Ladies* Who Lunch: Aisslinn Nosky

April 2, 2014

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The last time she was in town, I snuck in a quick date with rockstar violinist Aisslinn Nosky and, over the largest Hendrick's martini I've ever seen, chatted about Mendelssohn, her natural hair color, and a now-infamous evening of cocktails that wound Aisslinn up in an impromptu guided tour of the Shania Twain Centre.


Kyle Thomas Hemingway Dickinson: So Aisslinn, Ms. Nosky if you’re nasty, (which I just learned is a thing) says that you started playing violin when you were three.

Aisslinn Nosky: My mother tells me that I was watching Sesame Street, and that I informed her that I was going to play violin when I grew up, and that I was very serious about that statement.

KTHD: Knowing you, I believe that!

AN: And so we trundled off to the local music store where we picked up a very small violin and I was extremely excited. She herself is a musician, she’s a singer, so there was music always in the house, so when I suggested the violin it seemed like a good fit. She did say she didn’t know what she was getting into, though!

KTHD: And so, somehow, that led you to the Handel and Haydn Society...

AN: Fast forward 30 years!

KTHD: Right?! Other than meeting me, what is the coolest thing about having come to H+H?

AN: Getting to perform with my colleagues at Symphony Hall is one of the biggest treats of my career to date. I think people in Boston know that it’s a great hall, but I don’t know if they know how great a hall it is. I am fortunate enough to have been many places in the world and played many of the great halls. There’s no perfect space for every kind of music, but for what H+H does, there’s no better venue that I’ve come across than [Boston] Symphony Hall.

KTHD: What would you say is the most unexpected thing you’ve learned from being the concertmaster of H+H?

AN: That’s a really good question, I’ve never stopped to think about it. I don’t know if there’s a piece of information that I gained that was unexpected, but I do know that I did not expect to be humbled by the relationships I’ve grown with people in the orchestra. They make themselves open to my ideas and vulnerable in a way that is really a gift.

KTHD: Speaking of leadership, you’re directing your first concert with H+H in Boston, that’s really exciting! Tell me a little about it.

AN: I was approached by H+H and Harry and asked what types of music I’d be interested in exploring, what would be my wish list of repertoire. I’ve played some of this repertoire at other times in my career and I thought, why not bring them back to my colleagues in Boston? I’ve always been really fascinated by Mendelssohn because I think he’s an extremely underrated composer. Even though he takes up quite a part of the standard repertoire, I think he’s underappreciated for his achievements. The way I see it, Mendelssohn was really one of the first historically-informed performers. He grew up in such a privileged intellectually thriving household and received amazing training at an early age.

Later on in his life he collected scores of music, what they considered “ancient” music at the time, what we now call baroque music, his personal library was enormous. My concert is based on the idea that he had all this music of composers of an earlier time in his personal library. It meant a lot more to own a piece of music during Mendelssohn’s life than it does today, there was no Internet to go to to find these things, so it took a real effort on his part to go seeking these things. He owned a vast collection of music by Bach, a lot by Handel, Mozart, Vivaldi, and I really hear the influence of those composers in his own music, I think he really studied them. He looked at the music of an earlier time and saw the value in it for it’s own sake, and that’s why I thought Handel and Haydn Society, being an orchestra that can play music from even before Bach all the way to Mendelssohn, would be an ideal place to take a tour through his personal collection.

KTHD: So, you have a billion other projects you work on as well, you’re constantly in motion. Tell me a little about I Furiosi, I just love your rock star, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic.

AN: Absolutely! I Furiosi is a Baroque ensemble I belong to in Toronto, and we’ve been presenting our own concert series for almost 15 years! What we’ve attempted to do over the years is to introduce an audience that might not normally go to classical music concerts to the music we perform. We do perform baroque music but we group our programming around themes that might appeal to people who don’t know anything about baroque music. For example, we did a concert called Anger Management with a bunch of angry music, or Welcome to the Jungle which was all music somehow to do with animals. Many of our concerts have some sort of dramatic element and some modest staging. There’s a real sense of experimentation and fun in the staging and presentation of the music we perform, though we still do take the music very seriously.

I’m very proud of our accomplishments as a group because slowly over the years we’ve built up a rather solid fan base, and I have people often come up to me and say “I don’t come to concerts but I come to your concerts,” or “I don’t even know anything about the music you play but it’s just really nice to hear.” We’ve tried to make it a very easy thing to experience, and it’s often word of mouth that draws people in. A friend of mine that just turned 80 likes to say our audience is blue hairs of all ages, you have the blue hairs that are 15 and those that are 85.

KTHD: Speaking of hair, what’s the story behind yours?

AN: I do have short hair and it is red. I’ve done short hair for almost my entire adult life. It’s such a practical, easy thing. The red is actually not natural...

