In the second edition of an ongoing series highlighting the success stories of our recent alums, we recently spoke with violist Catherine Gray. A member of the 2013 & 2015 NYO, Catherine has performed with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal and has been featured across CBC Radio, CBC Television, and BBC3. Described as "une altiste formidable" (Le Devoir, Montreal), Catherine recently completed her Masters degree at McGill University and now is a member of the orchestra of the Canadian Opera Company.
Catherine took the time to speak with us about her beginnings playing music, her favourite teachers, and her experience playing with the NYO.
1. When and how did you first get involved with music?
My older brother's violin playing was what got me going with music as a six-year-old. I really fell in love with it when I saw James Ehnes play the Bruch Concerto with the Calgary Philharmonic a few years later - and I haven't looked back since!
2. What are some of your memories of playing with the NYO?
NYO has been the platform for some of my most prized memories and experiences, ranging from a trip to India in summer 2013 to a performance of the solo viola in Don Quixote in concert halls across Canada in 2015. But really, my most treasured memories from NYO are from the friendships that developed there, both with students and faculty, and witnessing the sheer inspiration, both musically and personally, that occurs. One of my closest friends to this day is the fabulous cellist who played Don Quixote. And of course, working with Maestros Alain Trudel and Michael Francis were an absolute joy.
3. You recently completed your Master’s at McGill this past year. What has the transition been like for you from student to full-time musician?
I was fortunate to get some professional experience while I was still a student by playing as an extra in the TSO, the COC, and the OSM, so I was aware of what to expect on my first day of work at the opera. Many things that I learned in NYO, at school, and working as an extra - such as the imperativeness of punctuality to rehearsals, and to show up really prepared - have benefited me in this transition.
4. Along with recently joining the orchestra of the Canadian Opera Company, what are some of the other things you’ve done onstage that you are most proud of?
As I mentioned above, the performance of Don Quixote and my work as an extra in the TSO and OSM are right up there. Additionally, I played a concert in the series Jeunes & Pros with Peter Wiley, Matt Haimovitz, Axel Strauss, Douglas McNabney and Ewald Cheung that was an incredibly memorable and shaping experience. My fantastic teacher Steven Dann also directs a few chamber music festivals, one at Domaine Forget and the other near Victoria, BC, which I've been able to participate in several times. These festivals are the backbone of my chamber music education and are some of my highest level collaborations and performances. The final activity I'll mention (this is getting pretty long-winded!) was my incredible fortune to participate in a project with the Scottish Chamber Ensemble and other students from across the Commonwealth in 2014. We played at the Edinburgh International Festival and were broadcast on BBC. It was truly life changing!
5. Based on your experience, what are some valuable tips you could give future NYO members?
Play as much chamber music as you can, and then treat orchestra like a large chamber group. Listen to recordings ahead of time, and play your part along with the recording. Use your phone (or any easy recording device) to record yourself before auditions, and listen really carefully. Take care of yourself physically and speak up if something doesn't feel right. Wear earplugs! Go outside, play sports, or whatever makes you tick - do things besides music to keep yourself well-rounded. But most importantly, have a blast at NYO!