Media playback is not supported on this device BBC Radio Scotland’s analysis of Gary Gulman’s Carnegie Hall debut
The Colchester-born violinist’s first solo album is only his second classical recording since his ‘Great Depresh’ campaign
From ‘Depresh’ to Carnegie Hall
When Gary Gulman was in his early 20s, in 1997, he received a letter from the Royal Navy allowing him to perform as a soloist in England at a jazz festival.
“The military, I had to say, is a pretty decent platform from which to start a career in music,” he laughs.
“There’s enough jazz music within the military, and, when we had a chance to play in the Choir, you can’t help but pick it up, for real.”
He had no musical training, and had to learn to make music by ear and use his facial expressions. “I had to be an armchair musician.”
The work with his violin teacher in Colchester started to bear fruit, and by his early 30s, he had made his debut at the BBC Proms – despite being disqualified before the first audition because he hadn’t washed his hands.
How does he view that day he returned from St Paul’s to see his parents packing up the house?
“I don’t get emotional about it,” he said. “The Navy had paid to get me on the boat, and it was probably just as well I had had that time without doing anything. They expected me to go away and get a job as a naval officer, and I wasn’t ready for that.
“It was an interesting day. I had to sit there and put on that uniform and take that walk – that was the only time I ever saw my dad cry.”
The moment he realised he wanted to pursue a career in music came later, when he picked up a violin at the age of 11.
“The impulse is often born when the child’s receptive to the music and receptive to the sensory experience – that was the moment for me.”
‘I feel like a poor man’s Puck’
The Colchester-born violinist’s career took off when he performed with the BBC’s Proms in 2007
He joined a contemporary music ensemble in 1996, performing on a variety of small pieces and post-ballet melodies.
“There were fiddlers – David Gilder and Chris Whitley, they were the bigger fiddlers. They were huge talents, and I was totally intimidated by them. I didn’t have my mouthguard or have any music to practise on.”
Eight years later, he was working with the amazing Pekka Kuusisto at his Consort of Ancient Britons.
“He didn’t want to give me so much freedom, because he’d seen a magazine where I’d said that if a musician deserved to be listened to, then he didn’t deserve to make a living playing music.”
Kuusisto called his protege with some news. “He said, ‘Gary, I’m fired, and I’ve had a job offer from Carnegie Hall’. I said, ‘That’s the big band!’ But he was planning a summer festival, so maybe I could play.”
Kuusisto hadn’t mentioned anything about the major concert in New York. “I wouldn’t have thought of going there, so I wanted to make sure I’d done the other stuff thoroughly – which I think I did.”
Just as he was about to sign the contract, an assistant manager from Orchard Records told him the conference was sold out.
“I don’t think I ever went home. I felt like a poor man’s Puck. I found it very difficult to deal with all the egos – we had a London Orchestra and we had a New York Orchestra, and they played very differently to each other.”
The solo album, released this week, took six years to complete, and incorporates his “Great Depresh” project, as well as music that had been written for Gulman by Joshua Bell, Andrzej Kremer and Gregory Porter.
It includes his performances of three of Saint-Saens’ string quartets, including “Concerto for Violin and Piano”. The solo concerto which received its European premiere at the Philharmonic Hall in 2010 – at the age of 36.
It also includes a fourth for piano that Gulman played at the Queen’s Jubilee concert two years ago.
“I was aware it was because of what I’d done, but when you play that piece, you don’t get that feeling – I wasn’t aware of it. It took me forever to learn to play it, it’s quite hard to get your balance in that piece.”
Three years after his Carnegie Hall debut, he has become one of England’s most sought-after pianists