In conversation: Jan Zahourek

Continuo Connect meets double bass, viola da gamba and violone player Jan Zahourek

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In conversation: Jan Zahourek - Continuo Connect meets double bass, viola da gamba and violone player Jan Zahourek
©Linda Mason

Jan credits a childhood spent half in New York City, and half in the university town of Amherst, Massachusetts, for cultivating and nourishing his passion for music. He studied music and double bass at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, the University of Massachusetts, and, after a few years in Italy, viola da gamba at Trinity College of Music. Jan is now a well established musician in the UK, playing with groups such as Solomon’s Knot, The English Concert, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and many others. In 2021, and with some time on his hands, Jan founded Zarek to nurture his lifelong love of chamber music: first online and now on stage in collaboration with fantastic colleagues and friends.

What do you love about your job?

Being a musician, for me, is the best job. I am always extremely engaged by what we do, and I am always inspired by my fantastic colleagues to raise my game and perform at my absolute highest level. What is so amazing about being a musician is that that absolute level can continuously rise. Though it is not a massive money maker, I absolutely believe that what we do as musicians is important, and even vital for society. Sometimes people talk about good vibes... well, that's what music is.

Where did you encounter the most receptive audience?

I can't help but notice how the typical St Martin in the Fields audience is exceedingly receptive. I think that often people who are visiting London will go there as part of visiting the UK capital, and often these people have never been to a concert before. So I have had many extremely enthusiastic comments after concerts there.

Additionally I recently had a wonderful audience of my neighbours who came to hear my ZAREK trio concert in support of refugees at our local church. Again, most of these people had little experience of that kind of music, and their curiosity, attention and enthusiasm created a sensation which I have rarely felt when playing a concert.

What's your no.1 listening tip?

If you mean listening to music as a consumer, then I would say listen to what makes you feel emotions. I listen to salsa, hip hop and reggae mostly.  If you mean listening as a performer, I would hesitate to offer tips like that to my colleagues, though for me it has been a really constructive experience trying to hear the other voices in the ensemble while simultaneously imagining my own sound just before I attempt to create it. Then listening to the result as it happens, to see how it's going. 

Could you describe in a few words what’s so special about early music concerts?

One thing that is special about HIP is the sound, which is the sound for which the music was composed. Searching for the right sound is something which helps us to understand how to play the compositions, how to interpret the composers intentions.  

If you could meet anyone from the past, who would it be?

I would obviously love to try having a beer and maybe some sausages with JS Bach, though I am not sure he'd have that kind of time for me. I imagine him as extremely busy!

Which living person do you most admire and why?

I am filled with admiration for those doctors in war zones who stay in danger to take care of their patients, regardless of the risk to themselves.

What would you do if you weren’t a musician?

When I was a kid I wanted to be a scientist. I still think that if I weren't a musician I might have liked to go down that path.

What’s on your bed-side table right now?

A glass of water and a nice lamp for reading. Right now I'm reading Max Tegmark's 'Our Mathematical Universe.'

Where would you most like to live?

I think it would be really amazing to live on a giant space station, the kind with gravity. On earth, apart from South London, where I actually love living, I would love to live some of the time up in the high mountains, and some of the time near the sea.

What do you do outside of music that provides you with inspiration?

I like to run, and I LOVE to spend time with my kids, my partner, and my friends.

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