Violinist hits right note

Aconversation with Karen Gomyo can be as free ranging as the terrain she spans in her own musical life.

From the way the Montreal-born violinist says "no worries" in almost-convincing Strine while expressing her desire to cuddle a koala, to discussing her special bond with a violin called Strad and a composer called Piazzolla, Gomyo seems up for pretty much anything.

She is described as one of the great talents of her time and expresses a cultural and geographic diversity on her current Australian tour, which has brought her to Perth this week.

The New Yorker of Japanese and French-Canadian heritage paired with Australian guitarist Slava Grigoryan last week in a recital linking the Argentinean tango of Piazzolla with the Italian Romantic fireworks of Paganini.

"Piazzolla's music is close to my heart and I like to say it is because I grew up in the Hispanic area of Montreal and my best friend was from Salvador and my babysitter was from Chile," she says. "When I heard Piazzolla for the first time something sounded familiar and nostalgic."

Gomyo makes her debut with the WA Symphony Orchestra this weekend in an entire 20th century American program, playing Barber's Violin Concerto wedged between Copland's Appalachian Spring, Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from West Side Story and Gershwin's An American in Paris.

For Gomyo, diversity is the spice of life.

"For the most part the work I do is concertos and of course there are contemporary works being written, so you can find a lot of variety in that sense, but outside the symphonic concerto repertoire, there is so much available that is incredibly interesting for the violin."

Even the most casual music listeners would recognise Barber's Adagio for Strings, which became the defining music of the Oscar-winning film Platoon. His 1939 Violin Concerto has become a standard in the repertoire beyond the US, though less so in Australia.

"There are definitely those moments in the violin concerto, especially in the slow movement where you have gorgeous melodies that are reminiscent of the adagio, but it is also combined with incredible virtuosity which you find in the last movement," Gomyo says.

"Overall it is a piece that works very well for the players, including myself, and it works incredibly well for the audience because you have everything - from the most beautiful lyrical passages to frantic, almost New York City life activity that you find in the last movement.

"Now that I spend so much time in New York, I really do find that in the final movement, whether Barber intended it to be this way or not, I find it to be a reflection of the modern American busy city."

Gomyo, 31, has been based in New York since she left Montreal at the age of 11 to attend the famous Juilliard School under the tutelage of the great Dorothy DeLay, having taken up the violin at five after seeing a performance by a then teenage Midori Goto.

She has gone on to thrill audiences and critics in concertos with leading orchestras around the world.

Gomyo started playing professionally at 15 and was still a teenager when a sponsor bought for her exclusive use an Aurora/ex-Foulis Stradivarius violin from 1703.

That was about 13 years ago and she says it has taken the best part of that time to feel she has bonded with the instrument

"My violin has been around for more than 300 years and I have barely been here for three decades so I think an instrument like this comes with so much mystery, because you don't know where it has been over many of those years," she says. "It is a living thing made by a genius, so there is mysteriously some kind of soul in the instrument.

"The instrument has a lot to teach you. It's not the other way around, so it is a true partnership in that sense and I think a lot of violinists and cellists will tell you that with a Strad, you cannot tell it what to do. It tells you what to do."

Late last year, Gomyo featured as a violinist and narrator in a documentary film about Stradivarius called Mysteries of the Supreme Violin.

She says the instrument is a constant physical reminder of the custodial role that musicians play in safeguarding and perpetuating the classical repertoire.

"It is fascinating to think that an instrument made in the early 1700s is still considered the most desirable instrument to play. It is really timeless, one of those miracles of humanity really."

'It is a living thing made by a genius, so there is mysteriously some kind of soul in the instrument.' Karen Gomyo


The West Australian

Popular videos

Compare & Save

Our Picks

Compare & Save

Follow Us

More from The West