KTHD: Unless you were born next to a nuclear dump or something…

AN: Exactly! It was almost by accident. I was cast in a commercial when I was just graduating university. I had really short hair at the time, and I went to this casting call and got a callback and the director said “We really want to cast you as this punk violinist, how do you feel about us dying your hair fluorescent pink?” And I said “Okay, but can you put it back to brown after the shoot?” And they said “Sure, of course!” So I went to the salon and they painted my hair fluorescent pink; and I looked like the color of a pink highlighter. I looked like a Muppet. So I went and shot the commercial, and then I went back to the salon the next day to put my hair back. That part didn’t go so well, it came out sort of a moldy green. I went back to the salon about a week later and said “Can you do something else to fix this?” And when they added more of the color they had used it became more of a red than a pink, and it’s stuck with me since.

KTHD: It suits you, it’s very iconic!

AN: What I like about it is that I often have people chat with me on the street or on public transit, and they’ll ask “Are you the violinist?” and I’m so glad they do because it’s an entryway into having a conversation about my concert. One of the things that’s difficult for me is not knowing who’s in my audience, I really love to know why people are coming, what they like and what they don’t like, and learn as an artist what people find entertaining or moving.

KTHD: That is fabulous! You once mentioned to me a too-crazy-to-be-believed story about an evening you spent at the Shania Twain museum. Would you share that?

AN: YES! Timmins, Ontario is one of those one stop light kind of towns. There may have been less than one stop light. So in Timmins, there was a museum dedicated to the Canadian singer/songwriter Shania Twain, and a few years ago, I went to Timmins to play a concert and unfortunately my schedule meant that I couldn’t get to the Shania Twain Centre and also play my concert, but I really wanted to go! So I was in the bar of the hotel (the only ones in town), and it seemed as though the entire population of Timmins was there. My friends and I met a very lovely young man who worked at the Shania Twain Centre and I expressed my dismay that I was not going to be able to see the Shania Twain Centre and he said “All right, I can do something about that.” And I think last call might have already passed when we called the [one] taxi driver of Timmins who then drove us to the Shania Twain Centre where my new best friend let us in and gave us a guided tour. It was amazing. The best part was when my new friend came over to take us to the other wing—

KTHD: There’s more than one wing to the Shania Twain Centre?

AN: Yes! There’s another wing but we had to walk us outside to get to it. He was holding an enormous golf club, and I said “What is that?” and he said “Well, we’ve had problems with bears.” So, what that golf club would have done for us if we met a bear, I don’t know, but maybe it was for dramatic effect. “You go first,” said I. So we go to the other wing and the highlight was going into Shania’s former RV that she had used to travel around. She parked it in the parking lot and it was part of the exhibit, so we got a guided tour of the RV—which had a hot tub in it, I would like to say!

I’m sad to say that the Shania Twain Centre has since closed, but we did a tribute to its passing in an I Furiosi concert last season because we felt very moved by the news. We’re all just huge Shania fans.

KTHD: You’re still the one.

AN: Whose bed have your boots been under?

KTHD: Maybe she’ll see this interview and you’ll get to meet her.

AN: She’ll probably just wonder why I wanted a tour of her RV. I will say, though, that if I ever have the means to have a tour RV, Shania is more than welcome to a guided tour of it. It might just not have a hot tub.

KTHD: So it’s time for our final three questions! Other than what we’ve just discussed, which is a lot, what is one thing that most people probably don’t know about you?

AN: I really enjoy playing the banjolele. It is a banjo tuned like a ukelele. It was invented for vaudeville—I researched this—because they needed instruments that were very loud to accompany the singers but did not take much skill to play. For the record, they take much more skill than I have. By “enjoy,” I don’t mean that I am able to play it, I mean merely that I have an enormous amount of pleasure playing it. I know two chords, and they are very loud.

KTHD: Can you make a song with them?

AN: Nope. I just freestyle a lot.

KTHD: You probably don’t get the opportunity to do this a lot, but what is the last Boston arts thing that you saw that you enjoyed?

AN: I went to a concert last season of the Lorelei Ensemble. I don’t get to enough concerts in Boston because I don’t have enough days off when I’m in Boston because I travel when I’m not working with H+H. But I went to listen to this fabulous group and I was completely blown away by their performance! I just picked up a couple copies of their CD and I’ve been telling my friends that everyone needs to go hear this group!

KTHD: And finally, what is your favorite cocktail?

AN: Does it count to say that I’m more into a straight up bourbon on the rocks?

KTHD: Absolutely! What is your go-to bourbon?

AN: Honestly? Wild Turkey! I don’t like a posh bourbon, I like a bourbon that knows what it’s about. An everyday kind of bourbon. Not above itself.

KTHD: Like Timmins, Ontario?

AN: Exactly!