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Written by Lindsay Westley   
Published on Thursday, 24 April 2014 02:15

April 24, 2014 - Violinist Kristin Lee is a Juilliard-trained musician who plays in concert halls around the world — but she’s not at all afraid to step out of her traditional training to collaborate with artists including ?uestlove and The Roots. We caught up with Kristin to talk about her love for new, contemporary music and how her collaborations with instruments including steel pan, theremin and Indian singing evolved from the moment of commissioning. Kristin will perform five world premiere duets with violin and steel pan, guitar, Indian singing, spoken word and theremin on Friday, April 25 at World Cafe Live.

Kristin Lee You were given the opportunity to commission several new pieces for the violin and other instruments; how did you choose the composers you wanted to work with?
I really wanted to bring in as much variety as possible in one concert setting, whether it was classical, abstract, atonal or something like world music. I wanted a lot of different elements, and that’s one of the benefits of new, commissioned music —there are really no boundaries. I knew or had worked with three of the composers previously, but not the other two.

Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? How "finished" was each piece when you started working on it? Was there any back-and-forth between you and the composer?
When I met with each composer for the first time, I brought my ideas for the project and asked them to write for violin and a specific instrument I had in mind. For some — like Patrick, who is doing spoken word — I really kind of left it up to him. With Shobana, I wanted a piece with traditional Indian music, which meant I had to learn to play an Indian-style violin. We met a lot so she could give me lessons on the Indian scale and teach me Indian-style music theory. Shobana also composed it using her own notation, so I had to translate each section back into something I could read. Others, like Jakub on the theremin, will be more improvisatory. I’ve worked with Vivian, who composed the guitar piece, most often. She’s one of my biggest influences in wanting to work with young composers.

You've done some great, outside-the-box collaborations in the past (?uestlove and The Roots, obviously!) — why is it important to you to step off of the classical concert stage occasionally?
I think my biggest influence has been ?uestlove! When I collaborated with him, I wasn’t just playing background strings at all — he wanted to actually bring all genres together on same stage. The concert at Verizon Hall ranged from string quartets playing Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky to incredible jazz musicians improvising on related harmonies to ?uestlove doing his thing. He managed to bring all genres without sacrificing one.

How was the process different, working within a totally different genre than classical?
Well, I always feel that I don’t love the idea of “crossover music” — or at least that’s not the correct term, as one genre always suffers. In this project, I thought the way to bring all sorts of sounds into one setting  would be to commission absolutely new work. If we take someone’s tune and try to put it in context, it doesn’t always work. I’d rather bring all genres together equally to bring something fresh and new. That was really apparent in my collaboration with ?uestlove. It was such a mixed crowd — fans of classical, jazz and, of course, ?uestlove all together.

You’ll be leading a Bridge Session with guitarist Jordan Dodson and percussionist Ian Rosenbaum on April 24 — how do you plan to structure it?
We’re going to really be exploring rhythm, and how we think of dancing when we hear meters in three, or how 4/4 sounds normal to us. I also want to bring in some really complicated rhythms to try to open the kids’ minds up and use that as an outlet for understanding contemporary music.

Complete concert details and tickets here.


[Image: Arthur Moeller]


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