From The Back Desk - Paul Medd, Royal Scottish National Orchestra

We talk to the RSNO's Paul Medd about staying in peak musical fitness, crying at Strauss and fluffing a Brahms symphony.

Paul Medd RSNO

Name: Paul Medd

Instrument: Violin

Ensemble: Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Why did you decide to become a musician?
I never knowingly chose to be a musician - I believe that music chooses you. As a kid, I became obsessed with music and would improvise endlessly at our piano, I'd go and spend hours at the music library looking at scores and I immersed myself in any music group I could lay my hands on! When you're obsessed with music there really is only one career to follow.
 
What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
Elektra by Richard Strauss conducted by Walter Weller. I had tears in my eyes from beginning to end.
 
What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
There are several mishaps, mistakes and bad performances that cause embarrassment, but the one that sticks in my mind is coming in a beat early in complete silence during a live broadcast of Brahms' 2nd symphony.

If you could work with one musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I'd like to meet and work with every composer to see if they would be happy with the way we play their compositions. It's hard to differentiate between what my vision  of a piece is and what I think the composer actually intended. I'd love to have met Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Mahler and Schumann.
 
In concert, have you ever thought, "I can't actually play this bit very well, I'm going to mime and hope no-one notices"?
Never, I wouldn't be doing my job properly. It's also personal too, I'd be letting myself down if I faked.
 
Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
There are always downsides to every job and music is no exception. Orchestral playing can be frustrating as artistic decisions are always made by other people, and even the best conductors and musicians can demand a different interpretation from your own, and that's difficult to provide when you 'think' they're wrong! Playing on stage can be stressful and nerves can be debilitating. You always have to play your very best and that pressure can take its toll on your confidence. I always compare professional musicians to professional athletes in that we have to be constantly at the peak of our musical and technical fitness. The difference is that athletes have coaches, trainers and nutritionalists whereas musicians leave college and have to maintain that level of playing for the next 40 years - bad habits creep into the playing of even the best musicians.

Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the orchestra?
I think musicians become very demanding on tour. I guess being away from the comforts of home takes its toll on some people. Being on tour does bring out the party animal in everyone too!
 
Have you witnessed any serious diva strops in your time as a musician?
Many times. It's mostly conductors!
 
What's the biggest challenge facing musicians like you these days?
It's just not enough to be a great player any more. We have to be good educators, flexible with repertoire, imaginative and creative when it comes to extra-orchestral activities and be good communicators as audiences are demanding more of a connection with the person behind the instrument.
 
What's the best thing about being a musician?
Playing the best music in the world and travelling to places that I would otherwise never visit.

To view the RSNO's upcoming performances, including appearances at the Edinburgh International Festival, click here.

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