International violinist Monica Huggett on the quiet life in Kirkby-in-Furness

Monica plays in the open air beside the Duddon Estuary

Monica plays in the open air beside the Duddon Estuary - Credit: Archant

She’s keen on motorbikes, dreams of being a rock guitarist and has been asked to play in the pub. Sue Riley meets international violinist Monica Huggett

If you ever have a little moan about the time you spend commuting to work spare a thought for Monica Huggett. Her home is in a sleepy village but the rest of her life is spent commuting to New York, Oregon and Ireland where she works for some of the world’s most prestigious musical organisations.

‘I only spend about three months a year here. It’s the life of a 25-year-old and I have just turned 60,’ laughs Monica, one of the world’s leading experts in baroque violin and early music.

In 2007, just months after moving to Kirkby-in-Furness, she landed a prestigious role at the Juilliard School in New York. It was a job too good to turn down – she is artistic advisor and artist-in-residence in Historical Performance - and for the past six years has done the 6,000-mile round trip to New York while maintaining her role as artistic director of Portland (Oregon) Baroque Orchestra and the Irish Baroque Orchestra in Dublin with tour dates and recordings squeezed in between. ‘I work in New York for two weeks, then go to Portland and go back to New York and then to Dublin and here for a few weeks. I love coming back here but it’s quite a struggle.’

She sold her home in London and moved to this small Furness community where her sister, Frances, lived. Her home is in what was once the village bank with light airy rooms and views over the Duddon estuary. It is also a few metres from the railway station although her sister, who has an apartment in the house, usually drives Monica and her violins to Ulverston to catch the train to Manchester Airport.

‘When I saw this house I thought it was ideal. It was in quite a rough state and it had been used as a holiday cottage. It’s been a complete money pit! But after I had been here for four months I was offered this prestigious job in New York so things have not worked out as I imagined.’

When she’s at home it’s a complete rest from the world of music, although the village pub has asked her to play there; it’s something she’s considering when she gets the time and her house is finally free of builders. One thing she particularly loves at her home is the back garden carved into the hillside with a waterfall and winding stone walls. It’s also the one place where she doesn’t regularly practise violin, sometimes for up to 10 days.

Most Read

‘I like to come back somewhere quiet where I do mundane jobs, sieve the earth, build a stone wall,’ she says. She travels with her partner, Roxanne, a retired GP from Portland, but says her time in the Lakes is often extremely quiet. ‘I pop in and see my sister but I might not see anybody else. I have some good friends in the village but it’s been hard for me to make strong relationships. Some of my best friends are the builders!’

It’s all a far cry from her early life, the fifth of seven children she was brought up in a three-bedroomed house in Hounslow, London, where she slept in the dining room. All her siblings were urged to be ambitious. ‘We were not rich and the deal was that if you had music lessons you practised every day. My mother made me practise on Christmas Day and all through the summer holidays. I never had a day off. By the time I was seven or eight it was clear I was talented and if you are talented people become more interested and more is invested in you.

‘By the time I was 12 it had been decided I would be a musician, I am not sure I had an awful lot to do with it!’ When she was 17 she was studying at the Royal Academy of Music and playing violin at Pizza Express in the evenings. Monica is the only one of her siblings to have carved out an international reputation and says she it has made her mother proud. She co-founded Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and has won several awards for her numerous recordings. Yet classical music has never been her first love.

‘I have always been a rebel and I would have liked to be a rock guitarist but my mother wanted one of her children to be a classical musician. I found it rather staid and rather a strait jacket,’ she adds. Then she discovered early music. ‘Nobody really knew what it should sound like. It was a new adventure, so exciting as it was reinventing violin playing. Classical music is so intrinsically conservative and they all sit there looking miserable. No wonder the audiences are dwindling.’ That wouldn’t do for Monica who displayed her rebel credentials by riding motorbikes - her last was a Ducati 860.

Despite her exhausting schedule she has no plans for retirement. ‘I have achieved more than I could ever imagine. I would certainly say music is my drug, people talk about getting blissed out and getting high and in certain states of mind you are completely in tune with the universe. I channel music. Sometimes when I am performing I feel I am totally connecting, we are freed of jealousy, remorse, pain.…you get in tune with your unconscious. It’s very powerful and I get it often enough that it’s hard to give it up.’

But one day she will scale back to spend the summers in Kirkby-in-Furness. ‘January and February you can keep!’ she laughs.