In 2006, British classical violinist Ruth Palmer raised the funds to record a solo album, and she’s been playing to her own tune ever since. We ask her advice for aspiring soloists…
Everyone has that intense fear of floundering after university, but for a classical musician, that pressure increases tenfold. Soloists who’ve gone through 20 years of vigorous training, making countless sacrifices, graduate into a market where only a handful of musicians’ names will ever been known to the public.
When it was Ruth Palmer’s turn, having left the Royal College of Music, she decided to shape the competitive landscape for herself – and make her own CD. Through entrepreneurial-style fundraising, she pulled together tens of thousands of pounds, booked the Philharmonia and marked Shostakovich’s centenary in 2006 with a recording of his Violin Concerto No 1 and Violin Sonata. Back then, she says, ‘the media was so mainstream, if you wanted to say anything, you had to say it very loudly, or not at all.’ Ruth wasn’t just heard – she reverberated though the scene, in 2007, she was awarded Best Young British Artist at the Classical BRIT Awards.
Forget everything you’ve been taught – and do what you love
Growing up, Ruth’s home was set to a soundtrack of Radio 3. Both her parents have music degrees – her mother taught piano, and her father is a composer. Her brother, who started out as a cellist, later went on to a career in banking. What does she possess that allowed her to stick at it? ‘I kind of mortgaged myself to it,’ she says, ‘I made a commitment early on that this was what I was going to do. I put so much time and dedication into it, there was no question.’
When we met, Ruth was just gearing up to perform at the Kids for Kids Christmas Carol Concert at St Peter’s Church in Chelsea, to help raise funds for the children of Darfur. ‘It’s not about pride in being connected with the celebrity of suffering,’ she explains, ‘but more a sense of gratitude that we can have a connection with the people within that concert, but also, within Darfur.’ The evening was hosted by Julie Etchingham, featuring Christmas readings from the likes of David Suchet and Richard Wilson, ‘I love Richard Wilson, he once looked at my biog and said “that must be a very grave responsibility,”’ she laughs.
Having self-managed and self-marketed for much of her career, Ruth is better placed than most to give advice to burgeoning classical musicians. ‘Forget everything you’ve been taught – and do what you love,’ she says, without hesitation. ‘And don’t be afraid of walking away from it, if that’s what you want to do. If you feel “I’ve been put under pressure for 20 years, I practised for so long, I’ve forgotten why I love it”, then walk away from it. Look back at it from a different perspective, and you might find a new way in,’ advice which, if played right, could ring true for any path you choose to take.