Violin Soloist – Charlotte Marckx

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.

Charlotte: Exactly!

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


By Dedication

Sun, March 17, 2019
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM PDT
Chapel at Northwest University


Busoni: Orchestral Suite No. 2 ‘Armoured Suite’, Op. 34a – 
               I. Vorspiel – Introduction

Vaughan Williams: Symphony no. 5 in D Major
               I. Preludio
               II. Scherzo
               III. Romanza
               IV. Passacaglia

Sibelius: Symphony no. 7 in C Major, Op. 105


Christmas Traditions 2018

Tuesday, December 4, 2018
7:30 PM – 9:30 PM PDT
Benaroya Hall

The Northwest University Concert and Chamber Choirs and Coro Amici, joined by the Kirkland Civic Orchestra, present the 10th Anniversary of Christmas Traditions at Benaroya Hall.

Celebrating a decade of annual performances, this established Christmas concert celebrates the traditions of Christmas. Features include new carol arrangements and traditional selections with Christmas carol sing-a-longs.

Tickets: Start at $20 and are available through the Benaroya Hall Ticket Office. There is a 10% group discount for parties of 10 or more.


Kirkland Civic Orchestra 2018-2019 Season

Kirkland Civic Orchestra is pleased to announce its fifth season bringing great classical music to greater Eastside and Seattle audiences.

The 2018-2019 season kicks off November 11, 2018 with a concert entitled “Frenemies,” a play on the legendary rivalry between Brahms and Tchaikovsky. KCO will perform Brahms’ second symphony, and Tchaikovsky’s Violin concerto, which will feature local favorite and award-winning violinist Charlotte Marxx of the Sempre Sisters.

KCO will once again join the Northwest University Choirs at Benaroya Hall for a celebration of Christmas music. Tickets for the December 4, 2018 concert are available through the Benaroya Hall box office.

The new year kicks off with “By Dedication,” on March 17, 2019, featuring pieces dedicated to one composer from another: Busoni’s Overture and Vaughan Williams’ 5th Symphony, both dedicated to Sibelius, and Sibelius’ 7th Symphony, his final symphonic work.

As we emerge from the darkness of winter, our May 19, 2019 spring concert explores “Shadows and Light,” with Whitacre’s richly harmonic Lux Aurumque, in an orchestral adaptation, Debussy’s symphonic poem Afternoon of a faun, and two Vaughan Williams’ pieces: A Road All Paved with Stars and Lark Ascending.

The season ends at the beginning of summer with a free pops concert in the English Garden at the Ballard (Chittenden) Locks, where we invite the audience to bring their lawn chairs and picnics, and enjoy movie and patriotic favorites and our spectacular Seattle summer weather.

Regular season concerts take place at Butterfield Chapel on the Northwest University campus in Kirkland, and are free to the public, though tickets are advised as seating is limited. Tickets are available from our website, Facebook page (, and via Eventbrite (

Kirkland Civic Orchestra is an all-volunteer symphony orchestra that relies on the generosity of our players, our audience and institutions like 4Culture and corporate matching programs to fulfill our mission of enriching the lives of all members of our community through unique and high quality musical experiences.

Cello Soloist – Mary Riles

Mary Riles will play the Haydn Concerto No. 2 for Cello at our next performance. I spoke to Mary about this concerto and her musical life. She was kind enough to take the time to engage in a wonderful discussion.

When did you start playing music and how did you start playing the cello specifically?
When did you know you wanted to be serious about it?
When you were in Oberlin, when do you know that cello playing was “for real” for you?
The Haydn Concerto No. 2, how did you choose that piece and why did you choose that piece?
What are the things we should watch for?
Soliloquy is solo cello, no accompaniment. It’s so different than the Haydn. What are the solo challenges?

KCO: When did you start playing music and how did you start playing the cello specifically?

Mary Riles: I think I started with recorder when I was 4 or something like that, I don’t really remember. My older sister played harp and her teacher gave a recital with a friend of hers who played cello. My mom brought me as well as my sister. I was 4 years old, and it was the first time I’d heard the cello. I was just struck. It’s my earliest clear memory. I remember the church, and I remember the purple cushions in the pews.  I remember seeing her, and I remember being overwhelmed by the sound of the instrument. And so I knew I wanted to play the cello.

A couple years later, I started lessons with her, the woman that I had heard play. She was my first teacher and I think I studied with her until I was about 12 and she moved away to New York City.

