Victoria Ely joined us at the beginning of June as Artistic Director of Music at Reading.
After a couple of months in the role, I thought it was time to catch up with her and ask a few questions…
Who is your musical inspiration?
Is it too naff to say that the music itself is my inspiration? The fact that we have centuries of history that connects us through time is mindblowing when you think about it. Today we can play a piece of music written by some of the greatest composers of all time from hundreds of years ago – Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Bach amongst many others – and still feel this immense pleasure and satisfaction within us. It’s incredible.
Why do you perform?
There is no other feeling in the world that compares to performance. I personally suffer a lot of performance anxiety before walking on stage but that quickly turns into a buzzing energy that stays with me for hours afterwards. This energy comes from three places – the ensemble, the audience and from within – which means that you can only get that feeling when you are giving a live performance.
What has been the worst or most memorable thing that has happened during a performance?
This is a sad story but also one of inspiration… I once had to conduct a Christmas concert when my Dad had passed away only two weeks earlier. As many of us know, Christmas is very much about families coming together so this was particularly challenging. But the show must go on and I think I did a fairly good job of holding it together on stage for most of the concert. But then we came to the last piece in the programme and I was doomed because this was my absolute favourite piece we were performing and I had a strong emotional connection to it. I gave the upbeat and, sure enough, the tears started to flow as soon as the first note was played. And I’m not just talking about a single tear or two – it was torrential sobbing. They continued to flow throughout the whole piece, without letting up, the fresh grief too strong to be contained and stirred up by the music. Luckily my back was to the audience and so the only people in the room that knew what was happening was me and my choir. And they were amazing. I could feel their love and support coming to me through the music and they got me through it with a most stunning performance. It was a moment that will always stay with me, as the connection with that ensemble became the most intimate and caring it could be, and the resulting music was sublime.
Which instrument do you wish you had learned?
Violin. As a young person I discovered and fell in love with the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. I used to dream and picture myself on a stage performing the piece with a full orchestra behind me. Sadly that dream hasn’t come true… yet!
What musical advice would you give to your younger self?
Learn as many instruments as you can while you still have time. As I’ve gotten older and had to do grown-up things like working to pay bills, my time seems to get shorter and I don’t have enough of it to do all the things I want to do. I would love to be able to pick up nearly any instrument and be able to play it.
What musical moment are you most proud of?
When I took my chamber choir, Evoke, to a competition in Italy in 2017 and we won a prize! It’s not just about the prize though… I started Evoke from scratch in 2016 and it was a lot of hard work, dedication and persistence to build an ensemble that was prize-winning standard in just that short time. I’m proud of the overall journey and the prize symbolises the achievements we made together as an ensemble.
Which three words describe you as a musician?
Passionate. Dedicated. Entrepreneurial.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Music at Reading?
Oh, so many things that it’s difficult to narrow down to one! My favourite thing about being a musician is the people I work with, so I guess I’d have to say that I’m really looking forward to making music with wonderful people who share my passion. When you do great things together – nothing beats that.
What is the soundtrack of your lockdown?
Swedish a cappella group Vocado’s Northern Lights has been my go-to album for lockdown. I met them in 2012 at a conference and was blown away by the sound they made and the versatility of the group. In a fan-girl fit I purchased their debut album on the spot and I’ve always regarded it as one of my best decisions-on-a-whim.