Name: Maya Bennardo
Occupation: Violinist, composer, performer
Nationality: American-Italian
Recent release: Maya Bennardo's four strings  is out via kuyin.
Recommendations: Lee Ufan: The Art of Encounter is a beautiful book of artist writings. The Guggenheim Agnes Martin catalogue that I bought a few years ago is a constant companion.

If you enjoyed this interview with Maya Bennardo and would like to find out more about her work and music, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram, and Facebook.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I started playing the piano at the age of five, but didn’t begin playing the violin until I was eight or nine.

I honestly despised playing the piano and did not feel any attachment to a musical instrument until I heard the violin in an Irish fiddling jam session at a local cafe with my mom. I was instantly drawn to the tone and physicality of playing the violin, and never looked back once I started. The longer I played, the more certain I was that it would be a lifelong partner.

I grew up as an only child that loved to sing, dance, and imagine endlessly, so when I was given the opportunity to make music with others I flourished and felt most joyful. I loved how social playing orchestral and chamber music was, and I continue to value and cherish the communal aspect of making music to this day.

When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?

Music has a unique way of conjuring up memories of moods: nostalgia, melancholy, confusion, elation, etc. It is beautiful that it is able to do this so effectively with, and impressively without the use of language or visuals.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

There are so many expectations and/or assumptions made of violinists studying in conservatory and training to be classical musicians. We are expected to be vessels that make and perfect the performance of music of composers most often long gone; the composer was the pinnacle of artistry and we were just the interpreters that would re-create the ideas of these masters.

It took me a bit to break out of these stifling ways of thinking. When I began focusing my energy on contemporary music and getting involved in the creative process with composers that I collaborated with, I finally felt like I was able to breathe. When I started improvising and composing myself, I felt that I shed another layer of fear and felt more comfortable expressing myself in all aspects of my musical and day-to-day life.  

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I identify as an introverted dreamer that is able to chameleon depending on my surroundings and comfort level. I am only able to show my truest sides when I feel at ease and trust the people / situation.

That has been the scariest part of opening up musically when improvising and composing: it only truly works when I am being open and vulnerable, so I am learning to trust the process and myself.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

I strive to approach each of my artistic projects with curiosity and care. Generally from there, beautiful things are able to unfold.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

There is room, and I would even say necessity, for both.

I think that if an artist focuses too intently on only one of these aspects there is a paralysis that sets in and doesn’t allow them to move forward with the art that they are trying to make.

I had a teacher / mentor that described soft versus hard focus to me, and this concept has stuck with me as a pillar in my life. Both are helpful, but different stages of projects require different kinds of focus. I am always reminding myself to zoom out a bit and take on a soft focus in the creative stage of a project instead of staying too long in the weeds, harshly judging each decision.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

Beyond my actual instrument (violin), my best tools have been my ability to ask a lot of questions and my Bialetti Moka pot that I bought in 2010. Both have brought me endlessly fascinating conversations and creative energy.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I would love to live a life of routine, but honestly, my days vary quite a bit with my work as a freelancer / touring musician. Certain periods are frenetic and full of movement while others have a more elastic / syrupy quality.

The thing that all of these days have in common is that I wake up with extra time to sit and daydream a bit (even if it means cutting into my sleep) with a bevy of beverages. I start with a glass of room temperature water and a Vitamin D pill, and then work my way to an oat milk cappuccino and a smoothie bowl.

The daydreaming time is my most precious, and when my best creative kernels emerge that I am able to expand upon later in the day.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

My process for my album four strings is one that I hold dear.

The two long-form works presented on this album by Kristofer Svensson and Eva-Maria Houben are works that I have spent a significant amount of time with. They approach the exploration of noise, melody, and silence differently, but both ask the performer to treat small fragmented melodies and noise with incredible care and precision.

I knew that I wanted to present these two pieces together after spending the first year of the pandemic in constant dialogue with them and used them as a sort of meditation on the violin.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

People and community are a driving force for artists, myself included. I wouldn’t play music if there weren’t people to share it with.

While a huge part of my music making is solitary (practising, composing, etc.), the idea of sharing it with a wider audience beyond myself is always present in my mind.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

I hope that the works that I choose to perform and create are able to convey a sense of beauty and other-worldliness. I want the people that listen to four strings to feel that they have spent fifty minutes with me walking through a sparse gallery and closely examining two pieces of art in silence–moving side by side.

Art has many functions in society from bringing people together to have a collective experience, shed light on issues or feelings that are often too difficult to articulate in daily life, and generally to transcend the mundanity of life to something unknown.

We cannot do everything all at once in our own art, but we can certainly uplift the work of other artists so that we have a rich and supportive artistic community.

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

I felt it in my soul when Emma Thomson’s character in Love Actually says that Joni Mitchell taught her how to love. My heroes growing up were Joni Mitchell, Carole King, and Ella Fitzgerald, and they taught me how to deal with, and experience the big feelings that life has thrown my way.

As I grew I was able to express more of these feelings in my own words and channel them into my work, but first I had to learn that they were accessible and an aspect of my humanity to be explored.

How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?  

This connection has never been a driving force in my own music making, but I appreciate works that can explore this relationship in a meaningful way.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

I believe that our daily tasks are beautiful in their mundanity and repetitive nature. Art, to me, does not need to be in-your-face to be special.

That said, the main difference for me is that when I make my coffee or smoothie in the morning I generally know the flavours and experiences that I am seeking in order to call it a success; when I am working on making or creating music I hope / search / need to discover something unexpected and fresh.

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

Our lives are filled with vibrations and sounds coming from everything around us from wind and running water to cars passing in the distance and the hum of our neighbours’ radios.

Music is all of those things but somehow more condensed, direct, and at best, magical.