The “perpetually fabulous” (Boston Globe) violinist Aisslinn Nosky was a member of Tafelmusik from 2005 to 2016 and remains a perennial Toronto audience favourite. Concertmaster of the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston since 2011, Aisslinn returns to Jeanne Lamon Hall to lead Trailblazers: Mendelssohn & Farrenc, an invigorating program of large-scale chamber works from the romantic period, October 28 and 29, 2022.
We’re delighted to welcome Aisslinn back and caught up with her in the midst of her jam-packed schedule of engagements with the Handel and Haydn Society, Portland Baroque, and the Washington Bach Consort.
How did the baroque violin make its way into your life?
I was brought into playing baroque violin by Tafelmusik’s very own Julia Wedman. For that she will always have my gratitude! Julie and I became friends after she returned from studying with the great baroque violin pedagogue Stanley Richie at Indiana University. I was studying modern violin at the Royal Conservatory of Music at that time and when Julie returned to Toronto, she invited me to play some chamber music with her on baroque violin. Julie was one of the violinists in my life that I really looked up to and so I accepted her invitation, even though I felt nervous about being able to do the music justice because of my lack of experience with early music. That concert ended up being so much fun that I was instantly hooked on playing baroque violin. A few years after that performance, I attended Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute (TBSI). I had such a great time there that I was inspired to undertake a deeper study of early music and historically informed performance (HIP) practices.
How does it feel to be returning to direct your friends and colleagues in concert?
It’s really exciting for me to be returning to Tafelmusik. I’ve missed playing with all of these great musicians. I am very privileged in that I get to work as a guest with different groups in North America and Europe and over the years I have encountered many fabulous musicians, but Tafelmusik’s players are truly the cream of the crop. I can’t wait to make music with them again!
Now that you are based in New York, care to share a few of your favourite haunts there?
I live on the upper west side and Riverside Park was my haven during the pandemic shutdown of New York. I never imagined when I first moved here that I would get the chance to watch the park change every single day for a year. I got to experience the four seasons of NYC up close and personal on my daily walks.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m in New York is to catch an opera at the MET. It’s walking distance from my apartment, and it feels like every time I attend a performance there, I leave totally inspired.
Oh! And I absolutely love to go to Lenny’s Bagel’s at 98th and Broadway for my perfect snack: plain bagel with cream cheese, cucumber, and tomato.
Pandemic-related shutdowns prompted much soul-searching, especially for those who work in the performing arts. What are your thoughts about the value and importance of the work we do in 2022 and beyond?
For me, one of the bright sides of not being able to travel and perform during the pandemic was that I had the opportunity to connect and spend time with patrons in a new way online. This did not in any way replace the feeling of connecting in person, but there was suddenly more time for long-form conversations. I had many chats with supporters and patrons that were both humbling and extremely motivating. I was surprised to listen to people speak about how much the music I love so much also meant to them. I grew up in a family where music was always present, and when I reflected on that fact, I realized it was possible that I might have started to take my life in music for granted (that’s never going to happen again!). Hearing patrons speak passionately about what our art meant to them even when the world was in such a troubled state was a valuable lesson for me to carry forward as we return to performing in person.
You’ve been performing and recording Mozart’s complete violin concertos with the Handel and Haydn Society. What qualities are you hoping to bring to these performances that might surprise listeners?
It has been a thrill to record those works with my colleagues in Boston. Because the concertos have been recorded so many times and so beautifully in the past, we have tried to emphasize the excitement and intensity of recording these in live performance rather than in a studio. Our audio engineers do their best to remove noises, but if you listen carefully, every once in a while, you can hear a noise from the audience. I love that. One of my very favorite moments is in the recording of Mozart’s G-Major Concerto where I surprised the orchestra by doing a silly musical joke in my cadenza and one of my colleagues standing right behind me let out a tiny, delightful snicker. It was such a fun moment that we left that in the finished product.
You were Principal Guest Conductor of the Niagara Symphony from 2016-2019. What has been your biggest takeaway from working with a modern orchestra on a regular basis?
I often guest direct modern orchestras and usually I get only one week or even just a few days to try to get to know everybody and put on an engaging concert with them. It felt like a luxury for me to work with the musicians of the NSO for three seasons because I was able to get to know them as friends as well as colleagues, and I think that deepened our ability to bring the music to life. It also gave me a chance to learn from the players how I could be a more useful director for them because they had the time to give me really useful feedback. I really appreciated that.
I have been guest artist in residence with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra for the past three years and that has been a similarly rewarding experience.
Is there a must-go spot in Toronto that you return to each time you visit?
I like to go and eat Vietnamese food at Pho Hung and then walk up Spadina to the Annex. If there’s a concert happening at Koerner Hall, I like to check it out, and I try to get to the AGO every time I’m in town, especially if they have a new exhibit.
Any upcoming projects you would like to mention?
I have just embarked on a new adventure as the violin instructor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. I look forward to guest directing the Portland Baroque Orchestra in November, and after that my festive season concerts kick off with Handel and Haydn’s annual Messiah performances. In January we complete our Mozart concerto recording cycle.