March 12, 2019 Artist to Watch: Mathew Ward
Moving From Solo to Orchestra
Mathew Ward started out learning violin at a young age and has been hooked on classical music ever since. Now a DMA candidate, he is dedicated to crafting music in a more focused and resonant way. He’s a part of the Civic Orchestra of Baton Rouge and the LSU Symphony, and he will be a key player in this year’s Ebb & Flow Festival. He took some time to talk with us in our Artist to Watch blog:
When did you begin studying music?
I began playing violin when I was nine, but I'm not sure if you can call that "studying music." I was lucky to find a great violin teacher when I was young and in high school the idea of seriously studying music started to form. So, long story short, I've been playing violin for twenty years and have been studying conducting for about 5 years now.
How did you choose the violin?
I originally wanted to play cello but my older sister played violin at the time and said she could teach me the basics, so I picked up the violin and never put it down.
Who were your early musical influences?
Early on my sister was influential in getting me started and pointed me in direction towards private lessons. My first great teacher Branden Muresan was extremely influential in the actual preparation on the instrument, and also with his generosity in dragging me on professional endeavors once I was able to hold my own, not just as a violinist but as a musician as a whole. Looking back it seems like a luxury to have been able to play in ensembles with my teacher, and it was, but in actuality it was the pure fear of wrath that kept me in line and keeping up!
Why did you decide to pursue your doctorate?
Since I was fortunate enough to follow my teacher when I was young, the working, gigging life was always plan B. If I didn't make it into a graduate program or in to a doctoral program I knew I could always go back and have a nice little life for myself, but I worked hard and took many shots in the dark and ended up here, where I am lucky to study with Maestro Carlos Riazuelo as one of his DMA candidates. The musical world and its history is infinite, so even though I have been in college for many years, there is still so much to know and learn. The great thing is that the learning will still continue once the classes have ended.
What inspired you to transition into conducting?
Conducting seemed like a natural culmination of my skills that developed over the years. Being a violinist is a huge benefit because nearly a third of the orchestra is violins and more than half of the orchestra are strings. Having taught privately for years and being a person of academic inclinations, conducting seemed to be the natural next step. I don't know when it started to happen, but sometime over the years sitting in orchestras I started to develop my own musical opinions and found myself thinking "that isn't what this piece is about" too often. I still get nervous before going up on the podium but once I'm there it melts away because the job at hand, the sculpting of music, is too important.
Why classical music? Is classical music relevant? How?
I know its probably hard for some people to imagine, but classical music has always been relevant, which is why we still play music that spans from our modern time to music that is centuries old. Especially in a genre of music that is so wide, there are forms of music that everyone can appreciate IF they are exposed to it and shown how precious it is. There's music that is loud and heroic or intimate and vaporous, music that is so abstract it makes you question who you are and music that can reflect something internally that we didn't know was even there. Half of my job as a musician in the 21st Century is to show that to the people who know and especially to those who are yet to know.
Who do you look to now for inspiration?
I'm sure it sounds crazy, but my wonderful girlfriend and our two little kittens are my source of life when the pressure is in full force. But also the camaraderie and collaborative nature of music-making is a deep well that makes the hard work worth doing when you get to do it with the right people.
What do you think of Baton Rouge?
Louisiana is one of the most unique exciting places in the country with all its history and cultural influences. I am deeply privileged to be able to plunge into the heritage of Baton Rouge and to call it my home. Though music occupies most of time, I do often find myself yelling at the TV or at the refs whenever an LSU football or basketball game is happening. Geaux Tigers!
What performances do you have coming up?
Apart from being part of the Civic Orchestra of Baton Rouge, I am on the production team for the LSU Symphony, play in the orchestra, and also get to conduct the ensemble, so between the two orchestras theres never a dull moment! COBR has its first performance at the Ebb and Flow festival at 4PM on 4/6 at the Louisiana Art and Science Museum, and the LSU Symphony has performances on 3/19, 3/28 and 4/26. Gulf Coast Symphony in Biloxi on 3/16 and a LeMieux Studios production in Lake Charles on 3/23. A few other things here or there, but that will be the bulk of it to round out this season!