Globetrotting violinist Mayumi Seiler didn't set out to inject the chamber music scene with glamour, but inject it she has. Born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and German father, and raised in Salzburg, Austria, Seiler is the embodiment of international chic.
Standing in Yorkville designer Nancy Fong's tiny studio -- in the city Seiler now calls home with her TSO Principle Timpanist husband, David Kent, and their two children -- Seiler's miniskirt, paisley blouse and knee-high black leather boots give off pure jet-set vibes, as does her vaguely German, fully Euro accent. Add to that the fact that she's here for a fitting of an opening-night dress and the glamour quotient couldn't get much higher.
The opening night is that of Via Salzburg, the chamber music series Seiler founded four seasons ago. The Oct. 18 performance at the Glenn Gould Studio features The Seiler String Quartet -- Mayumi and her sisters Midori, Yuri and Naomi -- playing Boccherini, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. It's sold out and a second show has been added on Oct. 19 at The Royal Conservatory's Ettore Mazzoleni Concert Hall.
As Seiler sweeps the curtain across the change-room door, I ask Fong what Seiler's top priorities were for the dress I'm about to see in template. "Comfort," Seiler sings from behind the curtain. Well, there goes the glamour-puss diva line of reasoning.
"She can't have too much stuff hanging off to get in the way," translates Fong, pointing to the fabric she will make the gown from, after this muslin version is tweaked (labour cost: $500). "This is crepe-backed satin in a sapphire blue. It drapes nicely and the colour is stunning on her." Mayumi steps out of the fitting room in a red gown fit for Sharon Stone. The svelte beauty surveying her image in the mirror is steadfastly in charge. And she is staying just this side of drop-dead sexy. "We'll get rid of this," she says, pointing at a sexy cutout at the side. Pity. She's fiddling with the strap. "I'd like this narrower, and over a bit more to the right," she says.
This sense of precision and control comes naturally to a woman in charge of her craft. Seiler has played the violin since the age of 3, touring with her sisters through Japan and Europe. After moving to London to embark on a solo career, Seiler racked up soloist credits and chamber music gigs, not to mention critically acclaimed recordings of Beethoven, Haydn and Mendelssohn concerti and sonatas. Now, she's a brand: There's The Seiler String Quartet and the 15-piece Seiler String Chamber Orchestra (with a new video on Bravo!).
And each type of performance makes its demands. "When I perform as a soloist, in front of an orchestra, the dress has to be long enough to cover my ankles, because I'm a bit elevated.
"Oh, and with the string quartet, I'm sitting," she says as she tries out a nearby chair. "Yeah, it's perfect. I once wore a wrap skirt to a chamber concert and I was sitting. It kept sliding," she recalls. "This is what I don't want."
What they have in common, of course, is the need for major elbow room. Her right arm bows, her left arm holds the violin aloft. Sleeves are bound to pull and gape, so sleeveless is best. Strapless is a no-no. "I would never want to worry," Seiler says.
Beyond that, the music can dictate the style of dress. "I wouldn't play a Mozart concerto in a Carmen dress or Carmen in a bridal dress," Seiler says, adding that locale and time of day play a role in the level of formality of the ensemble. And, on occasion, the colour.
"I hate to admit it, but I have also visited venues to find out the colour of the seats. If they are pink, I won't choose a red dress."
Performing for the Queen this past Thursday at Roy Thomson Hall, Seiler toned it down and stuck to the all-black protocol, pulling a few things from her closet -- a long black sleeveless dress and a sheer chiffon jacket. "It hangs like a cape and softens the dress."
One dress enjoys pride of place in her closet. It's the last one made by her mother, who made many of Seiler's and her sisters' dresses, before she died four years ago. "I was playing a Mozart violin concerto at Musikverein in Vienna the September after she passed away. She had really wanted to be there, so I wore that dress. I have not worn it since."
As Seiler refocuses on the dress at hand, examining the daring cut-out back, the question of what to do with all that hair arises. "That's the thing, hair is always a big issue. I don't like to wear it up because I don't like worrying if it's secure. But I can't have it falling into my strings. This is a profession where you move around."
So it's off with the dress and out the door to the Hefter Collection in Hazelton Lanes, where Seiler has been eyeing a few high-end French hair baubles. Sales clerk Ellen Jun helps Seiler wrap a jet-beaded ponytail holder around her thick stalk of hair. The $80 price is offset by the DIY factor. "It's pointless if I can't do it myself," she says. "Some people suggest I have a hairdresser come backstage, but forget it. I'm with the kids until I step out the door. I use my hair and makeup time to chill out."
Then, with a few pointers from Jun, she finishes up with a pair of $65 black and crystal barrettes. "Ooh, maybe these for the Queen," she says, deciding to take them all. Of course, the cost pales in comparison with Seiler's ultimate accoutrement, her circa 1740 J.B. Guadagnini violin. To this priceless element of her ensemble, and only to this, Mayumi Seiler defers. "I am its accessory." Candice Olson's Divine Design is one of the W Network's new TV programs. Incorrect information appeared in a caption last week.