Tai Murray and the New Generation Artists

08.29.09
Time Out (London)

By Jonathan Lennie

The BBC's New Generation Artists scheme has a remarkable record in spotting world-class musicians. US violinist Tai Murray talks to Time Out about being selected for greatness

Ten years ago, in an extraordinarily shrewd use of the licence fee, BBC Radio 3 began nurturing a small group of talented young international performers. The serious classical broadcaster's New Generation Artists scheme recruited six players and ensembles, and championed them for two years through recitals and concerto appearances with the BBC orchestras, broadcasting these concerts live along with recorded sessions. The result has been each year to give six lucky participants remarkably concentrated professional experience, and us the chance to see and hear fresh and enthusiastic players.

To celebrate a decade of the unique enterprise, this weekend at Chelsea's Cadogan Hall, 50 current and former NGAs will take part in 12 concerts across three days in what is an extraordinary concentration of talent.

The scheme was founded and is still run by Adam Gatehouse, whose day job is Radio 3's Editor of Live Music, and it is a tribute to his intuition (assisted by BBC producer Lindsay Kemp) that practically all of the 60 NGAs have lived up to their potential. The first intake alone boasted pianists Paul Lewis and Stephen Osborne, the Belcea and Jerusalem Quartets, baritone Christopher Maltman and the Leopold String Trio. Since then, other starry names, including trumpeter Alison Balsom, violinist Alina Ibragimova, percussionist Colin Currie and mezzo Alice Coote, have shot to fame following their stint as NGAs.

So what are the selection criteria? Because of the extensive broadcasts, the players must have a broad repertoire, so the scheme doesn't tend to accept teenagers, although current NGA violinist Jennifer Pike is just 19 (but having won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition in 2002, she has plenty of the required repertoire and experience). The oldest participant is current NGA, the Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter, 35.

As the NGAs play with each other and with orchestras, the scheme favours instruments with a wide range of repertoire, such as violin and piano. But, as Gatehouse explains, simple ability is not enough. 'They have got to have something special to offer, something that immediately arrests you.'

The current intake also includes an early-music performer (harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani), a jazz trumpeter, Tom Arthurs, and the 27-year-old Chicago-born violinist Tai Murray. Gatehouse is much taken with her. 'She's wonderful,' he enthuses. 'She is very sassy and huge fun and it's great to have an American violinist. I was really taken with her vitality and that she is interested in areas of repertoire which some of the other violinists haven't been. For instance she is going to play the Bernstein Serenade, the Barber Violin Concerto and other American twentieth-century pieces? and she knows how to swing.'

Tai Murray on being a New Generation Artist

What difference has the NGA scheme made to you?
'It has focused the path of my career as a violinist? It is a great throwyourself- in-the-fire-and-you-are-either- ready-for-it-or-not situation, so I am glad I am one of the lucky people.'

What's your commitment to it?
'In the long run it is all positive. For myself, I probably wouldn't be flying so much to London from New York.'

Do you like visiting London?
'At this point I have been on every single tube line, and sightseeing a lot - walking around and actually seeing the physical locations I dreamed about as a child. I had a French tutor for a large portion of my childhood who was from Newcastle and she would always talk to us about London.'

Did you make sacrifices growing up to learn the violin?
'My close friends in New York find me mildly amusing because I had a rather unusual upbringing - I was homeschooled after fourth grade and during a lot of that time I was spending large amounts of time with people almost twice my age in the holidays studying the violin. And so I didn't go to prom, which might be considered a sacrifice. Who knows? It might have been fun.'

Did your parents have to make sacrifices for your career?
'I have a single parent - my mother raised me and my siblings by herself, along with a large extended family. It was never easy, but I had the good fortune when I went to Julliard [School of Music in New York] to have gotten a full scholarship? It seems like I've seen from one end of the spectrum to the other. I have seen the most horribleness and ugliness in this world and I have been privileged to see some of the most beautiful things because of where the violin has taken me.'

What are you playing at the NGA concerts at Cadogan Hall?
'I play the Bartok Violin Sonata, then the Martinu 'Promenades' and Mendelssohn's C-minor Piano Trio.'

Is there an American playing style?
'There are recognisable differences, but it is coming from European styles.'

Best thing about the NGA scheme?
It is an indescribable feeling to walk out on to these stages where Mendelssohn or any of the composers and performers stood in exactly the same spot and did what they did.'

The New Generation Artists series runs at Cadogan Hall, Sat Aug 29- Mon Aug 31.
Tai Murray also takes part in a lying-down concert on Sept 4, in the Time Out-curated Deloitte Ignite '09 festival at the Royal Opera House.