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Elena Urioste. Photo: Daniel Cavazos

Keeping busy in a quiet world

About weird noses, semicolons and the importance of doing something creative during a pandemic.

The married couple Elena Urioste and Tom Poster – an American violinist and a British pianist/multi-instrumentalist respectively – are known for doing things a little differently. For example, they found a creative method of passing time during the corona lockdown in their hometown of Philadelphia: Posting 88 videos in which they play various musical works in a rather inventive way. The repertoire ranged from well-known classical pieces to 80's pop hits, occasionally performed using untraditional instruments and with the musicians dressed in e.g. animal and /or snowman costumes. The couple justified the idea by saying that it 'helped keep the brains sharp, keep the fingers active, and make the community around them smile'. The project – named #UriPosteJukeBox - won the British Royal Philharmonic Society's Inspiration Award last year. 

Generally, humour seems to be a key element in many aspects of the musicians’ works. In his press release, Tom Poster states that he is a strong supporter of animals with unusual noses, while Elena Urioste on her part claims that in addition to being a dedicated musician she is also a strong advocate for the use of semicolons and an occasional scarf-knitter. Urioste is also a yoga instructor, and together with her husband she has previously arranged the concept Music and Mindfulness: Piano and yoga with Tom Poster and Elena Urioste, where the participants get to experience a retreat in the idyllic surroundings of Kent, England, featuring workshops, yoga courses and concerts.

Elena Urioste and Tom Poster have become household names in today's classical music world, both as a duo and as individual performers on their respective instruments. Poster has been described as 'a marvel that can play anything in any style' (The Herald), and which has 'a beautiful tone that you can sink into like a bunch of pillows' (BBC Music). He has performed over forty concerts with the BBC Philharmonic, the China National Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and many others. Tom's compositions and arrangements have been commissioned, performed and recorded by the likes of Alison Balsom, Matthew Rose, Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott.

Elena Urioste is, in addition to being known as an outstanding violinist, also a writer and entrepreneur. She has given acclaimed performances as a soloist with the philharmonic orchestras in New York, Los Angeles, London and Buffalo, as well as the symphony orchestras in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit and the BBC. Elena is also the founder and artistic director of Chamber Music by the Sea, an annual Maryland festival.

Despite being busy, Urioste and Poster took the time to answers some questions from the Bergen International Festival by email in the beginning of 2021, when they were scheduled to give concerts at Lysøen. They start off by choosing musical favourites from the #UriPosteJukeBox-project:

– It’s surprisingly hard to choose any favourites! Elena particularly enjoyed the ‘Diva Medley’, where she got to be Celine Dion, Beyoncé and Vanessa-Mae; and Tom loved recording ‘Moonlight Serenade’, where he played four kazoo parts in close harmony... But there are songs, tunes which brought us great joy to record!

– The lockdown has been a bummer for most artists, but you guys seem to have managed to make something positive out of it, given the circumstances. Did you experience any other lockdown-related aspects that were positive and/or instructive, which you can bring with you into more ‘normal’ times?

– It’s been a tough time in so many ways, and we’ve desperately missed playing to live audiences, but there have still been many positive things to take away. The increased potential for live-streaming of concerts has made it possible to reach audiences we wouldn’t otherwise have been able to (for example, it’s lovely that Elena’s grandma in Florida is able to watch our concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall!) - we hope some of these advances can remain alongside the return of live audiences. We’ve also connected virtually with so many wonderful people from over the world whom we’d never usually have met (and whom we now very much hope to meet in real life). Having space to breathe and time away from the usual mad touring life has given a sense of perspective on what really matters to us, the crucial importance of kindness and collaboration, and of keeping music at the heart of everything we do.

Tom Poster. Photo: Alessandro Tear

– What are your future plans when the world opens up again, individually and together?

– Above all, we can’t wait to share music with real live humans again, nothing can ever replace that. We have lots of exciting plans: concerts and recordings, of course, but also various special projects, including some expanded, interactive Jukebox Sessions, featuring request-based performances, chat for young musicians, wellness tips and more. Elena’s Intermission programme will continue to provide yoga workshops for student musicians and retreats for professionals; and we have loads of plans for our project Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective.

– Can you say a few words about the Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective? What was the philosophy behind establishing it, and how is it going?

– The original (selfish) impetus was simply that we wanted to play wonderful music with people we love! But from the beginning, we felt passionately determined to reflect the diverse world in which we live, both through the wonderful roster of players we draw on, and by seeking out lesser-known repertoire which deserves to be played and heard much more often. We feel very lucky to be Associate Ensemble at Wigmore Hall, where we make multiple appearances each season, and our first disc for Chandos - of American quintets by Beach, Barber and Price - is due out this summer. We are also deeply committed to inspiring a younger generation of musicians to discover the joys of chamber music.

– Bonus question for Elena: As a dedicated supporter of semi-colons myself, I’m excited to hear your version about the greatness of that symbol;-) Please explain.

– Semi-colons do the job that a comma alone simply cannot - they are like a Master Comma. There’s also something rather musical about them - like a little breath of fresh air between phrases.

– Bonus question for Tom: In your opinion, which animal has the most unusual nose?

– I find it impossible to choose only one, but some of my favourites are tapirs, aardvarks, dugongs and moose. But you must also check out the proboscis monkey - a truly extraordinary nose!

The interview with Elena Urioste and Tom Poster was done in the spring of 2021.

Listen

Urioste and Poster/facts:

Elena/facts:

  • *Has performed with, among others: The philharmonic orchestras in New York, Los Angeles, London and Buffalo, the symphony orchestras in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, Baltimore, Detroit and at the BBC, as well as with the Malaysian Philharmonic, Orchestre National de Lille, Edmonton Symphony, Würzburg Philharmonic, and  Orchestra Dohnányi Budafok in Hungary.
    She has also performed as a soloist in Carnegie Hall's Stern Auditorium, Wigmore Hall in London, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Kennedy Center Family Theatre, Konzerthaus Berlin, Bayerischer Rundfunk Munich and Mondavi Center.
  • A selection of accolades: BBC New Generation Artist (2012-14), the Sphinx and Sion International Violin Competitions (first price) and the Brooklyn Film Festival’s Audience Choice and Best Original Score-awards for the soundtrack to the movie But Not For Me.
  • Education: Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and The Juilliard School in New York.
  • Co-founder and artistic director of Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective.

Tom/facts:

  • Has performed with, among others: Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon, BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier, BBC Scottish Symphony/James Loughran, European Union Chamber Orchestra,
    Southbank Sinfonia/Vladimir Ashkenazy, China National Symphony/En Shao, Atlantic Classical Orchestra/Stewart Robertson and State Capella Philharmonic.
  • A selection of accolades: BBC Young Musician of the Year (2000), the Scottish International Piano Competition in 2007 (first prize), the ensemble prize at Honens International Piano Competition, 2009.
  • Education: Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
  • Co-founder and artistic director of Kaleidoscope Chamber Collective.

Supported by Vestland County Council

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