If you tune to the oboe, you end up flatter than the orchestra
My mother, Dorothe Robinson, who was a violinist in the Houston Symphony Orchestra, told me to surround myself with people better than me. I’ve always followed her advice and I encourage my students to do the same. Playing with others who are a level, or many levels, above you challenges you and helps you make great leaps in your playing. Performing with musicians who are at the same level is comfortable but you don’t learn. You should always look higher and strive for something better.
When I play a concerto with an orchestra, I don’t tune to the oboe A. Instead, I follow what my husband, the violinist Jaime Laredo does. We listen to the orchestra in rehearsal and in concert, and tune to the loudest part of the opening piece – when the winds and brass are blasting. At this point the orchestra will be at a slightly higher pitch than the original A, but this is the true A. If you tune to the oboe, you end up flatter than the orchestra.
When I was 19 my cello teacher, Laurence Lesser, told me that you should always be your own teacher. He said you have to learn to listen properly, react and make decisions independently. You have to be able to open your ears and respond to what’s happening – whether you’re practising, performing, recording or rehearsing – and not think of fixing it later. It takes time and a lot of focused practising, but if you keep trying, eventually you become aurally hyper-aware, and can respond and make changes.