A Q&A with Nashville and NYC based Composer, Violinist and recent ACM Specialty Instrument Player of the Year Nominee - Alicia Enstrom

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  1. Congratulations on your Looping Concerto for Violin, Electronics, and Orchestra. The first movement “Frenzied Whispers” premiered in June 2018 with the Nashville Concerto Orchestra, and you actually continued writing the rest of the piece after this performance. I wonder how did the rehearsals and the performance affect your writing for the remaining movements?

    I actually originally wrote all movements of the Looping Concerto for myself to be played solo via my looping pedals.  I then was asked by the Nashville Concerto Orchestra if I would like to solo with them and what would I want to play!  So I thought, why not reconfigure some of my music!  Stephen Lamb helped take all those looping parts I had initially written and fleshed them out through orchestration.  I had a set idea of how this would work, what I would play, but I was improvising for much of the rehearsals and actually the performance as well.  I was trying not to fight with melodies that I had previously written and to find spaces with the electronics and solo violin that were complimentary.  That performance helped me understand better sonically where to add, where to take away, how I could and couldn’t trigger sounds and the looper, how the looper works with an orchestra and conductor, and so on.  It was one big learning experience.

  2. You have released a very unique EP called Bardo Concerto in collaboration with award winning filmmaker John Warren. Can you tell us more about the concept of Bardo and your creative process with John? 

    John had initially reached out to see if I would want to compose something for the Far Out Film Festival with some of his work.  We had some plans at the beginning of 2020, but as Covid took over, there was this realization that festivals were not happening for a while. With everything in flux, we decided to work remotely on a series of pieces that eventually were coined Bardo Concerto.

    In the Buddhist tradition, Bardo is a liminal state between death and rebirth when one’s consciousness is not connected with the physical body yet experiences a variety of phenomena. Using this concept as a springboard, we have set out to make five short pieces that explore beauty, darkness, and transcendence during this metaphoric time of bardo, when our normal way of life has become suspended.

  3. You are established in both New York and Nashville. In what ways did these cities shape up your career and how would you compare the music scene for our members who might consider living there?

    I received a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University and that is what initially took me to Nashville.  I was able to get degrees in both music and human resources.  I attended the Blair School of Music where along with my classical studies, I studied various fiddle styles, jazz and improvisation.

    I love sound and thought it was important to have a feel or general knowledge of as many styles as possible. Styles to me are colors or languages within a larger colorful vocabulary.  I left school after my junior year to tour with a show called Barrage which came through a job list from the Henry Mancini Institute that I was fortunate enough to attend in LA the summer of my sophomore year.

    I then returned to Vanderbilt in between Barrage and Cirque to finish my degree and continued to pop back to Nashville when I could as I was given opportunities in the session, symphonic, jazz and country worlds there.  The community in Nashville really allowed me to share my voice musically. I got to experiment in a variety of fields surrounded by fantastic musicians at each corner. I’m very thankful for that.

    New York became a hub after my first Cirque du Soleil show (based at Madison Square) and then further after I won a composition competition with a form of Frenzied Whispers and String Orchestra.  I have many colleagues and friends that live, perform and create in NY as well and it’s a pleasure to perform and create with them.  To me NYC also represents a source of creative energy, excitement and innovation.  Many people would think it would be easier to be quiet and sit with ideas in a quiet place, etc. but I feel like I have ideas and energy from simply walking the streets or along the rivers here! Similarly, the community here has been very kind.

  4. As a virtuoso violinist, you not only toured with Cirque du Soleil for 10 years but also recorded for blockbuster movie soundtracks & video games, and performed with various chamber ensembles and symphony orchestras. Can you share some highlights with us?

    I performed with two different Cirque du Soleil shows as well as a fiddle show called Barrage where we danced and played at the same time for nearly 10 years.  Especially within the circumstances we find ourselves today, I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have traveled and performed all over the world.  From Taiwan to Germany, Korea to Guatemala and much of the US and Canada it was an incredibly rare and special experience. Particular highlights include a festival in Denmark where we played on a stage set against the backdrop of the sea, the Royal Albert Hall in London, Budapest Opera House, a northern Italian festival in the Aosta Valley, a few months spent in Guangzhou in China, and having a few weeks in Salzburg to perform and explore.  I was pretty awe struck by Alison Krauss because to me her sound is so pure and many of the video games and movies make me giggle to myself because who would have thought I’d ever get to add some violin to such productions.  Similarly, many of the awards shows are exciting because you hear and see artists in a new light.

  5. How do you manage to produce yourself as a one-person string ensemble? 

    I’m such a stickler for sound quality and color.  When I made the decision to get off the road for a while, I thought “ I love performing with other people but how do I do some of this by myself without having to have 85 rehearsals with a band.”  I started down the looping pedal road with bass pedals, etc. and realized I could most likely reproduce this acoustically. In addition to my violin, I have an octave violin and an octave viola as well as a cello.  I try to pick up all sounds with my differently strung violins and then double parts with the viola and cello to get those really round lower sonorities. I’m no wizard at the cello, so sometimes I also layer in a direct in from a bass pedal connected to my violin. I find that while this definitely sounds unusual and a bit funky, the mix of timbres and colors actually sit quite nicely and complement each other in ways you would never realize!  I really enjoy doing this type of work and experimenting.

    Interview by Esin Aydingoz

     

     

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