Born and raised in Grenoble, France, Lylia Guion, 40, began studying classical violin at the age of 6.
Now a resident of Alameda, Guion shares her artistry with Bay Area audiences in concerts such as the upcoming Midsummer Mozart Festival.
How did you get started playing the violin? I attended Hector Berlioz public school in Grenoble. There was a pilot program where music teachers from the Conservatoire National de la Region taught music every day in our school. All the kids were doing an instrument. The music teachers would come to the school so my mother wouldn’t have to drive me anywhere. I started orchestra in middle school.
Whose idea was it for you to play violin? My mom wanted me to play the harp. She took me to a concert and I saw the seven pedals and said, No way! I only have two feet! My sister played the piano already so when the violin came up I said, why not? I can always take it with me later.
Do you think musicians are born prodigies like Mozart? Some people are better at some things than others. For example, some people are really good at math. But it’s also about opportunity and practice. [Yehudi] Menuhin played all the major violin concertos by age 10 but he had the right environment and he worked very, very hard. Mozart had talent and he had a father who taught him and made him practice. I have perfect pitch, but would I have learned it if I hadn’t gone to music school?
When did you decide to be a professional violinist? When I was 15 years old I decided to become a professional. I really loved playing in the orchestra. When I learned you could make a living at it — it’s pretty well-paid — then I said, OK, that’s what I’m going to do.
I went to Paris and studied. Then I was very lucky to play with a very good orchestra — the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra — for four years.
Do you have favorite composers? In school, I really enjoyed playing Vivaldi. Then I discovered the Bach sonatas for solo violin. They are so amazing — the harmonies, the rhythms.
How did you come to the Bay Area? My husband is a software engineer. In 1996, we just wanted a change, so he found a job in Oakland. We decided to come just for six months. Now it’s been 14 years!
Obviously you like something about the area! What kept you in Alameda? Alameda is such a great community. When you have kids, it’s the perfect town to raise your kids. If I need some help, I know people will help me out. Even though I don’t have family around, I have this feeling of community.
Did you continue with your career as a professional musician in the United States.? At first, when we moved here, I wasn’t playing too much. We didn’t know how long we would be here. Then we had children. It was a big change. Then I played freelance for different groups.
How many years have you played in the Mozart Festival? I started 10 or 11 years ago and did every season except one. (That was the year my third child was born. He was born at the end of June right before the Festival.) When I’m playing in the Festival, I feel fortunate and happy to be part of this group. We rehearsed last night with [pianist] Jon Nakamatsu. I love the way he’s playing. Even with a piece [like the Coronation Concerto] that you know, he brings something to light that you haven’t heard before. He’s very musical with a light touch. And he’s a great guy.
How many hours a day do you practice? Now I don’t have to practice six hours a day like I used to. One to two hours is a good amount.
That much playing is hard on your body. You don’t feel it at the time but now the shoulders, the neck — I feel it.
How do you take care of yourself? When I was in Paris, I started to have some pain in my left shoulder. I took some Feldenkrais classes for a year. It brought me a lot of relief.
I saw an ad for Feldenkrais training in Berkeley. I wasn’t playing since I was home with my first child so I decided to take the training. Now I’m a Feldenkrais practitioner. I teach Monday mornings at .
The Midsummer Mozart Festival runs July 14-24. For the full schedule and ticket information, click here.