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Lizzie Ball – violin virtuoso and entrepreneur

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Jennifer BallMusician, singer, business workshop leader… there is no stopping Lizzie Ball. As a unique multi-genre violinist (and occasional vocalist), she weaves effortlessly and uniquely between classical, jazz, rock and world music. More recently, Lizzie carved out her own versions of classical fusion with her invention of Classical Kicks.

Following on from a unique night of classical music performance at the legendary Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club in Soho, London (the first classical night in the clubs 55 year history) Lizzie then founded Classical Kicks Records with a view to promoting recordings within the brand. As a solo artist, ensemble performer and orchestral leader, Lizzie has played across the world from Wigmore Hall, Berlin Philharmonie, to the Teatro Colon Buenos Aires and Beacon Theatre in New York, as well as major Arts festivals in the UK, Europe, US and Latin America including BBC Proms, Latitude Festival, Wilderness Festival, Morelia Arts, and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.

Lizzie has enjoyed collaborations and projects with Grammy-nominated classical US vocal quartet New York Polyphony), Brian Wilson with the original Beach Boys, Nigel Kennedy performing to sold out audiences in the Royal Albert Hall, and together with the Palestine Strings at the BBC Proms 2013. Further musical collaborators include rock guitarist Jeff Beck, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld and current blues vocal sensation Beth Hart, in Madison Square Garden Stadium , New York, where they performed to more than 20,000 people for Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival in April 2013, sharing the bill with the likes of BB King, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy and John Meyer and many more.

As a recording artist Lizzie has recorded two albums in her own right and appeared orchestra leader for artists such as Rick Wakeman (Classic Rock), Russell Watson (Sony Classical) and Nigel Kennedy (Sony Classical). Live and recording session violinist occasions include playing for a host of well-known pop artists (Paul Weller, Ben Folds, Il Divo, Emili Sande, Kanye West, Rod Stewart, Michael Nyman Band and various film scores). More recently Lizzie has enjoyed stepping into the world of theatre, featuring in two productions by the innovative US/UK based Word Theatre, with the mission to give voice to great short story writing.

My mum is an entrepreneur and my dad was a jazz musician. Both spent much time in New York City – we are a big music lover family in a very rounded sort of way.

Tell us a bit about where you grew up, your parents and your experiences training at Cambridge, the Royal College of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

I am a northern soul – from the countryside in Derbyshire and was born in Sheffield. My mum is an entrepreneur and my dad was a jazz musician. Both spent much time in New York City – we are a big music lover family in a very rounded sort of way. Cambridge was amazing for me as I was surrounded by such a wide variety of brilliant and fun people that I found inspiring for my life and music making. RCM/Guildhall was useful for honing specific violin skills and making great connections with musicians. These colleges are great at drilling you at mastering your instrument however I found there to be a great lack of teaching when it came to actually understanding the business side of the industry and how best to create a profile for yourself.

What initiated your love for and devotion to the violin? And what prompted you to add singing to your repertoire?

I always wanted to play the violin – I started lessons at the age of seven. I think if I am honest I was probably inspired by a crush on the older boy we gave a school lift to as he was an avid violin player! I began singing as a complete accident. Basically, I was encouraged by my colleague Pete Oxley after he heard me sing at 3am at a party jam session! I then took singing lessons from different vocalists including Lianne Carroll (a great inspiration) and vocals became a natural part of my act, performances and recordings.

Classical Kicks at Ronnie Scotts – how did this classical season come about and what inspires you to combine classical with jazz music?

Well, I invented Classical Kicks quite spontaneously after being approached by Ronnie Scotts – it just made sense to me to mix classical with other types of music. It is easy to jazz up classical harmonies and Bach is actually called the father of jazz due to the chord structure of his compositions. We feature a wide variety of material including world/folk/ occasional (good!) pop covers so the focus on content is wide. However we stay strict on quality and the excellence of the amazing musicians who take part.

