Conservatory Spotlight: Felicity James

Felicity James, 21, is a senior in the Conservatory of Music from Seattle, WA. She has been playing violin since she was five years old, and hopes to continue her studies with a master’s degree from Colburn next year when she graduates.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Why did you decide to study at Colburn?
Because of Mr. Lipsett. Colburn was my top choice from the get-go because of him. I had taken a few lessons with him before, and I remember thinking, ‘Everyone in his studio plays so perfectly. I want to be like that.’ His instruction with technique is unmatched and he’s really helped me a lot. When I first came here, I used to get really nervous before I went on stage, but once I’ve worked on something with him, I feel so prepared that I don’t usually get so nervous anymore. I feel much more confident after working with him, and I’m really grateful for that.

What’s your favorite thing about Colburn?
I just love being here. It’s quite the community, and I feel very, very blessed. Everyone is so encouraging. Since the Conservatory is so small, in a way it’s like a big family. Of course you know your own teacher very well, but you also get to work with other faculty members, and everyone is so supportive. It’s amazing getting to interact with all of these incredible people, including my colleagues. I’ll see them in class every morning and then later the same day they’ll just blow me away on stage. All of my fellow students are really inspiring.

You’ve been involved in a lot of performances lately, like See the Music/Hear the Dance with New York City Ballet Principal Dancers Jared Angle and Maria Kowroski last week. What was that experience like?

It was really fascinating, actually. I had never worked with dancers that intimately before. I’d played in the orchestra for The Nutcracker with the Pacific Northwest Ballet, but I’d never done a one-on-one performance like this. Mr. Lipsett called me and asked if I would do it at the beginning of the semester, possibly because I’d played the piece [Fratres, Arvo Pärt] before and had a feel for it already. He had me perform it in Forum a week or so after that. It was good to perform it once and then sort of put it away for a few weeks so I could come back to it with fresh ears. Also, if you can play something in Forum, you can do anything.

Since I’d studied the piece before, I had these pre-conceived ideas of tempo and phrasing, but when you put it with the dancers you have to reexamine everything. The tempos are different, and you have to line up with their movements. I was telling Maria and Jared in the interview after the concert that sometimes it was hard for me to concentrate on what I was doing because I just wanted to watch them dance.

You were also concertmaster for the Colburn Orchestra concert last week. How did you get selected for that?
There’s a principal and concertmaster pool of students that you audition for at the beginning of each year and we just rotate per concert. It’s something that I’ve really enjoyed doing. My goal is hopefully to be in a major orchestra one day so getting that kind of experience is crucial. It also makes you learn the repertoire so, so well. Not only do you have to know your own part, you have to know all the other parts to be able to lead the section well. You also have to count much more carefully so that you don’t let everyone behind you down. The experience of sitting in that position and working with such great artists, like the guest conductors they bring in and the soloists, is invaluable.

Besides all of that, what is your favorite thing you’ve done here?
Playing in the Colburn Chamber Music Society concerts. I remember a few years ago I got to play the Schubert Cello Quintet with Gary Hoffman when he visited, and that was an incredible experience. I also got to play with Mr. Greensmith on Colburn Chamber Music Society concerts, and in his recital last year. Working with him is so inspiring, he’s definitely one of my biggest role models. A few weeks ago I got to play in the Calidore concert too. The opportunity to perform with guest artists like that is really once-in-a-lifetime, so I’m very grateful. I think that’s something Colburn has that really nowhere else does. Getting a different perspective from artists who have been performing these pieces on concert stages all over the world is so valuable. They can bring so much more to those of us who are just playing these pieces for the first time.

What about the classes you’ve taken here?
I’ve really enjoyed the music history classes here. In general, learning about what I’m pursuing is really rewarding. For me, learning doesn’t stop in the classroom. Even if I’m tired or stressed because we just had a really big test or something, there’ll be one piece of music that the teacher shows in class that inspires me and makes me immediately go home and look up the composer and find a bunch of their other pieces that are really, really cool. The best kind of learning is when you’re super passionate about the subject and you want to pursue it yourself. That’s why I’m doing what I’m doing, because I love it.

What’s one piece of advice you have for new Colburn students?
Take advantage of being in downtown LA. There are so many opportunities that we have here that you don’t have anywhere else. Outside of all the incredible opportunities at Colburn, we’re right across the street from the LA Phil. Go to concerts, go to the Master Chorale, go to the LA Opera. If you’re done practicing for the day, go try some of the famous LA food that’s right next door. My roommate and I try to go out to eat at least once every week. Little Tokyo is one of my favorite places, and there’s a lot of really good food in Koreatown too. You really can’t go wrong. Just try to enjoy everything while you’re here.

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