Interview: Artistic Director of Up Close and Musical, Shiry Rashkovsky

This week, co-founder Pia Rose Scattergood had the pleasure of chatting to acclaimed violist, Shiry Rashkovsky. Based in London, Shiry is the artistic director of Up Close and Musical, a new creative project which aims to expose audiences to the world of music making through intimate encounters and candid chats with composers, journalists, entrepreneurs, and some of the rising stars of the new music scene, all in the cosy warmth of the Fidelio Orchestra Café.  

Shiry’s genuine passion for the industry and admiration of her fellow collaborators is contagious and it is our pleasure to share this exclusive interview with her in advance of the festival’s opening evening on the 17th July.  

Hi Shiry, thanks so much for talking to AM! Could you start by telling us about the inspiration behind Up Close and Musical? 

Up Close and Musical is really about getting to know musicians personally. For me as a performer, there was always this disjoint between being on stage and being with the audience afterwards; between people who come and listen to music and their understanding of what we do. I wanted to address that with Up Close and Musical by having concerts that showcase artists who speak really beautifully about what they do, who each have a very unique narrative, and finding a space and an environment in which audiences can connect with that side of the musician. I want to bring people closer, physically and emotionally, to the lives of the artist, as well as the music that they make. 

How will you do this? 

I will be interviewing the artists as part of the actual concert. I want this to be a candid chat not just about the music, but about what musicians do in their real lives, how they relate to the music, and what it’s like for them to play for their audiences. And the Fidelio Orchestra Café, which is where the events are taking place, is the perfect home for that, because it exudes this house concert atmosphere. It’s like being in Vienna, except that it’s in London. 

The festival boasts several really exciting artists such as Héloïse Werner (soprano, composer & co-founder of The Hermes Experiment) and Gabriel Prokofiev (founder of nonclassical), and I see that you’ll be playing with them also! I’d love to hear more about your relationships with these artists as a performer and an artistic director, and how this relates to the places they occupy within the new music scene. 

Alongside wanting people to know what musicians do, I also wanted to find a programme that pushes the boundaries of what classical music is and what it can represent. So, for example, Gabriel incorporates string music into his work, but it is really far ahead in terms of what is happening in electronica today. Abel Selaocoe is also a phenomenal musician who will be combining baroque music with compositions of his own that he brings with him from his South African heritage. And as well as six concerts, we also have two workshops. In the first workshop, composer Nimrod Borenstein will be talking us through one of his pieces, with myself as a violist and Raffaello Morales, the founder of both the Fidelio Café and Fidelio Orchestra, on piano. We’re going to demonstrate all the crossroads in the writing of the piece to show why he chose one thing and not another, and it’s quite an interactive experience that brings people up close to what composers do and how they how they think about music. And in the second workshop we have Jessica Duchen, a phenomenal journalist who is going to come and read from her 2020 novel, Immortal, which will be an extended celebration of Beethoven’s 250th  birthday, a landmark occasion that is still slightly lingering with us as he didn’t really get the birthday that people had hoped he would. So this will show the journalistic and literary side of the classical music world as well as the performance side. 

A very varied, socially engaged programme then! And did you invite the musical performers to curate their own programmes? How important is artistic freedom to you? 

Yes, all of the programmes are curated by the artists themselves. I gave the performers carte blanche and said you play what you think represents you and what you enjoy playing, and in our interviews we will discuss the things that you think you would like to talk about. So it’s really about engaging the artists. I mean, I admire them all. I really value what they do and what they have to say about the music and for themselves, so why would I not give them artistic rein? There are so many places that I’ve come across where the artists are barely given any programming choice and I wonder, why did you ask them? If it’s not them, it could be someone else, right? That’s not how I understand music making or musicianship…I don’t think we’re all replaceable. I think we’re all unique. 

Tell us about how the structural and practical implications of the pandemic have impacted your planning strategies with Up Close and Musical? 

Well, it was supposed to happen originally in May 2020 (at the peak of the curve), and it’s been over a year now that I’ve been revamping, reiterating, holding the line, waiting for it to happen in real life. There’s been a real flourishing in the classical music world and the contemporary classical world of stuff happening online which is amazing especially in terms of accessibility as music is reaching more people who can’t travel or who didn’t know about it in the first place, but for me it was very important for the event to happen in person because that’s really the basis of the whole thing. I am also lucky to have a very strong relationship with Raffaello, who is a really gifted entrepreneur and musician: he has been very flexible with the venue. The most recent roadmap delay has meant that the audience will have to socially distance on the first night, but the venue has been functioning at this capacity for a while and handles it really well. We were lucky in hindsight that the dates are spread out now because originally the dates were all within two and a half dates on a very tight schedule, very pre-pandemic style! Obviously, artists’ availability changes regularly and that was the biggest concern every time we had to readjust.

And has this caused any of the artists to alter their choice of repertoire this summer?  

Yes, what’s interesting is that the programs themselves have changed because each iteration bringing with it new challenges. So, the actual pieces that people are playing this time around are not the same as what they would have played a year ago and that’s so interesting. Héloïse is now releasing an album on Delphian of solo works, so she’s going to sing some of those pieces. I also in the meantime have commissioned a piece from her that the two of us will play as a duo. Gabriel is now releasing an album on Melodiya so we’re gonna launch his album at the festival and so the tracks that we’re playing together are also different. So the evolution of the artists and the change in their seasons is represented in the change in the pieces they are going to play.

Do you have any advice for any budding curators out there, with a view to navigating the relative degree of uncertainty surrounding live music events at the moment?

My advice would be budget carefully…and pay your artists properly! In terms of the uncertainty, it’s very difficult for me to say, because I recognise that I’m in a very comfortable position. But I think get to know all the funding streams; get to know Arts Council, don’t be shy, contact them directly. They are nice people, check out everything that’s available. It’s important to have a social media presence and it’s important for people to recognise that what’s happening is important and valid and real. And try and get people on board around you that can support you because the first year is always a steep learning curve and it’s good to have friends nearby.

Great advice. Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers? I read in the programme that there will also be drinks…

Yes! And there is the option to pre-order dinner for some concerts too!

And lastly, where can our readers find out more? 

Via our website ~ 

You can also check out Up Close and Musical on social media:

Instagram – @upcloseandmusical | Facebook – @upclosemusical

Words by Pia Rose Scattergood & Shiry Rashkovsky

Photo © Shiry Rashkovsky

Recommended Articles