I learn something new every day from a session, a colleague in a rehearsal, or listening to a new piece. Life situations and what they teach you about approaches, philosophies and the emotional side of doing a job you love.

Who has been your favourite musical co-star and who did you learn the most from?

There have been many colleagues who have inspired me. Nigel Kennedy of course, though he may seem an obvious one: To go from watching him perform in my local Sheffield City Hall as a ten year old child to becoming the leader of his orchestra and working directly with him, has been an incredible journey. I also have massive respect and love for my fellow peers such as cellist Gabriella Swallow who has very similar beliefs and inspirations about music as myself.

I learn something new every day from a session, a colleague in a rehearsal, or listening to a new piece. Life situations and what they teach you about approaches, philosophies and the emotional side of doing a job you love. Yesterday I led a session for a wonderful new singer songwriter called Sara Walk who totally blew us all away with her incredible voice and songs.

You have spent much time touring the world…do you have a favourite performance anecdote to tell us or place to perform?

Playing at the BBC Proms and being on tour with Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. While we were performing at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, he would spend time watching us rehearse parts of the concert from the side of the stage rather than returning to his dressing room. He wanted to stay involved in the creative process at all times.

You recently signed with an agent. How has this changed your work situation? Do you supplement your performing work with any other non-industry related work?

I have brilliant management and a wonderful assistant who help me focus my mind and not get off track or become distracted with the other aspects of running my own career. It’s an extremely busy time juggling my own freelance work with Classical Kicks, particularly as we are expanding into other areas at present.

No, I don’t have time for any non-music related work and am lucky enough to be able to focus on my music. Though I have often felt I would like to have a separate part time work challenge that would take the mental pressure off occasionally. I am open to offers!

What is the most difficult thing about playing the violin for a living? Technique? Upkeep? Finances involved?

All of the above – mostly emotional and time investment, as well as juggling everything. It’s like any busy freelance life I would say. Musicians have to be very strict with themselves to make sure we get the required amount of practice time into our schedule while on the other hand business matters can often force themselves to take priority.

Classical Kicks – tells us about the recording label, business workshops and your charitable involvements. It seems that you never stop!

At first I produced my own album but then quickly realised that I could build a platform to sign different new artists every year who need mentoring and a foot up the ladder at the start of their journey in the industry. Ultimately, I would like to produce a Classical Kicks compilation made up of all the artists signed to the label.

Recently, we also created schools programmes and a Classical Kicks business team building workshops, which premiered at Cambridge Judge Business School in February earlier this year. We are keen to offer this to corporates and institutions – we would like to help businesses increase their success through creating better team work.

In terms of charitable involvements, I took part in a fundraising concert for the Mark Evison foundation to raise money for music therapy. Mark was a soldier in the British Army and the brother of a close friend of mine hence this is a cause very close to my heart.

What are your future aspirations?

To be more creative and work on more musical content and ideas with my fellow kindred spirit musicians – these are always the building blocks. Then I shall see where this takes us. Mostly, I want to keep collaborating with the right kind of artists that suit me – this is what inspires me the most. I also want to continue building the brand of Classical Kicks, which is a collaborative effort as a successful brand and/or business is never controlled by just one person.

Who are your inspirations, what makes an inspirational woman?

People who are true to themselves. An inspirational woman is someone who is not afraid to act on what she knows to be true, whatever the context. I am also inspired by taxi drivers and their stories, selfless people and those who manage to escape the sometimes rather self-obsessed and paranoid mentality that this business can bring with it. The only way to get ahead is to collaborate – with more (artistic) talent in the room everyone can get further.

Find out more
  • Lizzie will be appearing at the St. James Studio on Monday, 27 July as part of Classical Kicks: Spain and Latin America.
  • For further information and to book tickets please click here
  • For further information and to contact Lizzie, please see http://www.lizzieball.com/ and http://www.classicalkicks.com/

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