Interview with Helena and Aiko


An interview with Helena & Aiko

ACO Principal Violin Helena Rathbone and ACO Violin Aiko Goto have been close friends for 23 years. Ahead of release of their new HomeCast, the pair share how they met, why they love performing together, and what this friendship has meant to them.



When did you first meet Helena?

I still remember, it was April 1998. I was living in New York, and I went to the ACO’s Carnegie Hall concert. They were playing Corelli’s Concerto Grosso and Richard and Helena were playing the solos; it was an amazing concert.

The next morning, I had my ACO audition – I had already sent through audition tapes and had passed that round, so they asked me to audition when they’d be in New York. I remember waiting for them to arrive for my audition, and everyone’s hair was wet; I think that Carnegie Hall concert was the end of their US tour so they might have had a big night?!

After I packed my violin away, a woman with long blonde hair and a big red jumper with a sunflower on it came up to me and asked me, ‘Who made your violin?’. I told her it was a Vuillaume, and she said ‘hmm’ and then she just left! [laughs]

I saw Helena again a few months later in Australia for my trial and from that first day she looked after me. She was so lovely and friendly. She, and Richard and everyone at the ACO made me feel so welcome.

Always, Helena has looked after me. Even now, 23 years later.

Can you describe your friendship with Helena?

We don’t have family here in Australia [Aiko grew up in Japan and Helena grew up in England] so we have always looked after each other. We are like family, as well as friends and colleagues.

Your favourite quality of Helena’s?

Her thoughtfulness. And also how open-minded she is. She is interested in everything.

Can you tell me about playing with Helena?

I always have fun playing with Helena. For this HomeCast, and when I get to play next to her in an ACO concert, I always think, ‘wow, this is fantastic.’ She is an amazing musician and it makes me step up my own playing. It’s inspiring playing with her.

Helena is a truly great chamber musician, who values spontaneity. It’s like a conversation to play with her - an amazing conversation; each phrase she is playing I can hear what she is saying.

Three words you would use to describe Helena?

Warm, positive, and – this is more than three words, but she’s like the mother figure in the ACO.

When Helena was on Maternity Leave we all really missed her. She really is like everyone’s mother, for all of us in the ACO and also the younger musicians, our Emerging Artists. She has given a lot of inspiration and love to all of us.



When did you first meet Aiko?

We’ve been friends ever since Aiko joined the ACO 23 years ago. I do remember the first time I saw her - it was at her audition in New York in a room above Carnegie Hall. We had just played our last concert of the tour, which was at Carnegie Hall the night before and the entire orchestra was slightly hungover that morning [laughs] as we’d had our end of tour party.

I remember thinking ‘Wow, she is a really strong player, but she’s so small’ [laughs]. I did actually go up to her to say hi and ask her what her violin was. I remember she was extremely polite and told me she owned a Vuillaume and that was about as far as the conversation went - I probably couldn’t get out any more words out, I needed to go back to bed! But her playing was immediately very striking, and we of course offered her a trial.

When she came out to Australia, we soon became good friends. I think because I’d been in the same situation a few years before, coming from overseas and not knowing anybody, I was very grateful to the people who looked after me when I arrived. So a few of us took Aiko under our wing and made sure she was shown a good time.

Can you describe your friendship with Aiko?

It’s a very supportive friendship. We have very different lives; Aiko lives on her own and I have a busy, lively, often rowdy family, but we’re both away from our homelands, where we were born and grew up, so I think we understand that about each other. We live close enough to see each other often. We check in on each other.

She’s very loyal. I know I could tell her anything and it won’t go any further. And my boys adore her – she’s their favourite ‘aunty’.

Her friendship showed itself enormously when I was away last year visiting my Mum in hospital [in the UK]. I was away for 9 weeks in the end and she was here checking in on the boys, making sure they were doing their music practice, bringing them food, and just generally being ‘Aunty Aiko’.

Your favourite quality of Aiko’s?

Her thoughtfulness towards other people. Aiko is always thinking about lots of people. In the last few years especially when she’s been in charge of ACO Academy, she’s always thinking about how to structure the program in the best way for the students and their needs. She is passionate about giving young musicians the best possible opportunities. And she’s the person who remembers to buy a leaving present for somebody, or make a card, or a cake - it’s always Aiko that initiates that.

Can you tell me about playing with Aiko?

Aiko’s a very natural musician, and a very communicative one. I think her communication is amazing.  She’s also a very thoughtful musician; she puts the music first.

Three words you would use to describe Aiko?

I asked my boys this question this morning, and Sam, my 6-year-old, immediately came up with ‘small, funny, and kind’.

And she is. That’s her to a tee really. But I would also have to include thoughtful, and generous, and the fact that she has an amazing sense of humour. She can be hilarious and more importantly, she’s able to laugh at herself, which I think is an absolutely essential quality in life.

ACO HomeCasts are presented by Telstra.