Still in her 20s, Amalia Hall is one of the finest violinists this country has produced.

"I'm not one of those violinists who's always practised eight hours a day from a young age," she insists.

Perhaps she's never needed to. Hall's exceptional gifts were recognised even before she made her orchestra debut with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra aged 9, and before she became, at 10, the youngest person admitted to the National Youth Orchestra; before she took flight to further her studies at the Curtis Institute of Music, America's most selective university, and before winning a capacious hatful of competitions at home and abroad.

So maybe she doesn't need to practise as much as other people. Or maybe she's simply right when she says that practice is about quality, not quantity, and perseverance.


"Anything is possible if you try," she says.

Except it isn't.

There are examples aplenty of Hall doing things that most people can't do, no matter how hard they try.

As a young girl, Hall used to listen to her sister Lara, practising upstairs. Wanting to emulate her eldest sibling, Hall would follow along, playing by ear. No big deal if your sister is a beginner bashing out Baa Baa Black Sheep, but Lara, Hall's senior by eight and a half years, was already on her way to a career as a professional violinist. She is now lecturer in violin at the University of Waikato, a position her sister filled when Lara was on maternity leave.

And not everyone can play Ysaye's Six Sonatas for Solo Violin, Op.27, which Hall performs next Saturday as part of the Auckland Fringe Festival.

The works comprise 70 minutes of stylistically diverse virtuosity, influenced by Bach but with each sonata individually reflecting the character of the six violinists to whom they were dedicated, among them the great Joseph Szigeti and Fritz Kreisler. Inevitably, the sonatas are dizzyingly difficult, requiring rock-solid technique, sensitive musicianship and stamina.

The problem with virtuoso display works is that they often don't pay back the effort, that for all the fireworks there's a big gap where the music should be. That's not the case with the Ysaye sonatas, says Hall.

"They say so much musically; they have real depth. They are extremely difficult but they have to be musically sound so they're able to be understood by the audience because they are complex in the way they are written. The lines are crossing over so much the melody isn't always at the top; it can be at the middle or bottom of a chord."

In deliberate contrast with the elaborate music, Hall has chosen a minimalist room in which to perform — a photographic studio.

"I was looking for venues and I wanted somewhere contemporary with a bright space and I stumbled across White Studio. It appealed to me for the clean aesthetic. The acoustic is nice and resonant, not too washy but not dry."

It's almost a surprise Hall has the time to contemplate such minutiae; her diary is full-to-bursting. The week after she plays at Auckland Fringe, she's off to Italy, followed by gigs in England, Mexico and Uzbekistan. Some of those engagements will see Hall teaching master classes, too. Last year she also took on the concertmaster role at Orchestra Wellington.

Composer Ysaye said that to play his sonatas you need to be a thinker, a poet, a human and to have known hope, love, passion, despair — in other words, a violinist needs to have lived a little. Given her frantic lifestyle, does Hall have time to live a little?

"Definitely," she says. "Going to the beach, spending time with my family, that's so important to me. We have to be aware of the beauty of life." Hall points to the park across the road from where we sit.

"Look at these bright colours and the sky and the trees; if you're locked in a practice room you become closed off from that, from the essence of what inspired the composers to write and what we're trying to express to an audience. It's not just about notes; it's about speaking from the soul."

What: Auckland Fringe Festival — Amalia Hall Plays Ysaye
Where and when: White Studios, Grafton; Saturday, February 24