Double Dutch with Simone Lamsma in Southam Hall

Simone Lamsma. Photo: Otto van der Toorn

The Dutch violin virtuoso Simone Lamsma would have felt quite at home if she had stepped onto the Southam Hall stage on March 21 as planned.

Unfortunately COVID-19 had something to say about that and the concert has been cancelled.

She was scheduled to perform in a concert that celebrates the long friendship between Canada and The Netherlands, the end of the Second World War and Dutch music generally.

She would have played the violin and cello concerto, akin, written by the composer Michel van der Aa, who is one of the leading contemporary composers in The Netherlands. Her partner was to be the young cellist Harriet Krijgh.

Even though the concert is not happening, ARTSFILE readers might enjoy this interview with a star performer.

“I played (van der As’s) violin concerto several years ago,” Lamsma told ARTSFILE. “What really stands out in his music is this intensity and energy.

“I feel he is always looking to create an experience. This is apparent in his music and it’s there in the double concerto.”

Lamsma says van der Aa wrote the double with the Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja and the Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta in mind.

She said, in her understanding, the composer believes that for him it is “important to have artists in mind when he is composing. It gives him inspiration to write the music but once he has written the piece he is very open and very happy for other people to play it. He’s a very open personality. He embraces the fact that to have a convincing performance it can only be done through the authenticity of whomever performs” the work.

Van der Aa is inspired by fact that it will always be a different experience when different musicians explore the work, she said. Something she believes as well.

“You have to make the piece your own when you play it. There is no other way. It can’t just be an imitation. It’s not an option to try to fit into someone else’s personality or style. It can never be convincing.”

She says that she knows and has played chamber music with Harriet Krijgh.

“We know each other as artists. This is a great starting point. There is trust there already. It’s so important to trust the music and your colleagues when you make music so closely together.

“We both are looking for the same approach even when we are playing with 100 people in a large orchestra.”

That’s a more difficult trick to perform with an orchestra because it’s much bigger with many moving parts.

“You have to know what it can and can’t do, but I always try to have the mindset that there shouldn’t be limits. We have to aim for the highest and this is to have this really direct communication. I always look for this.”

Lamsma’s solo career has blossomed over several years in North America she is now a regular for several weeks every season, mostly in the U.S. In Canada, she  has played Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal.

Like many in Holland, she is well aware of the relationship between The Netherlands and Canada and the liberation by the Canadian army at the end of the Second World War.

“I think and I hope that most people in Holland have an awareness of this. It is very much a part of our history.” She learned about it from her own grandparents who lived through the war and at school.

“For me it is something that is always there somehow. For many people it is like that. The remembrance is important.”

One way to connect to this feeling is through music.

“The great thing about music; it connects like nothing else. In music there is never just one truth there are many. That’s OK and accepted. It’s an incredible thing.”

In Ottawa she is playing a contemporary piece, but her personal repertoire is massive. She has some 60 pieces from many different periods in her fingers. For example, her most recent recording features Shostakovich’s first violin concerto and Sofia Gubaidulina’s In Tempus praesens on the Mlynarski Stradivarius (1718), loaned by an anonymous benefactor.

“I like to play a lot of different concertos throughout a season. For me, it is necessary to challenge myself and to have a variety of pieces and styles.”

The great thing about playing new music for Lamsma is the fact that there isn’t a baked-in tradition.

“You are exploring right there and then. You are working with a composer of course, but you can start fresh on the score with your own vision. It is a unique thing to do.”

That makes sense as she’s never been afraid to move into unknown territory.

Lamsma started playing young.

“I was very convinced. From the earliest age I can remember, I was going to be a musician. It was a part of me and there was no other option. It was what I was going to do.”

Her family lived in the north of Holland at the time and there was a lot of travel to and from lessons as Lamsma’s played improved.

“My parents tried to offer the best surrounding instruction that was available and they looked for opportunities. That’s how I ended up at the Menuhin School in London.” She studied with Hu Kun there and again at the Royal Academy of Music also in the British capital.

“It was not an easy decision to make as a family. But for me it was best option.”
She went to London at 11 and boarded at the school.

“It was hard for me. We are a close family, but it was a homecoming too. I was  surrounded by people who understood me and had the same passion. It was quite wonderful.”

She found teachers who encouraged her musical curiosity about different repertoire. She also was at an institution where she could listen to a lot of non-violin music, play in chamber ensembles and in orchestras.

“This created a base of understanding that allowed me to go deeper into the music.”

That doesn’t mean she has a passion for jazz or you’ll find her at a hip hop show any time soon. Her jam is classical music.

When she talked to ARTSFILE Lamsma was on a hiatus from touring at her home in Haarlem, The Netherlands. She says such breaks are necessary to maintain balance.

“In my opinion it’s not possible to be 100 per cent involved and prepared in the music if you don’t have periods off to study.”

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.