KCO: Wow, and where was this?

Mary: St. Louis.

KCO: You were in St. Louis, you hear cello for the first time and you’re just overwhelmed. And where does it go from there? You take lessons from a really early age?

Mary: We lived in England for 9 months when I was 6. My dad had sabbatical. I think it was the next time I heard the cello. We got off the plane and went to our friends’ house and their daughter, who was a few years older than me, was practicing cello. I walked in the house and heard cello again. I remember looking down the hallway and seeing it. I must have started lessons right after we got back. I was the tail end of being 6 years old.

KCO: That’s really early!

Mary: Yeah. I think that music education was important to my parents and also I had strongly expressed the desire to play the cello. I think they were waiting until I was a little bit bigger.

KCO: Did you go Suzuki method?

Mary: No, I studied with this woman that I had heard the first time and we used Dotzauer and golly, that was so long ago, Dotzauer and then various other pieces.

KCO: How did you manage the size of the cello though?

Mary: They do make very small cellos. I had a half size to begin with I suspect that the half size might have been a little bit too big for me but I’m not sure.

KCO: I see. So, you took lessons and when did you know you wanted to be serious about it?

Mary: Well, in the sense of sort of personal commitment and heart connection, I was serious about it from the very beginning. I went to Oberlin, and I was double degree there. I was in the college and the conservatory.

I had two passions through my life: one of them was music and one of them was language, English. I intended to double major in cello performance and English, so I had an advisor who was in the conservatory who was my teacher and an advisor in the college. Somehow between those two advisors, and myself, somehow I did not realize that I had to take the first course in the English major sequence my very first semester in order to be able to complete the degree in the five years, given distribution requirements. I didn’t do that and by the time I realized what that meant, it was too late, I would’ve had to stay a sixth year, which was not in the cards.

I wound up doing ancient history, classics as my college degree. I had taken Latin for like six years or something like that when I was growing up, and it’s just one of those moments in time where this seemingly super inconsequential choice has these really profound long run repercussions for the rest of your life. Had I done the English degree, I think it’s reasonably likely I would have gone the academic route rather than the musical route because the academic route was so much easier than music, which is, you know, fabulous and brutally challenging.

KCO: Yes.

Mary: And I, for a while in my life, but by the time I was a junior, probably, I’d decided that I wanted to strive to be the best cellist that I could be and that I’d rather be a professional musician and a nonprofessional reader or thinker or whatever you want to call it, than the other way around. The idea of playing substantially below the level, sort of below the capacity I had, sounded very unappealing to me.

You have to make choices. Playing in ensembles is the right place for me. I get to teach people over a long course of time, it’s just really wonderful, personal, collaborative endeavor.

KCO: You make it sound good. I haven’t had a teacher that I’d connected with, in a long time.

Mary: My first teacher was really wonderful. I had a couple of teachers who were really not wonderful. My college teacher died young of esophageal cancer and in fact my first teacher also died young, she had a heart attack, and so I don’t have a current mentor. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a mentor relationship like that.

KCO: I’m sorry to hear that. That’s rough.

Mary: I grew up in a family of teachers, my grandfather was a band and orchestra teacher, my father a professor, my brother and my sister are both teachers, it’s really in my family DNA maybe, and I really just think it’s such an important profession. I definitely have missed having the presence of a relationship with a former teacher for sure. But it’s also true that you can learn from so many people and so many different ways. I have so many incredible colleagues who I learn from and whom I respect, and I really feel grateful for that.

KCO: When you were in Oberlin, when do you know that cello playing was “for real” for you ? When did you think, “I know I can do it?”

Mary: Those are two different questions!

Well I think, I decided by my junior year that playing the cello was what I wanted to do. The self-doubt demons like to mess with any conviction that one acquires. I think that, to be honest, I think that I’ve known on some level that I was a musician since I was very young, some part of me.

KCO: The Haydn Concerto No. 2, how did you choose that piece and why did you choose that piece?

Mary: Well, I had a conversation with James and we talked about what to do. We had been talking about the Elgar and I can’t even remember how it worked its way around to being Haydn. He had been talking about a particular program, I think an English program, and the Haydn. I played the C Major Haydn maybe 15 years ago. D Major is a Concerto that I’ve always really loved. It is so lyrical and so elegant and yet possesses such a depth of feeling and it really resonates for me.

