If you make your music choices from Top 10 lists (unless it’s a list of classical music), you just might not know the acclaimed violinist Tai Murray. Born on Chicago’s South Side, in the South Shore neighborhood, and raised between there and Bloomington Indiana, Murray, a former BBC New Generation Artist three years running (2008-2010), is a graduate of Indiana University and the Julliard School and has performed at some of the world’s greatest concert halls: Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, The Barbican and Wigmore Hall in London, Shanghai’s Concert Hall, New York’s Carnegie Hall and Berlin’s Konzerthaus.
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It’s not the everyday sister doing her thing with orchestras such as Deutsche Oper am Rhien in Frankfurt, The BBC Scottish Orchestra, The BBC Symphony, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Danish National Orchestra and the Shanghai Symphony among others. And it’s not the everyday sister playing for famous conductors such as Martin Alsop and Alan Gilbert and pianists Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida.
But if that’s not enough to convince you that Murray is classical music A-list, now she has her new major recording just released on the Harmonia Mundi label a cover, if you will, of Eugene Ysaye’s six violin sonatas.
Here’s the thing about Tai Murray: while she is exceptional, she’s also quite familiar. Check her out in this exclusive EBONY interview about how she started playing the violin and why there is nothing else that she would rather do.
EBONY: First off why a recording of Eugene Ysaye’s (1858-1931) violin sonatas instead of one of say Mozart’s or Beethoven’s? He was better known as a violinist than a composer and is definitely on the outside of the mainstream of classical music composers.
MURRAY: I hear what you’re saying and for me it was that when I was at Indiana University for a large part of my training and studies and he was a major focus of my musical education because of the history of that place. A lot of the professors who taught there at that time knew him and knew the violinist he dedicated the sonatas to. My teacher, Yuval Yaron, made an incredible recording of the sonatas that was one of my favorite recordings that I play often. So starting in my early teens I was playing pieces by Ysaye, so now a decade and a half later it made organic sense to me to do a recording of the complete set of sonatas. They were a large part of my musical thought processes for a long time, so yeah, it felt like the right thing to do for the recording.
EBONY: And what was it about the violin that pulled you to it instead of the piano or the viola or the cello…or the tuba?
MURRAY: (Laughs) Well, I don’t have any specific recollection of making a choice between instruments. As far as I know it was always just the violin. It was a sort of tunnel vision. It just felt right.
EBONY: When did you start?
MURRAY: When I was five and the interest started some years before then. And fortunately I had a family that was very supportive and was capable of steering me in the right way once I started. So it was just the violin.
EBONY: But the broader question is why classical music instead of some other form?
MURRAY: Because that is the history of the violin. That is the precedent for the violin. Since the history of the violin is deeply rooted in classical music, that’s what always appealed to me. I understand that the violin could be used for any form of music, but that’s the amazing thing about music or any instrument.
EBONY: But what is it about classical music it the speaks personally to you, that speaks to you in some way?
MURRAY: One of the first recordings that I even listened to right before I started playing, was a recording of the Beethoven violin concerto performed by David Oistrakh, a very famous recording, which I had on a cassette tape and I played that tape so many times over the years that I broke it. It wasn’t a choice that I’m not deciding to do something else, it was a choice that I am deciding to do this. But I can’t say why exactly, but it has just been my focus. And I do think that it has a lot to do with the instrument did I did choose, the violin, in that it fits into the realm of classical music in such a beautiful way.
EBONY Did you ever get criticism from your peers growing up making fun of you saying that you weren’t ‘Black enough’ because of your love of classical music? Anything of that sort of nonsense?
MURRAY: I never heard that, ever. And I don’t know if it was because my family was able to shield me or I just happened to be lucky that I was never happened to be around that.
EBONY: Wow, you were lucky!
MURRAY: The thought of that happening in my family was completely ludicrous. The support was there, the encouragement was there to do something that was intellectually stimulating, to do something that was worth learning, to learn art, to really learn the art of discipline and to really immerse myself in something like playing the violin and studying music. It was something that was encouraged always and I never heard that it was something that Black people didn’t do. To the opposite, I heard the contrary. To be creative musically is something that is deeply rooted in Black culture and just because it was classical music didn’t mean that it shouldn’t be done.
You know, Miles Davis, for example, went to Julliard and I was very lucky to have taken lessons at Indiana University with the great opera soprano Camilla Williams, who just passed away recently, and just the thought that someone like her existed and she was a great inspiration for me as an artist, a teacher and as a person. And the knowledge she had to just be able to tell stories about herself and Marian Anderson. And so my awareness of the precedent was there, so I never felt that I was growing out of something that didn’t already exist.
EBONY: So when did you make the decision that being a professional classical violist was what you wanted to be? When did you cross that bridge from just being a student to wanting it to be your life?
MURRAY: Well, I was lucky enough to have early on some performance opportunities that felt right, felt like this was something that I wanted to do. So being a musician was always around I my mind. When I was 10 years old—and I remember this moment clearly— I was by myself, I knew that my violin was nearby, and I sat down and I aked myself, how much am I willing to put into this? How much am I willing to go further? Do I want to give 100%, because that is what it’s going to take to do this. And I remember making that agreement with myself that, yes, I am going to give all that I can do because this is what I love to do. And I have not thought about anything else since then.
EBONY: You travel all around the world giving recitals and concerts, performing in legendary concert halls and with some of the most important orchestras and conductors in the world. What experience you can think of that stands out to most?
MURRAY: One of the most special experiences I had performing was going to Caracas, Venezuela and playing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with conductor Eduardo Marturet and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. That was very special. I’ve played with many orchestras and in most of the musical experiences I’ve had everyone plays with heart. As a musician you have to. But there was something that stood out with the Simon Bolivar about the way they approached the music, how they approached their instruments, their love for what they were doing because their work on their instruments that was so much tied to how much their instruments had taken them from whatever individual situations they all were in because of that extraordinary El Sistema music program in that country. It was breathtaking!
EBONY: Finally one question that I always love to ask, what do you know now that you wished you had known before you got into your profession?
MURRAY: That’s a really interesting question… I guess that somehow being open to realizing that anything can happen. But I knew that then, that anything can happen!
Videos of Tai Murray