A League of Extraordinary Violinists (Part II): Eliot Heaton

Next up in the cadre of phenomenal violinists sitting in with us at the top of this season is Eliot Heaton, who was recently named concertmaster of Michigan Opera Theatre. Before he launches into his first concert there (Bizet's Carmen), Eliot is joining us for our appearance at Hyde Park Jazz (9/24/16), during which we'll be world-premiering Miguel Zenón's Yo Soy La Tradición. We had an absurdly good time working with Eliot this summer for our Parks District project, and can't wait to dig into Miguel's blistering tunes with him.

What better way to introduce you to this incredible talent than through a chat with Eliot himself!

Doyle Armbrust: So you just won the concertmaster job at Michigan Opera Theatre...congrats! What I want to know is, did you hit that elusive "flow state" during the final round? Were you seeing the matrix, so to speak?

Eliot HeatonThanks, it was pretty exciting to have them keep calling my number as the audition went along. I had taken a few other auditions prior to this one, and know the feeling of being left off the list for the next round, so to make it all the way through this one felt great.

The last round was kind of strange because they asked us to sit in the pit and play, and I only ever practiced standing up. Luckily it was the solos from Swan Lake, and I had found a really great video of David Nadien playing it on Youtube, and that gave me lots of good ideas. The whole thing was blind also, and I am much more relaxed when I can't see the audience, especially in something as uncomfortable as an orchestra audition. 

DA: What did it feel like, to make that call to your wife and your family, to tell them you got the gig?

EHIt was good to let everyone know, especially my wife who has to put up with my nonsense when I'm getting ready for an audition.

DA: If you could distill your thoughts into a single piece of advice for young musicians about to hit the audition circuit, what would it be?

EHFor me it has been about trying to balance self confidence with self criticism. If I'm overly confident then it is a total mystery whenever something doesn't work out, but if I'm too critical without seeing the positive side then I'll lose whatever character might make people want to hire me in the first place. Finding the balance is a work in progress for me but it seems like a good thing to work on based on the experiences that I've had.

DA: One of the things we really love about playing with you is your sensitivity and agility in allying with this or that voice in the quartet. Can you point to a person or moment in your past where you think that skill came into focus for you?

EHI played second violin in a quartet in college starting my freshman year. I had mostly played first violin in groups before that, and I found playing the second part gave me a lot more attention to spare for the rest of the group after sorting out my own part. I really loved playing this way with this ensemble, and I tried to take it with me after moving on to other things.

Sometimes I feel like getting my solo playing ready is like doing a choreographed routine, and I practice to really lock that in. What I love about playing in chamber groups is that it is so variable. So many different things can happen, and if everyone is really focused on each other you can pick up something new and different every time you play a piece.

DA: If you had to pick just one, what movie best encapsulates your personality?

EHProbably The Princess Bride. Anybody want a peanut?

DA: And who is your desert island author?

EHThat's a tough one. I'll go with either Vonnegut or Dickens, or whoever wrote the premier text on raft building.

DA: Let's keep with the essential questions. What's the last song you sang along to while driving?

EHOn my way home today they were doing a show of covers of famous songs, and I was singing along with While My Guitar Gently Weeps with Prince doing the guitar part. I don't know any words besides the title, but I felt like I was contributing a lot of emotional energy and pitch reinforcement.

DA: Thanks, Eliot! We can't wait to dive into Miguel's music with you this week!

EHI'm excited to play with you guys again and to discover a new piece of music!