Kirsten McLaren

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and your life. Not necessarily music-related!

Growing up in Merseyside then Hull, I never really knew what I wanted to do with my life.  After completing my degree in maths and music and then going on to gain professional qualifications in HR, I am now based in Leicestershire where I work as a primary school business manager; a very varied role where in a single day I might go from strategic financial planning, to dealing with a staffing issue, to mopping out the boys’ toilets because they’ve flooded them again!

Playing in two local amateur orchestras (Bardi Symphony Orchestra and Charnwood Orchestra) and a string quartet means that music has remained a big part of my life into adulthood, but I also enjoy the outdoors so, come rain or shine, Sundays normally see me out and about on a footpath somewhere in the East Midlands. In 2017 I completed the Coast to Coast walk (192 miles in 13 days) and I have recently discovered the delights of snow-shoe walking in the Dolomites. I was therefore disappointed to have missed the Nevis Ensemble ascent of Ben Nevis.

How did you first get into music?

My first musical memories are of sitting on my dad’s knee at the piano, with him guiding me to play nursery rhymes with one finger. Piano lessons started when I was 7. After being taken to a couple of concerts at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool I announced that I wanted to play in an orchestra and, applying a 9-year old’s logic to my choice of  instrument, told my parents that  “I want to play a string instrument because there are more of them in an orchestra so it will be easier to get in… but the violin is too squeaky and the double bass is too big!” I started cello lessons shortly after my 10th birthday and earned a place in the local youth orchestra three years later.

What made you decide that music would be an important part of your life?

I don’t think I ever consciously decided that music would be an important part of my life: it was more a case that some time in my early teens I realised it had become so.

What has been your musical highlight so far?

There have been so many. As a performer, an early highlight (age 13) was the first time I played in a pit orchestra. It was a joint school production of West Side Story and was meant to be for 5th and 6th Formers only, so it was a huge honour to be asked to play.

I’ll never forget playing Berio’s Laborintus 2 in Cambridge during an electrical storm – the lightning flashes lit up the church windows adding a visual element that enhanced the performance and created such a magical atmosphere.  More recently playing for a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights was particularly memorable for the challenges it presented and the sense of achievement when everything came together with pretty much perfect timing in the final performance.

Seeing Stockhausen’s opera Mittwoch Aus Licht performed in its entirety in Birmingham in 2012 was an opportunity of a lifetime. It was a totally surreal experience, and almost hypnotic at times as you became immersed such an amazing sound world.

Who are your favourite composers/artists/musicians?

Where do I start?  I suppose it depends on what mood I’m in. Pachelbel is way down the list, but I’m a cellist so that probably comes as no surprise!

What do you anticipate for the Nevis Ensemble?

Orchestral music is perceived by so many people to be the preserve of the wealthy and privileged, and the Nevis Ensemble is brilliantly placed to show that this does not need to be the case, and hopefully inspire people to engage more with live music, whether as audience members or to take up or return to playing an instrument.

It would be fantastic if in years to come someone is asked the question “how did you first get into music” and replies that as a child growing up in Scotland they saw an orchestra playing in their local park (or swimming pool or shopping centre) and that this inspired them to nag their parents to let them learn a musical instrument!