Canadian-born Lara St. John has been described as ‘something of a phenomenon’ – and rightfully so. Her lifelong dedication to the violin began at the tender age of two, and it was a mere two years later that saw her first public performance, as a soloist with an orchestra at the age of four.
Now, decades later, St. John continues to marvel with her shows, delivering raw, unmatched intensity, her energy more akin to a brawl than a night at the theatre. But despite the incongruity of her style, she uses her instrument to create beautiful music – and leave the room breathless.
St. John will play the new Front Row Boston Live in Fraser music series at WGBH on 11/15 – you can get your tickets here for this intimate experience. The performance is presented by 99.5 WCRB, Classical Radio Boston.
But before the show, here are three things we think you should know about Lara St. John.
She speaks three languages
St. John made her European debut at the age of 10. She spent three years touring the continent, including Spain, France and Hungary. She’s performed all over Canada, in almost every major city in the U.S. (including Boston), along with Australia, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Shanghai and Beijing.
Outside of her frequent touring, St. John has also lived and studied at the Moscow Conservatory in Russia. Needless to say, learning new languages is a prerequisite for a musician that travels as often as her – and not only is she fluent in English and French, but she also speaks some Russian.
She runs her own record company
In 1999, St. John founded Ancalagon as a means to gain artistic control over her work. And as with anyone starting their own business, there was a learning curve. As stated on her website:
“I am a musician first and a business person a distant second. I had no idea how to bargain or bid on production costs, and it took me a long while to find all the fabulous folks who are now associated with Ancalagon.”
She is still proud of the company’s early work. The Bach Concerto Album with the New York Bach Ensemble was released in June 2001, and in 2005, iTunes began distributing the album and it spent several weeks in their No. 1 Classical spot and nearly a year in the top 20. It was this success that paved the way for Ancalagon to continue with several other projects.
St. John also declares on her website that she’s the first classical musician to do anything like this. As for the name? You may recognize it if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan – and it’s also the name of her pet lizard. Which leads us to our next point:
On her website, St. John says as a child, she was fascinated by dinosaurs. She recalls annual visits to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, after participating in the Kiwanis festival held next door, and her mother rewarding her accolades with green dinosaurs for her collection at home. It was a promise that she says kept her practicing.
It seems her interest extends to all reptiles – but especially Iguanas. According to her website she’s owned two: a Beethoven-loving one named Ancalagon, the namesake of her record company, and in 2009 she became an “iggymum” again.
“I credit him with helping me through one of the worst times of my life (cold turkey nicotine withdrawal after 21 years). Every time I came close to going back to addiction in the the despair of the first 100 days, I would look at him and think about his little lungs, and realize how he would likely not withstand a smoking iggymum. He was the tiny life force that got me up in the mornings during withdrawal, and kept me from relapse.”
Nearly eight years later and her iguana is now over four feet long, and weighs 10 pounds. He’s also incredibly spoiled (St. John’s words) and has the run of the place at home.
“He is the king of New York iguanas, the Lizard on Lex, my mini dinosaur. And I love him to bits.”
Learn more about St. John’s 11/15 performance at WGBH here. And check out St. John’s NPR Tiny Desk concert below. Here she performs arrangements of old tunes from Armenia, Romania and the Jewish diaspora.