Alumni Portraits ALEXINA HAWKINS (VIOLA 2015)

What drew you to the viola?
I actually feel I was more intuitively drawn to the sound of the violin, which was my first instrument, although I confess the C-string always thrilled me. I just started to play viola because it worked with a teacher I had as a kid and my mum thought it would make me more versatile! Now that I have been a pure violist for 10 years, I can see with hindsight that it has always been quite harmonious with who I am, or at least who I have become. I like the changing roles that the viola often plays in music, and I relate that to how I am as a person. I like the fact that our repertoire is not very standard – even within the “canon” there is a lot of flexibility since we play some arrangements or pieces that were not finished and can make individual choices about what we do, so we are compelled to make those decisions through musical investigation. I love contemporary music and I don't know if I would ever have discovered a connection with it if I had continued with violin, since my love of that instrument came from hearing classical music. And I think viola players are interesting, open-minded, nice and eccentric people, although perhaps that's making a generalisation that some would find unnecessary and tasteless! In any case, "short story long" – I feel as though the viola somehow found me.

What do you remember most about your time at ANAM?
I remember the passion of all of our teachers, and their eagerness to engage with what we presented, especially in Forum and String Class. The concepts that Bill Hennessy, in particular, introduced have remained with me in a strong way since. Team Viola, led by our teachers Caroline Henbest and Chris Moore, was a very colourful experience, and I greatly appreciate the support Caroline and Chris gave us in pursuing our own musical paths.

The ANAM Orchestra was an extremely dynamic and exciting thing to be part of. I remember looking around and seeing such commitment and desire from every player to contribute their best, and I felt people's ears were incredibly sensitive to what was happening - perhaps related to the emphasis on chamber music that I believe was developed at ANAM before I arrived. There were so many differing and wonderful projects; the diversity of the music we played, and the inspiration I gained from guest artists we worked with is another very strong, lasting memory I have.

Meeting such inspiring and fun fellow students and having the chance to play with them, or to form an ensemble, as I did with Rowan Hamwood and Jess Fotinos (flute, viola and harp trio Petrichor) was another major element in my experience of ANAM. The influence of the people around me, and what I learned from them, had as much impact as the program itself.

Parallel to these many positive memories is a sense of stress and uncertainty that I think almost all musicians would experience at some point. There were very many challenges and differing approaches coming our way and it was very difficult to reconcile or understand everything at the time, not to mention to imagine how it might all come together to lead to a career. Although I am still going through that process, the ideas that really mean something to each individual seem to stick, and we were fortunate to be exposed to so many possibilities. Ultimately, having a greater awareness seems to me to be worth the periods of uncertainty, if you want to live an interesting musical life, and be flexible in your playing and listening.

What has been the most memorable moment of your professional progress so far?
Since I left ANAM, the highlights of my short time as a professional musician include:

- my first performance at the Berlin Philharmonie, as guest principal violist of a chamber orchestra I've subsequently joined, Deutsches Kammerorchester Berlin. I had many solos and I thought I would die, but unexpectedly ended up having an experience that was rather elating!

- playing with my trio, Petrichor. We performed in a house concert in Berlin, and at the Banff Centre, Canada, and held a residency in La Rochelle, France. It was incredibly affecting to feel recognised as an ensemble with an identity, and I loved performing with the other musicians.

- moments of sheer musical power – while accompanying some artists I truly admire, Avi Avital, Sergio Azzolini and Emmanuel Pahud; playing and recording Mendelssohn's 3rd symphony with another chamber orchestra, Kammerakademie Potsdam; and organising a collaboration with Lina Andonovska, Brett Dean and my chamber orchestra in Berlin, which was meaningful in several ways.

- in general, being recognised as a professional musician and realising it is possible

What has been your scariest performance moment?
Any audition. And a couple of times when I have had to play dramatic solos. Feeling physically incapacitated by nerves is something I still need to work on shedding from my life.

How did ANAM help you get where you are today?
The thing I think is most important to me is the culture of music-making I experienced at ANAM. I think this developed my ability to communicate through playing and to be flexible, to recognise many musical possibilities and be open to them in a concert situation. It also taught me to identify the kinds of musical experiences I find meaningful and encouraged me to seek them.

In practical terms, although the word NETWORKING can have some very superficial connotations incongruent with the point of art, ANAM definitely gave me many opportunities to meet people that have proven invaluable.

What in your experience is the hardest part of a transition to a professional career?
- Self-confidence - but this is helped very much by actually working, since we actually already have so many of the skills we already need. 

- Working as a freelancer can be extremely stressful because of the uncertainty of future employment and the frequent changes of musical style, which I find hard to do really well when I am too busy. Fatigue from this pressure can sometimes make it hard for me to keep in touch with my reasons for playing, however being in rehearsals and hearing the music always helps.

- Learning how other people operate and working with it positively

What, so far, has been the greatest lesson of working overseas?
I have learnt many great lessons here, but the only one I'm sure is unique to being overseas is to do with language; when I first worked in Germany I could understand just enough German to get the gist of the rehearsals but I was definitely not experienced or confident enough to speak in front of everyone. I realised then that the time had come to (try to) communicate everything through playing.

If not the viola, what would you have played instead?
Violin, bassoon or double bass.

What do you enjoy doing outside of playing music?
Listening to music, yoga, swimming, singing and dancing in an unrestrained style, seeing friends, sitting in cafes, sleeping, dreaming about new projects.

Do you have any future music programs in the pipeline?
I've enjoyed 2.5 years freelancing in other people's projects and ensembles in Berlin, but I've realised I am hungry for activities in smaller groups where we have time to discover the material and experiment, and then go all out in the concerts! So I'm hoping to bring some musicians together who I love playing with and create something that makes that possible. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Be yourself.

Love what you do.

Everything you need to know is in the musical material.

There are no technical solutions, only musical solutions (this is something I often ponder but I think at the end of the day it's a good guiding principle).

Keep listening.

Photo by Brian Tam

Profile last updated in 2017

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