Ruth Waterman

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“Fresh, alert and contagiously expressive”

Fanfare Record Review

The memorable performances over many years of English violinist Ruth Waterman have recently been acknowledged by her inclusion in the book The Great Violinists. She is also known for her engaging way of exploring music in her lecture-recitals and radio programmes; and for her work in Bosnia, as described in her recent book, When Swan Lake Comes to Sarajevo.

By no means a prodigy, Waterman grew up in Leeds surrounded by music, her father playing the violin, her mother the piano, her elder sister the piano, and her brother the cello. She herself learned both the piano and violin from the age of five from her parents, deciding when she was twelve to focus on the violin. She studied at the Royal Northern College of Music from the age of nine with Hungarian violinists Endre Wolf and György Pauk.

She first came to national attention when Yehudi Menuhin invited her to play for him on a televised master class, in which she played the Beethoven Concerto. This was quickly followed by winning a prize in the first BBC Violin Competition, which led to many concerto broadcasts. At this point, her burgeoning concert schedule forced the reluctant decision to forgo a place at Cambridge University, where she had won a scholarship to study economics. By the following year, she had been decisively propelled into the limelight when she substituted at short notice for Nathan Milstein at the Bath Festival, playing a Mozart Concerto under the baton of Yehudi Menuhin.

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Although Waterman was now recognised as one of the leading young violinists in England, she chose to continue her studies by going to New York, where her teachers were Ivan Galamian, Paul Makanovitsky, Dorothy DeLay and Paul Winter. After graduating from the Juilliard School, she complemented her solo work with many different kinds of music-making, from chamber music to orchestral leading to jazz. This exposure to a vast array of musical styles and musicians proved an enriching and broadening impetus to her development as an artist. She ended up staying in New York for over twenty years before settling in London.

Meanwhile, her New York debut was given with Rosalyn Tureck before a huge audience in Central Park, followed by a recital in Carnegie Hall’s International Artists series. Her interest in Bach was already simmering by this time, and she was embarking on her long search for a performing style by attending Baroque dance classes with the dance historian Wendy Hilton, and researching the issues of historical performance practice.

Waterman’s distinguished reputation as a revelatory Bach interpreter grew initially from her performance of the D-minor Partita in New York (described as “dazzling” by the New York Times); and it was cemented by her recording of the complete Sonatas with keyboard (Meridian), winner of Critics' Choice in Gramophone, and hailed as “by far the best violin/piano version ever recorded” by American Record Review. Last year, German radio station Bayerischer Rundfunk broadcast her specially recorded set of the complete solo sonatas and partitas. Throughout her career, her all-Bach programmes have been much in demand, from Wigmore Hall to Avery Fisher Hall to the Aldeburgh Festival (at the personal invitation of Benjamin Britten).

She applies the same rigour and commitment to the music of all composers, her repertoire encompassing everything from Mozart to Elgar to Gershwin to Stravinsky. She frequently performs the complete sonata cycles of Bach, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, and loves to resurrect works that are out-of-print and out-of-favour.

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Concerto performances have been with such orchestras as the London Symphony, BBC Symphony, English Chamber and Orpheus Chamber Orchestras. She has performed on BBC television at the Proms, at the Royal Festival Hall where she was once presented to the Queen, on Great Performers at Lincoln Center, and on Russian State Television in the galleries of the Hermitage in St Petersburg, the first British violinist to play there. She has appeared not only throughout the UK and US, but also in Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy and Israel, among others. She delights in putting together unusual and stimulating recital programmes and has played with such distinguished pianists as Richard Goode, Michel Dalberto, Ruth Laredo and Artur Balsam, as well as other musicians like Elly Ameling, Peter Schreier, and Tabea Zimmermann.

Ruth Waterman broadcasts frequently on radio stations in many countries, and she has presented several talks on the BBC. During her years in New York, she became fascinated by the idea of communicating to audiences some of the issues that engage musicians in their work on interpretation. So in 1988, she began presenting a radio programme on WNYC on The Art of the Performer, which developed into her special presentations, “Ruth Waterman Explores & Performs”. These have been presented on the concert platform by Wigmore Hall and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival, as well as in France, Germany, Israel and Russia. They have also been featured in a programme on the cable television channel Artsworld.

Waterman’s interest in education has also been directed towards the next generation of musicians. She has taught at the Royal Academy of Music and was professor at Queens College, City University of New York, where in addition to violin and chamber music, she devised and taught courses in repertoire and performance style. After a few years, her educational initiative was given full rein when she was appointed director of the summer chamber music programme. Now she frequently gives master classes and seminars during her travels, teaching at Juilliard, Oxford University (Wolfson College Lectures), St Petersburg Conservatory, Jerusalem Academy of Music, Royal Northern College of Music, New England Conservatory and many more.

Recently, her activities have branched out in new directions. She has turned her hand to conducting, one of her first engagements being with the Hermitage State Orchestra in St Petersburg's Hermitage in their series "only Mozart". She regularly conducts the Mostar Sinfonietta, a relationship that began a few years ago when she volunteered to go to Mostar, Bosnia. Her audio diary of her initial visit, together with recordings of her interviews with the musicians about their experiences during the war, were made into a documentary for BBC Radio 4, 'Music and Memory in Mostar', which she wrote and presented.
LISTEN: Music & Memory in Mostar - BBC Real Audio.

Ruth Waterman has always enjoyed the written word and often writes her own programme notes. Her articles have been published in BBC Music Magazine, the Strad, Classical Music, and American String Teacher.

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© 2011 Ruth Waterman

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