Intimate concert for ‘world’s finest’

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By PHILIP CHANDLER

It might seem far-fetched someone who’s been described as ‘‘one of the finest violinists in the world’’ should play in a disused cheese factory.

But that’s what’s happening this Sunday when Russian-born Natalia Lomeiko performs in the Thomas Brown Gallery — noted for its amazing natural acoustics — near Arrowtown.

The recital marks the start of a short national tour for the 41-year-old, who’s best known in these parts for winning the 2003 Michael Hill International Violin Competition, staged in Queenstown and Auckland.

London-based Lomeiko — a professor of violin at the Royal College of Music — didn’t need a special exemption to enter New Zealand as she’s an NZ citizen, having shifted to Christchurch from Russia, and more latterly Turkey, when she was just 13.

Her parents, who both secured positions with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, had wanted her younger sister to enjoy an English language-based education, Lomeiko says.

She, however, mainly spent her time learning the violin in the United Kingdom.

One of her mentors was the famous violinist, the late Yehudi Menuhin, whom she toured with when she was 16.

‘‘He was just such a lovely and warm human being, and he was so helpful.

‘‘The things he said and passed on were very, very special things you can’t really get anywhere else.

‘‘They were very precious musical suggestions and ideas and something I still remember and absolutely pass on to my students these days.’’

Menuhin himself called her ‘‘one of the most brilliant of our younger violinists’’.

Lomeiko’s still the only NZer to have won the Michael Hill competition.

Besides opening up extra performance opportunities, she used her prize money to buy a 1789 Pasquale Ventapane Italian violin which she still plays to this day.

She says as gigs were cancelled last year, Arrowtowner Sir Michael Hill was generous in giving opportunities to herself and the nine other former Michael Hill competition winners.

Fortunately, she also managed to do ‘‘a lot of recording, broadcasting and livestreaming concerts’’, as well as some live concerts.

She says she’d originally planned to do this month’s tour with Kiwi pianist Sarah Watkins last year, before Covid struck.

They’d planned a Beethoven programme to mark last year’s 250th anniversary of his birth but, since that’s passed, have changed to a more varied programme — ‘‘it’s a very optimistic one’’.

Pieces include a Mozart sonata, Josiah Carr’s Dance, a Tchaikovksy scherzo, Prokofiev’s Five Melodies and a Grieg sonata.

While used to playing in big venues like London’s Wigmore Hall and the Royal Festival Hall, Lomeiko says Thomas Brown Gallery provides the sort of intimate audience Mozart would have written his sonata for.

Asked how she responds to being called one of the world’s finest violinists, she says ‘‘there are so many great violinists today’’.

‘‘I just keep on working on improving this art.

‘‘It’s an always-evolving journey — it’s not something you arrive at and then it’s like you tick a box.’’

As to what advice she’d give an up-and-coming violinist, or any other musician — Sunday’s concert is being supported by local music school, Turn Up The Music Trust — Lomeiko says ‘‘practice and patience and discipline are very important’’.

So, she says, is ‘‘getting out there to concerts’’, rather than standing alone with your instrument in a room.

‘‘Listen to singers, go to an opera, see a ballet, symphony orchestra.

‘‘It’s the environment that creates the rich musical personality, so it’s great you have it all here, so go out there and enjoy it.’’

Natalia Lomeiko, Thomas Brown Gallery, Sunday 3pm, tickets $50 adults, $25 students, eventfinda and Arrowtown’s Lakes District Museum

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