Intrepid prodigy turned mature artist, Caroline Goulding on her new album and change in scenery
By Cristina Schreil
It’s Caroline Goulding’s third day as a New Yorker. As rain falls outside her new home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the 23-year-old violinist brings a bit of George Enescu into her morning routine.
But, the accomplished performer isn’t playing—she is reading.
“When we are children, our parents give us a circle to play with. When we are grown up, a woman gives us a ring,” Goulding quotes Enescu aloud, her already sparkling energy building through the phone as she continues. “‘Is there anything beyond glory? I said no—N-O, exclamation point!—glory is nothing that is beyond the beauty, the emotion, the selfless joy of being part of all of this.’”
She tells me she happened to look at the passage just minutes before our call. We’d been scheduled to chat about her upcoming album featuring Enescu’sImpressions d’enfance, and something “clicked” with her.
“That gave me goose bumps, because it sums up what he was about, but it also sums up what music is about, for me at least,” she explains. She adds that through the music, one can see these images of the world through Enescu’s younger eyes, which he revisits as an older man. “Glory, I guess, is a word that I’ve been attracted to lately and have come to a new level of understanding.”
For many it may click that Goulding would have a lot to say about the intersection of glory and childhood. After all, she began studying violin at three-and-a-half in her native Ohio, released her first Grammy-nominated album at age 16, and received an Avery Fisher Career Grant a year later. But her approach to the topic is delicate and humble. She seems levelheaded, taking quick moments to meditate on questions before unleashing long insights. This air of modesty especially emerges when asked where she sees herself in ten years.
“It’s a question isn’t it?” she muses. “It’s a question and it remains unanswerable. One does not know. I love to do what I’m doing. I’m so passionate about it.” She pauses, as if mulling it over while forming her words. “I feel at this stage of life—I am who I am.”
Goulding describes herself as being in an “exploratory” stage. Little details she shares seem to back it up. She’s just moved from Boston to New York, a city that she’s traveled to many times over the years and one she says always felt like home. The relocation will allow her to jet more easily to Europe and other parts of the globe, where she’ll spend a good chunk of the next year performing. She recently cropped her blonde hair short. She adds that she sees the lives of friends in their 20s and 30s orbit more around change and establishing new paths, things that have sparked reflection in the past year and a half.
“You go to school, you become an adult, you need to find a job. There are many things that are happening in your life,” Goulding begins. “I’ve taken into consideration how much I appreciate what I do and I don’t take for granted anymore that I’m able to wake up every day and do something I’m passionate about in a world where people don’t necessarily get to do that.” She clarifies there wasn’t necessarily a time when she took her career or success for granted—she’s just gained a deeper appreciation as she’s made more acquaintances, some with lives that don’t satisfy them.
“It’s really just talking to other people and seeing what I’ve done for so long and knowing that life is about this glory thing, a happiness,” Goulding says.
She says that life does have its challenges. “And I’ve definitely faced them, but it’s also about approaching what you do with that level of glory and it’s about the eyes that you see through, not necessarily what you’re doing. That makes a difference.” I ask if this new wisdom and perspective coinciding with her new album is a statement on her adulthood, considering many fans first noticed her when she was accomplishing so much at such a young age. Not so, she insists.
“I’m saying I’m a human being. Period. I’m not labeling myself and that’s the point I’m trying to make,” Goulding says firmly, then muses that even when she’s 50, she’ll still consider herself a non-expert. “I’m learning and I’m forever learning.”
In February, Goulding releases her second album on the ARS Productions label, an album that was yet unnamed at the time of our early December interview. In addition to Enescu’s Impressions d’enfance, in the middle of the album, Goulding plays Schumann’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D minor and ends with Dvorak’s Romantic Pieces.
