Behind the Music: Fiona Hughes
by Katharine H. Moore
As one of our many returning musicians, Fiona Hughes’ steady presence at the Staunton Music Festival is a welcome one. Based in Charlottesville, she spends most of her time directing and performing with Three Notch’d Road, an acclaimed Baroque ensemble of which she is a founding member. She is a versatile performer of both modern and baroque violin, appearing with North Carolina Baroque Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, Washington Bach Consort, Boston Baroque, Duke Vespers Ensemble, the Richmond Symphony, and the Handel + Haydn Society. Fiona’s period bows are crafted by David Hawthorne and her violin is the ex-Vieuxtemps Claude Pierray (1720 Paris).
In talking with Fiona, I discovered she believes that one of the most meaningful aspects of a concert is the community created by a performance, and perhaps this is why she enjoys returning to play year after year at the Staunton Music Festival. I asked Fiona several questions about her interests, and about her growth as a musician:
KM: Describe your dream performance. What would it be and where would it take place?
FH: My dream performance would take place right here in Staunton at St. Francis Catholic Church, a beautiful interior combined with a wonderful acoustic. As for the music, something along the lines of Monteverdi or J.S. Bach sacred music featuring voice with cello, organ, & theorbo and only the occasional violin moment. This way, I get to spend most of the time listening and taking it all in, then play my heart out in an expressive baroque aria.
What piqued your interest in the violin? When did you decide to focus on this instrument, and how did you know it was the right fit?
I grew up in Taos, New Mexico, and my parents took me as a child to hear chamber music concerts at the Taos School of Music, a summer festival that takes place in the Ski Valley. This provided the background and special interest in smaller musical forces, which in turn led to an interest in early music. I began to specialize in baroque violin during my college years, drawn to the warm gut string sound, and discovered how naturally the baroque bow helps shape the phrasing. The music of J.S. Bach has always kept me digging deeper, both generally as a musician, and more specifically as a violinist.
What has been the most challenging point of your musical career so far?
Traveling is the biggest issue for me, but freelance work requires it. I have learned to enjoy the variety and adventure of being in a different city almost every week, but hope for a more stable life that is also as artistically rewarding as my current experiences are.
What is it, do you think, that differentiates Staunton Music Festival from other classical music festivals?
The events' location in the city of Staunton--the hidden gem of Virginia, containing homes and performance spaces of great beauty and rich tradition--makes it on par with the location of any great European festival. The programming creativity that Carsten Schmidt brings to the overarching philosophy of SMF is far beyond any other festival I am aware of. As an Artistic Director of my own ensemble (Three Notch'd Road: The Charlottesville Baroque Ensemble) I have great respect for Carsten and have learned much from him about planning performances that will be challenging and rewarding to listener and performer alike.