Artist Interview: Robin Scott, violin

By Patrick Burke on April 20, 2014

An accomplished young soloist and chamber musician, violinist Robin Scott (second from left) is about to embark on his second Musicians from Marlboro tour. In advance of the group's Friday, May 2 concert in Philadelphia, Mr. Scott was kind enough to answer a few questions about his experience at Marlboro (both on campus and the road), his musical upbringing and the the centerpiece of this tour–Alban Berg's masterful Lyrische Suite.

Patrick Burke:  In a few months you will be returning to Marlboro for your fifth summer. Could you tell us about your experience there, and how you feel the time on tour differs from your time on campus?

Robin Scott:  I think that most participants would agree that Marlboro has a special atmosphere–its own tempo of life and degree of separation from musicians' normal daily grind–which makes it somewhat of a haven. I actually look forward to a summer at Marlboro more than a vacation, because it incorporates most of the best aspects of work and recreation:  fantastic music, musicians, and friends to play with, ample time to rehearse and live with a piece before performing it, and a swim at the pond or perhaps a soccer game after dinner. One both hears and learns from many of the best musicians of our time. (I also get a bonus this year in that my wife is coming for the first time as a participant.)

The tour period is a little bit more like the rest of the work we do throughout the year, with a deadline by which we must be ready with a full program. But it's delightful to reunite with my good friends and mentors to play for several different audiences. Tours can be taxing mentally and physically, but if the company and music is good, it more than compensates.

PB:  Berg’s Lyrische Suite is the focal point of this tour. As an ensemble you have spent over 50 hours rehearsing the work over two summers at Marlboro. Could you give our audience some insight into the work itself?  What does it mean to immerse yourself so deeply in a work of this nature?

RS:  Working on the Lyrische Suite was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had at Marlboro. A vast and intricate masterpiece such as this benefits greatly from detailed study and thorough rehearsal. Because of their difficulty, works of this nature are normally played by established groups, but at Marlboro, we are afforded enough time to prepare. When we first started working on it I had never heard the piece, and with something this complicated, there's quite a lot to take in. It took time to learn to hear and recognize everything that is going on around one while contributing one's own part. In a well-functioning group, each member comes to depend on and trust in the others, especially in a piece as harrowing to perform as the Lyrische Suite...

PB:  You are accompanied on this tour by Samuel Rhodes and Cynthia Raim. Could you tell us what it is like to perform and rehearse with these two? How has the mentorship of these and other senior members shaped you as a musician?

RS:  I think I'm not speaking only for myself when I say that as a participant at Marlboro, we learn more than we can actually ever know from many of the senior members. I have had the great pleasure to work with Samuel Rhodes all four of my summers at Marlboro (more than any other senior, I believe). We've always played string quartets these summers, which of course was the ensemble in which he has spent most of his career. Perhaps more than any other musician in my life, teacher or otherwise, he has, by his passion and knowledge for it, shown me the wonders of 20th century music and helped me appreciate it more. For some reason, I have only ever had the opportunity to play with Cynthia Raim on other Musicians from Marlboro tours. We've played the Schumann Piano Quintet more times than I can count!  So the DvoÅ™ák that we are presenting to you on Friday, May 2 is a breath of fresh air in our limited, but, at least for me, quite enjoyable, collaborative history.

PB:  You come from a musical family. Could you tell us about your musical upbringing and why you chose to play the violin?

RS:  I can't honestly say that I, myself chose to play the violin. Rather, my musical parents thrust a violin into my hands when I was 5 or so and insisted that learning to play it was part of my education. I think I was rather indifferent to it when I was quite young, but my parents made me practice, and eventually I improved to the point where I got to play some decent repertoire. And after that point, I enjoyed it, and worked pretty hard at it. But I still think "playing the violin well" is worthless without good music and a desire to play; a good violinist belongs in a circus, where other impressive but useless acts are performed, but a good musician belongs on stage. I try to belong to the latter category.

PB:  Lastly, our audience is always interested in the instruments on which our artists play. Could you tell us about your violin, its history and tendencies and how you chose that specific instrument?

RS:  I actually just bought a violin in January made a couple of years ago by Ken and Di Meyer of Boston, which I'll be playing for this tour. I find it to be quite serviceable, and it is still developing as I play. Of course someday I'd love to play a great old Italian violin, as nearly all violinists desire, but I felt that it would be good to finally own an instrument (I've been playing on borrowed violins since I was about 13). I've been very grateful to play a violin by Jean Baptiste Vuillaume that the Marlboro Festival has lent me, but I'll be passing it on to another violinist soon.

Robin Scott, violin appears with Musicians from Marlboro III on Friday, May 2, 2014 at the Perelman Theater. For  tickets and information visit the concert page.

For more information on the Marlboro Music Festival, please visit their website.