Hannah Nepil discusses the challenges of being an international soloist with acclaimed young violinist Jack Liebeck, who will perform Sir Peter Maxwell Davies’ First Violin Concerto with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Tuesday 12th March at Cadogan Hall, London.
I had planned to meet Jack Liebeck in person. But, as it turns out, the violinist has temporarily escaped London and is now basking in the heat of a Cape Town summer. I can hear the glee in his voice when I phone: ‘We’ve got no heating at home at the moment so it’s a good time to be away.’
Liebeck’s parents were born in Cape Town and this is the first time he has been back there since the Eighties. Like most internationally acclaimed soloists, however, he is no stranger to jet-setting. On this occasion he is holidaying with his wife Victoria, who is a violinist in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (thanks to the wonders of Skype, I can hear her practising in the other room). But Liebeck (aged 32) is less fond of travelling by himself: ‘when I’ve been in another part of the world I’ve always wished my wife was there to share it,’ he says. ‘I’m a real home-bird.’
So it’s just as well that there’s plenty to be getting on with at home. Along with several British orchestras, he regularly performs with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and is now gearing up for his next gig with them on 12th March: a concert devoted to the British composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, in which Liebeck will perform Maxwell Davies’ Violin Concerto No.1. The work was originally written for the violinist Isaac Stern to perform with the RPO, and Liebeck is feeling the weight of expectation. He was working with Isaac Stern’s son, the conductor David Stern, when he found out he would be playing the Concerto, ‘and when I told David about it he said “Oh my God! My dad found that piece so difficult!”’
But then, as Liebeck freely admits, nobody said being a violinist was easy. ‘I do often think about what a bizarre profession it is,’ he says, ‘performing for a living, putting yourself under immense pressure, like a sportsperson does. Sometimes you think “Why am I doing it to myself?”’ Luckily, he has always risen to the challenges involved. As a child he used to practise the violin ‘until I dropped’, not because his parents forced him to but because he believed ‘that if I practised a lot I’d be able to have a good life as an adult.’
As an adult he remains philosophical: when it comes to performing, he has an ‘it’s going to happen anyway’ attitude, ‘so I might as well enjoy myself when I’m doing it. Because the one thing you can’t avoid on a concert day is that 7.30pm will come.’ He grins. ‘And if it doesn’t that means you’re probably dead, which isn’t a good thing either.’