Five minutes with Nathalie Shaw

The renowned solo violinist offers a glimpse into her life

The life of a solo violinist is diverse, unpredictable but never dull. As a specialist in contemporary music, I am continually stimulated and inspired as every project throws up new challenges.

I have had many new works written for me in my capacity as Solo Violin of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble in the USA and several European-based ensembles. Working alongside living composers, finding ways to hone and interpret new ideas is endlessly fascinating.

Playing regularly with the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Pierre Boulez in Paris, recording at IRCAM (Boulez’s unique institute of avant-garde music and sound), I have also worked extensively with young contemporary French composers at the CNSM de Paris.

During my residency at Leeds College of Music, I gave a solo contemporary lecture recital with the aim of giving the students an insight into this fascinating world of contemporary music, and explaining the technical, musical and practical challenges involved in performing this cutting edge repertoire, as well as the process of working with living composers.
So what is it about this world of contemporary music for strings that draws me in? I can honestly say my eyes were really opened in 2007, when Boulez commissioned a solo violin work to be written for me by the French composer Jerome Combier called Anima Foglia (Falling Leaves), which I premiered in the Lucerne Festival (Switzerland), and also in the Louvre in Paris. This Parisian premiere was part of Boulez's recital series in the museum and I performed inside the Picasso/Delacroix exhibition. Being a great lover of contemporary art, this was an unforgettable experience!

I have since had many works written for me by both French and American composers, but this was undoubtedly the most memorable and it was a privilege to work so closely with one of the legends of European contemporary music early in my career.
Music as an art form should touch the emotions, the senses, the intellect, regardless of its genre. I have always felt it was important for a musician to maintain a balance and I devote much of my time to mainstream classical solo and chamber activities.

As co-founder and artistic director of the Festival International de Musique de Chambre en Charente in South-West France, I have the luxury of programming my own choice of repertoire. Together with my father (Julian – viola) and brother (Jacob – cello), the Shaw String Trio has performed countless chamber music masterworks.

Impossible to pick a favourite (!), but highlights in recent years include Beethoven's String Trios, Schubert's wonderful Octet, Shostakovich's Piano Quintet and Brahms' String Sextets. The telepathic form of communication when performing with one's family is unique and chamber music has always been a special part of our lives.

Nathalie Shaw has premiered and broadcast solo works by numerous composers, and is a seasoned recitalist and concerto soloist in Europe and the USA. She is Solo Violin of the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, Artistic Director of Festival International de Musique de Chambre en Charente and holds a professorship at the Conservatoire Municipal Darius Milhaud in Paris. She came to Leeds College of Music in November 2013 to work with our strings students in a masterclass.

Masterclass and student recital, November 2013

See photos from Nathalie Shaw's student masterclasses and recital in our Flickr gallery. Photography by Tom Arber (BA Pop Music 2008).

Nathalie Shaw masterclass


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Hear Nathalie perform

Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, String Sextet (Festival International de Musique de Chambre en Charente 2010):

Premiere of a contemporary solo work with electronics (Paris 2009):

String orchestra arrangement of Schostakovich's Quartet (as leader of the Ensemble International des Quatres Siècles 2012):

Delius' Sonata No.1 (violin and piano recital 2012):

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