Charlotte Marckx will play the Tchaikovsky: Violin Concerto at our next performance. Charlotte was nice enough to talk to me. Her exuberance was charming and invigorating.
When did you start playing music and when did you start playing the violin specifically?
When did you know that you wanted to be serious, or maybe you don’t. Do you?
When did you get the impression, “hey, I’m pretty good at this?”
What is your connection with the Kirkland Orchestra?
How did you choose the Tchaikovsky? How did that come to be the next one?
What else are you looking forward to in your playing or in your non-musical life?
KCO: When did you start playing music and when did you start playing the violin specifically?
Charlotte: I started when I was 5 ½.
KCO: And I know you’re 16, which makes you different than some of the people I’ve interview. So 5 ½ isn’t that long ago really.
Charlotte: It feels like a long time, but not really.
KCO: What made you pick the violin, and do you play anything else?
Charlotte: I started on the cello at age 5 because my mom is a cellist and my sister had started on the cello 3 years before, when she was 5. I was terrible at the cello so my mom decided that she wanted to switch me to the next closest thing, which was violin. At the time, I had no idea what the violin was. I had wanted to play the piano, but I was, I want to say, obedient. I was more like a lump of clay. I didn’t really care, so she started me on the violin. I’m really, really glad that she started me on that and that I switched to that one.
KCO: I think you can just call that being compliant and open to new things.
Charlotte: Yeah, exactly.
KCO: So she put you on the violin and what happens after that?
Charlotte: [My mom] was a little bit worried because I had been so terrible on the cello. I started with Jan Coleman, who told my mom that actually I had some promise. And that’s all that I’ve done since then. That’s my only real instrument.
KCO: When did you know that you wanted to be serious, or maybe you don’t. Do you?
Charlotte: I do. I think that my parents have been super supportive of music, and I’ve always been a specialized kid. This is what I’m going to do and then I don’t do much else. I wouldn’t say I’m super well-rounded in terms of my interests. I’m very much a humanities person and a music person, specifically. Since I was really little, I’ve wanted to be a violinist. You know every once in a while, I’d tell my mom I want to be an archaeologist, and she’d say “good for you, honey.” But I always knew that I was going to end up a violinist because that was sort of the track that was planned out for me. And now that I’m older, I consciously choose that track. When I was little, I always just assumed that was what I was going to do.
KCO: It sort of made sense to you somehow?
Charlotte: Yes. It was it seemed like the most natural thing to do because I spent so much time on music, even when I was little. What seemed like a lot of time doesn’t seem as much to me now, but it seemed like a lot of time then. It just seems natural that I would do what I spent a lot of time on and what I was really good at, which was the violin.
KCO: Right, and when did you get the impression, “hey, I’m pretty good at this?”
Charlotte: I don’t know. When I was little I was successful in local competitions, but it was mostly people telling me that I was good and treating me like I was good. That really made me really feel like I was good. One thing that I always really liked to do when I was a kid is to go into my class at school and play when I was in elementary school because I really liked when my fellow students would ooh and ahh over my violin skills. It was really just people telling me that I was good at the violin, rather than any sort of personal revelations.
KCO: That makes sense. People like that kind of positive feedback, for sure. When you’re young, if you can get over on your classmates, that’s pretty good because it’s not always easy.
KCO: I understand people kind of fed this into you, but when did you know? Was there a sort of thing like a moment, when you realize, “okay, I’m different, my level is different?”
Charlotte: I think, one thing that was really cool for me was going to my very first international competition, the Johansen Competition. It was a really cool experience for me because even though when I went there, my first impression was I don’t belong here. I was hearing the people and they just sounded so absolutely incredible, and I was terrified. I said to my mom, “I need to get out of here. I’m not at this level.”
I was the youngest person at that competition. I think actually being there and being forced to go through with it, and by some strange fluke of nature I actually made it into the finals. To this day I still don’t know how I managed that because I definitely felt when I was listening to other people that I wasn’t at that level yet. But I had a realization that I wanted to be at that level, and this was something that was a goal for me. It was something that I wanted to be able to compete at this level and be able to really pursue music at this incredibly high level.
I wanted to play in these competitions and feel proud and confident, to feel the way I imagine everyone else at the competition felt. So that was I think where I saw what the level was. I had always been somewhat isolated in my studio. I actually recently tried for the Menuhin Competition. I had been, I think, the only one in my studio who tried that didn’t get in and that was a very disappointing thing for me. This was very important for me to show myself that I could still compete at that level. It was really important.