She notes that while the three composers are different in their makeup and culture, there are similarities in their musical vocabulary she found intriguing. For one, the works have certain aspects that make one ruminate on the circle of life, she says. She then recalls a quote by Schumann, in which he said that he disliked the first violin sonata and wanted to restart, and connected this idea to Enescu’s glance backward. Perhaps “Cycles” would be a fitting album name, she muses.
There’s certainly a kind of mirroring effect at work here, specifically concerning the Schumann sonata. Goulding’s good friend, pianist Danae Dörken, accompanies her on the album. Goulding’s teacher at the Kronberg Academy in Germany, violinist Christian Tetzlaff, often collaborates with Lars Vogt, Dörken’s teacher, and in 2013 they released an album of Schumann’s violin sonatas.
Goulding and Dörken met at Vogt’s Spannungen Festival in Heimbach, Germany, a year and a half ago, partly through their mentors’ connection, and they began collaborating soon after.
Creating the album was a particularly special journey, Goulding says, because the two musicians, who are also close in age, were new to the works and learned them together. They recorded over three days in May 2015 at the Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg broadcast station.
“We put this program together kind of through our playing together and feeling each other’s expressive qualities. And also, I just love this music so much,” Goulding says. “I’ve always been a fan of Schumann.”
Her adoration for the composer becomes clearer the more she speaks. She asserts there’s a lot of glory in his music, from his string quartets to his piano trios. Tetzlaff helped reveal myriad voices and characters in phrases, which imbue the work with a fascinating, symphonic quality.
She says that through playing Schumann, and specifically in the second sonata, she finds herself wanting to do something different every time. “I see new things about it. That’s how you know it’s a great work,” she says. “Schumann is multidimensional in his approach.” She laughs, adding that she knows she’s trying to intellectualize it but she really just “basically loves Schumann.”
At one point during the rehearsal process, she and Dörken came across a Schumann-era piano in a warehouse in Berlin—the presenter’s piano for the Piano Salon Christophori series in fall 2014—and rehearsed the sonata with it for a few days. She calls it an interesting lesson. “Ultimately what seemed to be expressed was a purer, more spacious version of what would be expressed on a piano today. Playing the original tempos with this instrument also seemed more intuitive.
“It did make a difference in the way we approached it,” she says. “That informed us and it informed my sound, for sure.”
She says that they also had to figure out where to highlight the clear differences between the violin and the piano and when to ease away from the contrast.
Pinpointing the right tempo was another task. Goulding listened to different recordings, hearing how different the piece becomes when performers follow different tempos. This was a technique suggested by Tetzlaff.
“When I listen to this piece, I feel it has much interpretive freedom for the artist to articulate his or her own portrait of the piece,” she says. It also brought insight into how she looked at other Schumann works.
A choice made relatively late in the process was incorporating the grounding Dvorak Romantic Pieces, which she calls “very sweet.” The work offers a breath after the “intense and, at times, dark” works, which go into “the whole realm of emotions.”
She’s played the Dvorak Romantic Pieces from the original arrangement for two violins and a viola, and incorporated her experience into the arrangement for violin and piano to bring a “wonderful balance” to the album. She describes that it “promotes more of a taste of something, instead of a gulp of something.”
The process was a bit different from how she put together her self-titled first album, released in 2009 on the Telarc label, where she was invited to summon up a kind of dream list of her favorite repertoire. That approach has seemed to reward listeners; it includes dazzling virtuosic works, such as the caprices from the soundtrack to the film The Red Violin.
Her process of getting acquainted with a work is intuitive. She follows what inspires her.
“I love to know about the piece; I love to know the history of the pieces that I’m playing,” she says. Sometimes that involves digging deeper and reading more or listening to several recordings—as she did with the Enescu and Schumann works.
She considers it an intuitive process with a kind of balance, a word she says echoes through her life. “Always follow your heart and always follow your passion. And always follow what you’re excited about, what makes you tick, what makes you love life, and love that moment,” she says, offering advice to up-and-coming musicians.
“The consistency and the constancy of that act will be something that will take you through life.”