There are those who like to maximise their free time. Matthew Trusler, apparently, isn’t one of them. He is a solo violinist, who has played with orchestras ranging from the Philharmonia to the Minnesota. He is the founder of the record label Orchid Classics. In between, he devises projects for the Lenny Trusler Children’s Foundation, a charity for sick newborn babies and infants, which he also founded. So, just occasionally, something has to give. ‘I think the people that I work with are mostly understanding – that if I disappear for a few days, I’m not just being lazy.’
When we speak, he’s just performed Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, a piece that he will play three times with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – in High Wycombe, London and Hull – in the spring. ‘I’ve played it for years and it just doesn’t get any easier,’ he says cheerfully. ‘Technically there are bits that I just can’t play; it’s so hard. I can get through the last movement in my living room at, like, 80% of the tempo with probably a 99% accuracy rate. But onstage, at 105% of the tempo with a bit of adrenaline going, you’re lucky if you get anywhere near that.’ Luckily, that’s all part of the fun. ‘There are pieces that I feel are not difficult in that way, where the top of the mountain doesn’t keep moving. For me, they’re now boring and I don’t want to play them anymore,’ he says.
Doing things the hard way comes naturally to Trusler. The son of musicians, he began violin lessons at the age of three, and by his own admission, was a diligent practiser. ‘I don’t know how,’ he says, ‘because when I think now about my kids, I couldn’t get them to practise even if I wanted to. In that time between getting back from school and going to bed, we struggle to have dinner, watch a bit of telly, read a story and go to bed. And God forbid if they have to have a bath.’
But from a young age, Trusler was set on being a violinist, and after graduating from Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute in 1998, he was hailed by The Times as ‘an authentic, though British, virtuoso’. So it’s interesting that Trusler then decided to split his focus, founding Orchid Classics in 2005. ‘It happened sort of accidentally. I always liked the idea of doing something entrepreneurial, and in the evenings with the telly on, I’d be googling “how to start a record label.” That was my hobby. Now it’s half my job.’
The Lenny Trusler Foundation, however, was born out of personal tragedy. ‘We had a baby, called Lenny, that died of a kidney disease very soon after he was born,’ he explains. ‘And almost immediately, even the same day, we were sitting in the garden talking about what on earth we could do to raise money for the people who had helped us.’ Eight and a half years later, the charity is thriving. Two weeks ago, the Wimbledon International Music Festival hosted a musical project consisting of thirteen new pieces by thirteen composers, based on one of Alice in Wonderland’s chapters. Wonderland, currently making its way across the UK, is only one of several musical projects devised in the name of Trusler’s son.
‘There’s no way I could be sitting here now just playing the violin and doing nothing else,’ says Trusler. ‘That wouldn’t have worked for me at all.’ That said, he admits there are times when the pressure feels daunting. ‘I don’t go out very much. I really don’t go on holiday. That, I really don’t ever do.’ It’s important, he says, to set clear cut-off points. ‘I always made a big thing about putting my phone in the cupboard as soon as my kids got back from school.’ He laughs: ‘They rigorously enforce it now. As soon as I put my phone away they’re like, “Yeah, and your iPad? Where’s your iPad?”’
And, actually, having less time has come in useful. ‘I think it was Leonard Bernstein who claimed that what he needed to produce great work was a really good idea and not enough time,’ says Trusler. ‘I think we all respond well to that.’
Written by Hannah Nepil