KCO: How old were you then?
Charlotte: 13, I think you had to be 13 and I got in by a week.
KCO: What is your connection with the Kirkland Orchestra? How did you become the guest soloist? I know you’ve done it now three years in a row.
Charlotte: My sister and I have a duo called Sempre Sisters, and we do a lot of multi-genre stuff. We really love it. It’s our outlet besides classical music and the maestro (KCO’s James Truher) and his wife were watching one of our concerts. They came up to us afterwards and asked if we’d like to play the Brahms Double Concerto with the Kirkland Civic Orchestra. We were really surprised because, it was actually very, very nice. Not a lot of people would be willing to take that leap of faith with multi-genre duo because we weren’t sure if they knew about our classical ability or lack thereof. It actually ended up working out great, and they were so friendly and supportive. And the orchestra was so fantastic. It was really just a great experience for us to play the Brahms Double Concerto. When I came back to play the Saint-Saëns, it was also just amazing. I’m so excited to be coming back again to the Tchaikovsky.
KCO: How did you choose the Tchaikovsky? How did that come to be the next one?
Charlotte: I actually have played it in the past. Then I chose to bring it up again. It’s really just such a classic kind of war horse concerto that you’re really going to have to bring it up again at some point. It just felt like the right time for me to bring that back and I had several concerts coming up that I really wanted to have that kind of war horse concerto for. You’re on a concerto for a long time, and I thought it would be nice to be able to bring it up again, finesse it.
KCO: How does it compare to the other pieces you have played with the KCO, just for you personally?
Charlotte: The other one that I did was the Saint-Saëns solo. The Tchaikovsky and the Saint-Saëns are very, very different pieces because the Saint-Saëns is in your face and I’d say aggressive. That’s not exactly the right word. It is just very, I’d say, a masculine concerto and the Tchaikovsky is just more sensitive. It’s very romantic, sweeping, It’s also got a lot more contrast and character.
KCO: The movements are so different.
Charlotte: Yes, exactly. I feel like the first movement has the contrast between the character of the second movement and the character of the third movement. It is like a kind of yearning, lyrical theme. Although in the second movement it’s much darker. In the first movement it’s more romantic. But the third movement and part of the first movement have this really proud and playful quality that I think is really amazing. Also the Tchaikovsky has such a broad range that gives depth.
I feel like the Saint-Saëns is really like a character portrait. I think of it as a character study. It very much had this feeling that you were learning more about a person. Whereas the Tchaikovsky, it feels like more a broader reflection on life.
KCO: What else are you looking forward to in your playing or in your non-musical life as things are unfolding for you?
Charlotte: Well I have several concerts coming up. In December, I’m playing with the Port Angela Symphony, Vivaldi Winter. It’s going to be so much fun. And also I’m playing Tchaikovsky again with the Kalamazoo Symphony in January, as part of my winning the Stulberg national competition very recently, which was totally amazing. I’m very excited for that. And then I’m playing with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra in the next season. I think next fall. I’m also incredibly excited about that. So those really exciting things coming up.
Also the duo, Sempre Sisters, we’re releasing our debut album very soon, actually in about a week. We’re incredibly excited. It’s an amazing CD. Everybody’s going to love it. It’s a multi-genre, pop music, a little bit of classical Bach, Scottish folk music, Danish folk music. It is basically all the music we love on an album. Olivia’s (my sister’s) arrangements are so spectacular, so we’re really excited about that. We’re mailing out the pre-orders, pre-sale. It’s very exciting.
KCO: That sounds really great. The first time I saw you guys was as the Sempre Sisters. I couldn’t play the tuba for that concert, which was interesting, because I watched the entire concert from the audience, a different perspective. Your performance, especially of the encore, was just so charming. I really enjoyed it. It was so uninhibited. It was great.
KCO: So, what about non-musical stuff? Anything you want to say?
Charlotte: I have very little life beyond music. There’s no big developments, but I’m really enjoying school. I do a couple classes of public school. I’m mostly home-schooled. I love writing. I just finished a novel, I’m probably not going to do anything with it, but it’s my first novel, so that’s really fun.
It’s been fun because my sister’s in college. Every night we like to set up FaceTime and Skype watch a TV show together. We watched The West Wing, Parks and Recreation, The Office, all these classics and it is really cool. It’s one of my favorite things to do. It’s really something I look forward to at the end of the day.
Interview on October 25, 2018
by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO