Sophie Renshaw

violist | arranger | composer

“Making music with Sophie is an absolute joy, it feels free, natural and spontaneous. She is a wonderful, intuitive, deeply expressive musician to play with” Marcus Barcham Stevens, professional violinist

Sophie enjoys a varied musical life spanning chamber music partnerships, orchestral playing, teaching and cross genre collaborations with world and folk artists, for which she creates arrangements. She has been violist in the Orford String Quartet of Canada and Principal Violist in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Currently a Professor of Viola and Chamber music at Royal Conservatoire Scotland, Sophie enjoys performing the classical repertoire as a member of London Mozart Players and Orchestre Romantique et Revolutionnaire.

In 2018 she founded string trio Trio Mythos with violinist Lucy Russell and cellist Ruth Phillips to explore the connections between folk and Baroque music. In 2019 she created string arrangements for songs by singer song-writers Brothers Gillespie and Provencal polyphonic vocal trio Tant Que Li Siam which were performed alongside re-workings of traditional folk tunes and Baroque chamber works in France and UK and recorded for CD in 2019 under the name “ Hirondelle.”

During lockdown, experiments with new ways to teach online inspired Sophie to invite four colleagues to co-create a new online teaching platform, InsideOut Musician, designed to deliver creative and diverse tuition and collaborative opportunities for string players.

Sophie is dedicated to listening deeply to the individual voice in all her students, bringing kindness, humour and deep attention to others’ artistic journey.

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“Over my career I have played for audiences in all imaginable types of spaces: large and small concert halls, village halls and community centres, prisons, hospitals, underground carparks and Japanese Zen temples. All these events have held exactly the same purpose for me: to connect with my fellow musicians and audience so we may be transported out of everyday life into a realm that transforms and connects us. This is the power of music.”

“I have collaborated with Sophie on many occasions: as player, improviser and composer. As well as being a superb viola player, she has a freshness of outlook and a passionate curiosity in all fields of music which is wholly inspirational.”
Sally Beamish, violist/composer

Throughout her viola playing career, Sophie has sought to develop both sides of her musicianship as interpreter and innovator. Her 38 years of professional playing began as violist in the Orford String Quartet, in residence at the University of Toronto. She later took up the Principal Viola position in the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and has performed as a chamber musician at numerous festivals, including the International Festivals of Gstaad, Kuhmo, ISM Prussia Cove, London Proms and Carnegie Hall recital series.

Her orchestral and ensemble work has spanned those orchestras that use elements of Historically Informed Performance Practice such as Orchestre Romantique et Revolutionaire and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to the modern orchestra – BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Royal London Philharmonic. She has been guest Principal Viola with English National Opera, Glyndebourne and Holland Park Opera and many of the UK’s leading chamber orchestras including Britten Sinfonia, Orchestra of St Martin in the Fields and English Chamber Orchestra.

During her years in the Orford Quartet she was very inspired by the intimate relationship the quartet enjoyed with composer and writer, R Murray Schafer. Schafer wrote his first 5 string quartets for the Orford and each one was worked on in close collaboration with the players. This sparked a life-long desire to keep working closely with composers on new works and to explore new ways of working with ensembles.

In 1991 she co-founded the Blue Rider Ensemble, an instrumental-theatre group that set out to extend the expressive and dramatic range for instrumentalists in performance. Blue Rider commissioned several new works including the stand-alone dramatic work “Mounting Picasso” by Peter Hatch which incorporates improvisation, theatre, dance and video into a score for instrumentalists and a singer.

Sophie has also participated in numerous projects by Ensemble Modern and London Sinfonietta, toured Japan with Ruichi Sakamoto’s opera “Life” and played live on stage to accompany the Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company.

Sophie’s interest in arranging and composing led her to invite violinist Lucy Russell and cellist Ruth Phillips to form “Trio Mythos” in 2017. The trio plays on gut and enjoys exploring the relationship between elements of Baroque performance practice and folk music. In 2019 Sophie created arrangements for the trio to accompany original songs by Northumbrian singer-songwriter duo Brothers Gillespie and Provencal polyphonic vocal trio Tant Que Li Siam which was recorded for CD.

“Sophie’s joy, trust, playful and expansive sense of musical possibility has really inspired me…hearing our songs brought to deeper life through her sensitive and spectacular arrangements has been a truly awesome experience”
James Gillespie, singer-songwriter

As a teacher Sophie is dedicated to encouraging an open curiosity about all sides of music making. She endeavours to help her students develop a sense of self-trust which enables risk-taking, whether in matters of technique or in finding the courage to improvise and devise music in new and surprising ways. “Bring works written for the viola and we will look at their form and structure as a way in to understanding how to master the technical and interpretive challenges they pose. Bring ideas for improvising, arranging and composing and we can explore these too.”

At InsideOut Musician her classes will include individual viola sessions, improvisation and a Course in Orchestral Excerpts focused on fostering awareness of the choices available to the contemporary performer; all players are encouraged to become sensitised to the stylistic differences between Historically Informed Performance Practice, Classical or Modern playing styles as modern day orchestras differ in their approaches. Sophie’s view is that when instrumentalists bring this type of awareness to their playing it can really help bring the music alive.

“Sophie Renshaw understands so importantly the holistic approach to studying music. Sophie does not necessarily give you the answers, but she will show you how to find them yourself and show you how to find them independently. She encourages you to discover your own artistic journey, whatever path you may take. For me she was and still is a great teacher, but what she taught me about music, my life, and the importance of living a well-rounded artistic life will stay with me forever.”
Post Graduate Student

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Sophie Renshaw
Sophie is a very dedicated, patient and experienced teacher and a musician of exceptional musical taste, she is able to work on all aspects of viola playing effectively. Online lessons prompt students to take responsibility for their own learning and music making; this is a 21st century method of preparing the future generation of musicians and will no doubt play an increasingly important role in the development of the music industry.”

Student BMus

Sophie has negated the challenges of teaching on zoom by asking questions, noticing nuanced physicality, and highlighting the importance of harmonic understanding in the repertoire … with her mastery of the virtual interface and her thoroughly excellent teaching I would recommend any musician take the time to study with such a brilliant musical mind.

Student Post Grad

“Sophie has a drive and enthusiasm underpinned by a lifetime of playing chamber music at the highest level … I was immediately struck by the unusual and fascinating approach that she had in rehearsal … she is a passionate, vibrant musician.”

Professional violinist

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