Interview with Carla Moore

Photo by Frank Wing

Carla Moore is one of America’s foremost Baroque violinists acclaimed for her stylish and virtuosic playing. Residing in Oakland, California, Carla teaches baroque violin and viola at the University of California, Berkeley, and coaches the University Baroque Ensemble. She is also concertmaster of Portland Baroque Orchestra (Oregon) and a founder and co-director of Archetti Baroque String Ensemble, a conductor-less Baroque string band. Carla has served as concertmaster and performed as soloist with Pacific Baroque Orchestra (Vancouver, British Columbia), Santa Fe Pro Musica (New Mexico), Musica Angelica (Los Angeles), Baroque Chamber Orchestra of Colorado (Denver) and American Bach Soloists (San Francisco). As a chamber musician, she has recorded seven critically acclaimed CDs.

Fanny Mendelssohn: After one of her concerts, people would tell her she played like a man. How do you feel about this comment? I think they are a sign of those times and I think by that they meant that she was extremely accomplished, because there weren’t a lot of women in her time that could do what she did. It was a compliment. Women were treated very differently back then. I don’t think that it had anything to do with a masculine approach to the piano.

When and why did you decide to play the baroque violin? I started playing the violin when I was in third grade. I took lessons and did the whole thing. Then in high school, I started slacking off with practicing and my parents told me: “We are spending all of this money, so you need to decide if you’re going to do this, or not?” I took it for granted, the fact that it was just there and I thought about it and decided I did want to pursue it beyond high school and that I needed to focus a little bit more. I kept taking my lessons and went off to music school in college. When I was an undergrad in college, I went to USC in LA. I think it was my junior year. I took a course on a baroque repertoire given by a bassoonist. He just imparted his love of this repertoire, he introduced me to music I had never heard of before, composers I had never heard of before, because you didn’t learn about them in general history. And also, to recordings, because that was when the Early Music Wave came into this country. So, mostly the Dutch performers I was listening to, it was the sound that was otherworldly to me. I fell in love. So, I decided I wanted to focus on this. I tried for a Fulbright scholarship to go and study at The Hague. The teacher had accepted me but I was in the finals and didn’t get it. Back then, it didn’t cross my mind to just go anyway and try and figure it out. So, I just thought, I will try something else and went to Indiana University which had this program where I studied with Stanley Ritchie in the Early Music Institute.

What were your parents’ reaction to your choice of instrument, and your decision to make a career out of it? They were all for it. My parents, neither of them was musicians, but I think my mother always wanted to take lessons but they didn’t have enough money to do so, being an immigrant family in this country. My brother played the piano, and my sister played the cello for a couple of years. I know that when I was getting my master’s degree, they came out for it. They took my teacher aside and asked him if I could make a career out of it because they were worried about that. But he reassured them.

Do you believe that criticism or comments about gender from male colleagues have caused you to alter some aspect of your playing, whether consciously or subconsciously? I was thinking about that and I haven’t really. I think though that there are to components to that. I specialized in a field that was kind of alternative at the time and a pretty small field at that. So, there were a lot of women in this field, many of the violinists were women. That question never really came up. I think though that if I would have played a different instrument, like a wind instrument, it would have been different. I have heard from my colleagues, wind players, that in this country, I don’t know about other countries, there can be a kind of good old boy network within the winds and the brass, and if you are a woman in that, it can be hard. I don’t think it is anything overt, just definitely the boys and then the two women in these sections. So, because of my instrument, I don’t think that I was subject to that.

Have people underestimated your musical abilities on the fact that you are a woman? I would turn it around a little bit, in that I think I often underestimated my musical abilities on the fact that I was a woman. I grew up in a society and a culture that had very defined terms of what men and women did and I think that there are times that I am a stubborn person and part of me being that way is my way of getting away from how I was raised in that culture. Sometimes I deferred to men when I thought later on why I did that. I had the same amount of talent and capabilities as that person. So, I think it can go both ways.

When you are in front of/in an orchestra, do you perceive that there is the same amount of commitment and dedication in comparing male and female musicians? What an interesting question. I have experienced this though to a certain degree. I have a group that I lead, and there is a difference in how the women respond and the men respond. The men are more likely to question and don’t take things that I say as enthusiastically as the women do.

Pick a male and female role model and what are their differences, and do you think this has anything to do with their gender? I have worked with and still work with Monica Hugget. She was one of the early pioneers in this field. She is an incredibly crazy, wacky and strong woman. She has a masculine and feminine side to her. And my teacher Stanley Ritchie was just a warm human being. I had a great relationship with him.

“The principal conductor of the National Youth Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has provoked outrage by claiming that orchestras “react better when they have a man in front of them” and that “a cute girl on a podium means that musicians think about other things”. When conducted by a man, musicians encounter fewer erotic distractions, Vasily Petrenko claimed. “Musicians have often less sexual energy and can focus more on the music,” he said, adding that “when women have families, it becomes difficult to be as dedicated as is demanded in the business”.” What is your reaction upon hearing this? That is such a shame, that is a crime, just terrible. It is such an inhumane, clueless statement. I took both of my children on tour with me when they were only 10 weeks old and it was probably the hardest thing I ever did. I sure was dedicated to what I was doing and my children didn’t suffer for it. This is still going on and we as women have to keep calling people on it. I think a woman conductor in the modern world, has just the hardest job and they’re forging the way for so many young people. I imagine some of it is cultural bias. Which does not at all excuse this behavior. I have heard of rants like these from especially older conductors from orchestras here, but I just haven’t encountered that in my personal surroundings.

What is your opinion on female conductors and have you ever had the opportunity to work with one? People who actually wave a baton, yes. People who lead from within the orchestra, all the time.

If yes, what was your experience, and did you notice a key male and a female way of conducting or of handling the orchestra during the rehearsals? I would say that it seemed to be more based on the person’s personality. I couldn’t generalize it like that. But it is true that there are more incompetent men in this world conducting and not nearly enough women. Sexism is still alive and well.

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