Gillian Rivers is everything a classical violinist could want to be: She’s young, she’s beautiful, and she makes a reasonable living playing and arranging music for critically acclaimed contemporary composers. The only catch is that most of these composers turned out to be the songwriters in rock bands like MGMT, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and TV On The Radio. But Rivers says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a very regimented world. It’s about making sure you can adhere to what the composer intended. But stepping into the rock world, I found I could do anything I wanted within the framework of a few chords. It was just incredible.”
To her, the transition was a natural one. Rivers says that artists in the rock culture want to hear a lot less vibrato than classical conductors, but otherwise the physical skills translate easily. It’s the attitude that’s hard for some classically-trained musicians to master.
“One of the biggest issues classical musicians face when they’re working with rock bands is personality. A lot of times rock artists feel intimidated by classical musicians. And if they don’t feel comfortable, you’re probably not getting called back.”
Bridging The Gap
When I met Rivers, she wore the kind of oversized plastic-rim glasses you’d expect to see on a record store clerk – not a concertmaster. She talked about crate-digging for stylishly unhip LPs, early tours with clinically unstable rock musicians, and dance parties at dive bars where she met future collaborators. These were inherently different from the droll stories of tooth-and-nail competition and over-the-top intellectual posturing I’ve come to expect from classical musicians when they’re on a roll…