It’s a big technical challenge. You jump up and down a lot, there’s a lot of notes up high on the finger board. There are places where it goes really fast, but it is also doesn’t feel extraneous or like as an ego expression of the composer or something like that.

It’s an expression of energy. There’s so much joy that runs through it, so it’s a piece that really appeals to me. It definitely felt like a challenge, but a challenge that I wanted to take on.

KCO: That was a great description, because I was going to ask the follow up question about explaining to a non-string player.

Mary: I think energy and joy are the things, but also depth of feeling, like its form is elegant, but it’s in no way a superficial piece. It sings.

KCO: What are the things we should watch for?

Mary: Hmm, the things to watch for?

KCO: Well listen to, but I’m thinking from the technical point of view. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s hard about someone else’s instrument.

Mary: Well it goes up really high. it also goes up high and crosses all four strings, often you’ll be up high on the A string, maybe a bit on the D string, but this goes all the way across all four strings and it’s hard to balance on a cello because the range is so wide. Having both clarity and power across all four strings is challenging in terms of just making a cello and playing a cello, so one of the challenges is to play up high on the C and G strings and have a clear tone, have it not be muddy.

KCO: That’s easy for a brass player to understand because it’s hard to make all notes sing because of the physics of the instrument.

Mary: It has lots of leaps. Big, big intervals up and down the string are hard. It’s also full of chords, which can be challenging to get in and out of with grace.

The third movement that has all these wild octaves that go up and down the instrument, way up high in the register and way down low. If you look at a guitar, the frets get closer and closer together as you go up the finger board, and of course the same thing is true on all stringed instruments. You can’t just put your thumb and third finger on an octave and them move that shape up and down the cello. You have to adjust how far your fingers are from each other in order to retain the octave as you move up and down the finger board. Doing that at a high rate of speed presents some challenges.

KCO: I saw your performance of Soliloquy online. Soliloquy is solo cello, no accompaniment. It’s so different than the Haydn. What are the solo challenges?

KCO: Are they the same in both pieces? Does it really come down to interpretation and really finding what you want to say as a player?

Mary: Well it’s a really different thing to prepare a solo piece as compared to a concerto which is not a solo piece in the sense that multiple people are creating this piece of music. Yet, I’ve been spending several months working on the Haydn by myself, in my studio. I’ve listened to it, and what I wound up doing actually was writing orchestral cues in my part. Not all the way through, but in various places, so that I could feel them as I was playing my part. I even recorded some of the orchestral lines so that I could play with myself as a duet so that I could feel the rhythmic interplay between the two parts.

I’ve also played it, a pianist friend of mine offered to play through it with me, so I’ve played with him. I’ll probably do that again, and then obviously I will rehearse with the orchestra. And part of rehearsing with the orchestra and writing in cues is logistics, how does everything fit together, and that’s not even, that can be not as simple question because rhythm really drives phrasing so much and so you have to know how things fit together in order to make music.

But also, music for me is fundamentally about communication and relationships and when you’re working on a piece which is solo, literally you are the only music and yours is the only part, it’s still about communication and relationships. I mean obviously it’s less complicated from the fact that you don’t have to refer to what anybody else is doing.

KCO: It also means all the pressure squarely on you. It’s not like your entrance is going to be late, but still, to me, and they are worlds different.

Mary: When you’re playing by yourself you have to create everything. The fewer players you have, the more responsibility each player has for creating the harmonic and rhythmic world and structure. As a single player, you are both more free and also have to be even clearer about what it is you’re presenting, because you have to present the whole thing.

The concerto is a funny, odd duck because the person who’s playing the solo part has such profound influence on the process and musical choices, but at the same time, all of us in the room are finding and expressing the spirit of the piece and its relationships. It goes well beyond, well “x” section has to be quieter so that you can hear “y” section. All that stuff is super important but it’s like, when I’m explaining rhythm to students who haven’t been playing for very long. I tell them that as they develop their sense of the beat. Every time they play it’s a dance between the beat and the notes on the page; it’s a relationship.

Feeling that relationship deepens your understanding of the music and your feeling for the music. It’s not just a sequence of events, it’s how the music is with or is not with the beat, for example, and similarly, certain things are only visible in relief. The concerto is not whole without all of its parts and all the parts inform all the other parts.

KCO: Perfect. We’ll look forward to it. I look forward to hearing it.

Mary: Thank you!

Interview on May 22, 2018
by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO