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Laurie Niles interview with Caroline Goulding

August 25, 2009 at 6:07 PM

It sounds like a fantasy come true: the young violinist performs with an orchestra. Upon hearing her, a recording studio executive in the audience goes straight backstage to sign her up for a record deal.

It's actually a true story.

Caroline GouldingThis was Caroline Goulding, age 16, playing "Souvenir d'Amérique" by Vieuxtemps with the Cleveland Orchestra. But she was no newbie to the concert stage: Caroline has been spending her summers at the Aspen Music Festival since the age of 10, winning its concerto competition at age 13. She has performed also with the Detroit Symphony, and on NBC's "Today Show" and Martha Stewart's The Martha Show. She's appeared on "From the Top" four times, including its televised From the Top Live From Carnegie Hall 2006.

To tell the truth, she didn't quite know what to make of it when Thomas Moore from TelArc asked her about that recording gig, and she didn't really pursue it. It wasn't until later, when Moore contacted her teacher, Paul Kantor of the Cleveland Institute of Music, that she understood the opportunity.

"It was such a great surprise," Caroline said, speaking to me from Aspen earlier this summer."It was a dream come true."

So how does one go about doing a debut album?

"TelArc was so flexible, which I very much appreciate, in allowing me to participate in choosing the repertoire," Caroline said. "After Thom Moore called Mr. Kantor, we set up a date and time to meet and discuss repertoire choices. Before that, my homework was to think of pieces that I absolutely loved and that I would love to play on an encore disc. So I went to work, and I found all these wonderful pieces."

She chose some standard fare, including four pieces by Kreisler; John Corigliano's "Red Violin Caprices," and the Gershwin/Heifetz "Porgy and Bess" transcriptions, and she included that "Souvenir d'Amérique." She also found some less-played works, namely, "Four Souvenirs for Violin and Piano" by Paul Schoenfield, as well as a bit of Cape Breton Island fiddling.

"I was thinking of pieces I loved, and I love Schoenfield's Café Music," Caroline said. "It's just one of my very favorite pieces. I thought, 'Hmmm, I wonder if he has something for violin and piano?' So I looked up Schoenfield 'Cafe Music' on or something, and I fell upon a recording by James Ehnes and pianist (Andrew Russo), and I fell in love with 'Four Souvenirs.' I thought, 'You've got to be kidding me, this is incredible, I love this, I have to put this on.' I haven't heard any other recordings of the piece, except for that one recording. So I'm happy to help in promoting this piece."

For the "Porgy and Bess," she listened both to popular and opera versions of the songs. "I don't sing it in my head while I play, but it helps a lot, to know the words," Caroline said. "That's why I listened to the recording of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, just to hear the words, and hear how they sang it. I've also listened to some of the opera versions as well."

When it came to deciding on a pianist to collaborate with, she decided to ask "From the Top" host and pianist, Christopher O'Riley, with whom she was also playing the Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin Piano and Strings in D minor for a recording with the Cincinnati Pops called From the Top at the Pops, which is also being released today.

"He's an amazing pianist, collaborator and accompanist," Caroline said of O'Riley. "It was a pleasure working with him."

Caroline's involvement with From the Top has been an important part of her early development.

"I first went on the show when I was 13," Caroline said. "I auditioned in Aspen when I was 12, and then I got a call, and they were going to be in Ohio at Denison University, and they said, 'Would you like to come and play on our show with (renowned banjoist) Béla Fleck as our special guest?" And I said I'd love to, I was honored and excited that they chose me, and I was excited to work with Béla and Chris and all of the other wonderful musicians. It was a blast, a great experience."

Christopher O'Riley remembers that show as well, and how Caroline worked so easily with her fellow musicians. "She became sort of de-facto concertmistress for this string quartet arrangement they were doing with Béla Fleck, who doesn't read music," O'Riley said. "He wasn't in a position to really rehearse the piece, other than to play with the kids until they got it right. Caroline stepped up; she was putting the thing together. Not in any kind of bossy way, either, but she just had a supreme sense of confidence and competence in all of her situations -- in terms of communicating with an audience, in terms of her preparation, in terms of her striving for the best possible performance in everything that she does, in every style that she does, it's really kind of remarkable."

After performing with "From the Top" some four times, Caroline said that "it never disappoints me, it's a great experience. It's different than a normal performance – you get to communicate with the audience in different ways, you don't just go out and perform. It's a relaxed setting, it's a fun setting, especially for young musicians."

Caroline plays on the 1617 "Lobkowicz" (AH) Amati, which she has had on loan from the Stradivari Society for three years.

"It's a fantastic instrument," Goulding said. "You grow with the instrument, and it grows with you. I'm glad I've been given the opportunity to have it for three years, because it's opened up so much. Actually in the first two months, it opened up incredibly fast. It has a very big sound."

An Amati with a big sound?

"Exactly, which is surprising," Caroline said. "I remember playing with the Cleveland Orchestra, only about three or four months after I got it. One of the orchestra members said, 'That thing is a cannon!' They couldn't believe it when I told them it was an Amati. I don't even want to say it has such a big sound 'for an Amati.' It has such a big sound, period."

I wondered how Caroline got on this fast track – did her parents beat her with a wet noodle to make her practice?

"My parents are actually both special education teachers, which is actually kind of a different story than the usual one," Caroline said. Caroline started playing the violin when she was three and a half, when her two older brothers petitioned their mother to get her an instrument of her own, so she would stop trying to play with their saxophone and trumpet. She recalls being drawn to the violin because it resembled a guitar, though she soon fell in love with it for its own qualities. She started with teacher Julia Kurtyka, from the Detroit area, with a modified Suzuki method.

"It was always something that I did for fun, always a hobby, there was no pressure to live up to a certain dream or a certain futuristic goal," Caroline said. "It was a healthy upbringing, and it let me grow as a musician, naturally. My entire family has been supporting me every step of the way, but without push. It's a very fine line, between support and pressure, and they've done a wonderful job with keeping it healthy. I've heard horror stories; I've witnessed horror stories, and I'm just thankful."

She has studied for a number of years with Paul Kantor, who has helped shape her playing "in a way that my own personal style could still shine through," Caroline said. "I think that is the art, the brilliance, of his teaching. Each of his students has a voice of his or her own, as an artist, and he doesn't step on that. He doesn't cover that or change that. He helps you cultivate it. He opens the door for you."

The last few songs on Caroline's album are traditional Cape Breton Island fiddling; has she done any step dancing herself?

"I've actually done a couple of classes on step dancing, but that's beside the point, I was always on the wrong foot!" she laughed. "I went over the Cape Breton Island for fun, actually, for a different experience, a fiddling experience. We heard about it from friends, and we thought it would be a great vacation spot for the family, in Nova Scotia, Canada. While I was over there, I met all these wonderful musicians and fiddlers, and I was able to study with Buddy MacMaster, who is the grandfather of Cape Breton Island fiddling, and his niece is Natalie MacMaster. She's amazing, she's such a great fiddler. I just loved it there, I was able to play with him, and another great musician, Brenda Stubbert, and the Ceilidh Trail School of Celtic Music. I also studied with Alasdair Fraser. He actually plays with Natalie Haas, who graduated from the Juilliard School, and I think they're more alternative styles, as well as Scottish.

"It's a mix between Irish and Scottish music, with mostly Scottish," Caroline said. "The island is full of Irish and Scottish immigrants, and you can definitely tell in their music, because clearly it has Celtic roots, but also, it's like a different dialect, like the difference between a northern accent and a southern accent."

From Royce Faina
Posted on August 25, 2009 at 6:36 PM

I have never heard of her before this interview, I'm looking forwards to getting a copy of her cd/cds.

and.....Yeah an Amati player!!!!!!

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on August 26, 2009 at 3:08 AM

What a great interview! I actually met Caroline at Aspen last year and heard her play in our studio class - such a wonderful musician! And a really kind, friendly person to be around. She always had a smile on her face. :) I think it's so awesome there's some Cape Breton fiddling on the new CD! That's my favorite fiddle style, and I love Alasdair Fraser and Natalie MacMaster as well. 

From Royce Faina
Posted on August 26, 2009 at 7:32 PM

Ruth- OMG What a privledge!  i Love meeting people with such tallent with the violin!!!!!!

From Terri Bora
Posted on August 29, 2009 at 1:52 AM

Have loved this violinist since I saw her Mendelssohn performance from the Aspen concerto competition she won a few years ago. Happy to see the next generation of great artists emerging.

From Elana Lehrer
Posted on August 31, 2009 at 4:11 AM

 I met her when she was 9 (she was one of the kids I practice supervised at a music festival).  Sounds like she's just as nice now as she was back then.  Lots of energy.  And just as musical!  I remember when she played her concerto back then, there was this one triplet section where the room was just hushed, waiting to see what she'd do next.  You could hear a pin drop.... few adults have that ability to captivate an audience so deeply, let alone kids.  By age 10 her ability was even more apparent.  She also played on from the top and I remember thinking how amazingly musical she is.  I think of all the violinists I know the kids I knew from the camp will always have to be my favorites. :)

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