January's themed month explores the world of contemporary music through the eyes of some top performers in specialised ensembles. We continue our interviews series with Jagdish Mistry, violinist at the Ensemble Modern.

© Andreas Etter
© Andreas Etter
Why did you choose to specialise in contemporary music as opposed to mainstream classical?

I am not a specialist in contemporary music. I just play it more than a lot of 'mainstream classical' musicians.

Is playing Contemporary music more challenging than playing classical music? For instance, do you need more time to master the technical aspects, do you find it more difficult to interpret?

Contemporary music is just as challenging to play as classical music. The area of difficulty varies according to the music one is playing. As you know, there are many different contemporary musics. If one is acquainted with the language of the particular composer one is playing then it is the same as playing music from the classical era in that you have to bring the same level of personal energy, interpretative insight, technical competence and conviction in communication.

Do you think your approach to contemporary music is similar to the way early music ensembles approach their music?

No, mostly we have the composers living, so they can tell us what they want to hear!

How involved are you within each project and to what extent can each member put forward ideas about what to play and with whom?

The level of personal involvement varies from project to project but the commitment to whatever is on the table is 110%, whether you initiated it or whether you are following someone else's initiative.

How difficult is it to get contemporary music onto concert programmes/into concert halls?

This is and always will be something one has to fight for – getting presenters to put on music that is not known and already celebrated and getting a wider audience to open up to it as willing listeners!

Are audience responses to contemporary music changing? Does it differ in different countries?

Hard to make any kind of statement about this. Very much depends from venue to venue and whether the audience is versed in listening to this or is coming to it for the first time. You have knowledgable and novice audiences everywhere. In Europe the audiences will have had exposure to a very different set of composers in each country and in Asia again the picture is going to be different from country to country, as you can imagine.

How is your ensemble trying different approaches to reach new audiences?

For example we had an interesting and successful project this autumn, involving the audience in the connect action and to find a new path in musical communication with the audience. It was a very good experience playing with the audience and a big success.

Which is the most exciting new work you've performed? Could you please describe why?

Many many candidates for 'most exciting work' award! Off the top of my head, this year (2016) George Benjamin's opera Written on Skin, which overwhelms on every level. As with all great music, the only appropriate response is silence, in wonder and gratitude!