making music in the studio and fully appreciate the experience - I would say that everything unfolded for the best.

Laure: Yes, it was a stressful process to get there, but it was definitely worth the struggle!

Siqian: Well, sometimes when life redirects you on a different path, it may lead you towards something even better!

Laure: I do believe that everything happens as they are meant to. In the end, we were truly blessed to work in collaboration with a top-notch and open-minded recording team at Abbey Road Studios alongside Giraffe Productions.  

Siqian: Being a musician myself, I completely relate to the tough process and the excitement that comes with working alongside such a team. Now, let’s talk about your own composition, Lost in Translation, featured in this album. What initially inspired this piece?

Laure: I composed this piece during low moments in my life. In the summer of 2022, I created the main melodic line, which is solely built on four chords. I wanted it to be simple, as I am a big advocate for simplicity in expression. Using this simple harmonic progression, I wanted to create variations around it, again and again, evoking a feeling of going around in circles without a clear resolution. At the time when I wrote this piece, I was feeling quite lost and isolated…

Lost in Translation Single Cover

Siqian: It’s a reflection of your emotional state.

Laure: Exactly. I felt like I was caught up in recurring patterns in my personal life, and that was the essence I was trying to capture emotionally through the repetition in this piece. I then set this idea aside for a while, knowing that I would revisit it eventually, as I felt something was missing. Several months later, I added countermelodies, harmonies and textures, as I wanted to create the epic feeling of an orchestra, like a film score, but adapted for my instrument. This was intended to reflect the profound emotions I was experiencing at the time. So, essentially I aimed for the piece to be perceived as a blend of classical-contemporary and film score elements.

Siqian: While the music itself presents a simplicity, I felt irresistibly strong expressions and emotions within it as well. If you were to describe the predominant emotions you felt when writing the composition in a few words, what would they be?

Laure: Feelings of isolation, heartbreak, and a sense of being lost - those were emotions I personally associated with the piece. However, I do think that music in general, especially instrumental music, leaves it open to interpretation. I hope this piece resonates with someone in a unique way, possibly different from my own associations.

Siqian: People will inevitably have varied emotional responses to the music. Interestingly, I perceived a hint of hope in this piece, despite the sense of feeling lost as you experienced at the time!

Laure: I am glad you felt that way! Yes, I did try to instil a sense of hope as well!

Siqian: How would you describe this piece in colour?

Laure: Oh I really like this question! When I play or write music, I can imagine a spectrum of tone colours. For this piece, I would say it starts with a somewhat grey atmosphere, we don’t know where we are going, and it’s quite haunting almost. As the main melodic line unfolds, colours of blue and green start to emerge, offering a bit more emotional clarity. As the piece ascends to a climax, marked by the entrance of all four parts, imparting a sense of hope, just like a friend reassuring us that "everything will be fine; things will come together eventually", in my perception, the colour here takes on a kind of fuchsia-red hue. However, the piece concludes much like it starts, in a somewhat grey area, returning to a sense of unresolved tension. I appreciate you mentioning the presence of hope. When creating this work, I wanted to believe in my own life that things would improve eventually, even if emotionally I felt uncertain at the time. Through music, I can safely express these emotions, and there's always a desire to convey a sense of hope.

Siqian: This was a highly insightful interpretation from the composer’s perspective! However, I am curious about the choice to write it for four violins instead of other forms.

Laure: I wanted to compose a piece for my instrument, as I believe it was the most intimate way to convey my inner emotions. My goal was to create a piece of music with multiple voices, resembling a film score, and to explore the unique possibilities of how my instrument could be interpreted in my personal style. Writing for four violins allowed me to explore different registers of the instrument, enabling the expression of a wider range of emotions.

Siqian: Also, I felt the use of four violins somehow represents the contrasting voices and internal conflict in your mind.

Laure: Indeed, as a violinist, the violin serves as my initial point of reference for sound, shaping how I perceive music. The incorporation of a four-part violin setup could symbolise the conflicting voices I experienced in my mind and heart.

Laure in the recording room

Siqian: I wonder, how was it recorded?

Laure: I recorded this piece by myself as a multi-track recording. I started by recording the initial harmonic melodic line, which you hear at the very beginning of the piece. Once that was recorded, I used headphones to layer the main melodic line alongside listening to what had just been recorded previously, and then I followed by recording the remaining parts in that same manner. Each recording added a new layer to the mix, creating a cumulative effect as I heard the piece evolve through the headphones. Typically, in film music, parts are recorded one at a time using a click track, however, we chose not to use a click track to give the recording a more “live” feel, also allowing more freedom in the recording process. As I had only completed this piece a few days before recording it, I experienced hearing the full piece in real-time during the recording process where it finally came together live for the very first time in the studio! It was a highly emotional experience for me to witness the piece take shape in this way, and it was an impactful moment to hear the realisation of what was in my mind.

Siqian: Wow, that is amazing! That must be an incredibly exciting and emotional experience to hear your own work come together in its entirety. Now, for the final question of our conversation: if an audience member encounters your album online, but has limited knowledge of classical music, how would you guide them to better understand the meaning or emotions you aim to express in this album?

Laure: I would describe this album as a portrayal of the profound complexity of human emotions and experiences. While it may not be the happiest collection of works, there are indeed beautiful moments of relief, hope, and joy as well. The reality is, that when Schumann composed this concerto, he was contemplating suicide, immersed in feelings of despair, anxiety, and longing - all of which resonate in the music. This was a key reason as to why the concerto was hidden by his wife, Clara, and close friend, Joseph Joachim, and kept in secret several years after Schumann’s passing, as they believed it portrayed his insanity. However, the emotional spectrum extends beyond desperation and sadness; it encompasses the entirety of human emotions. In creating “Lost in Translation”, I faced my own struggles, unable to see a clear path towards improvement at the time, yet maintaining a sense of hope. So, I would say that this music doesn’t have to be “understood”, but to be “felt”. No matter how my audiences come across and listen to it, the overarching message I want to convey in this album revolves around compassion and humanity. Life may not always appear to be easy, but our voices should always be heard.

Siqian: That is truly remarkable and moving, and I am sure your audience will deeply connect with your music. Thank you so much for sharing insights into the behind-the-scenes moments and the inspiration behind the creation of this album from its beginning. I can’t wait for its release!

Laure: Thank you for this truly insightful and in-depth interview, I really enjoyed your creative questions!

Laure’s album “Schumann Violin Concerto” is out now on all streaming platforms, click here to listen.

The photos and videos featured in this article were taken and filmed by Marc Tunguz.

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