Emilia Benjamin, treble and tenor viols, came to the viol by a somewhat circuitous route. Initially interested in studying English Literature, she chose the University of East Anglia based upon a hazy memory of the campus – hazy due to the effects of her father’s sleeping pills, two of which she had taken the night before her interview in a panic about not sleeping. Given that he ordinarily took only one half which was sufficient to knock him out, it is a wonder she made it up there at all. As it was, in what was a rather prescient mistake, she found herself touring the music department, giggled her way through the interview and then realised, when she arrived to start her first term, that the campus she thought she had remembered was in fact the University of Warwick.
This turned out to be a fortunate error, since at UEA Emilia was able to get involved in the music department as part of her degree, led the orchestra from the violin, which she has played since she was five, and went to a life changing concert of Dowland’s Lachrimae, the sound of which was so heavenly – even in the concrete box they called their recital hall – that she instantly became a viol player. Luckily the university owned a chest of viols and employed an enthusiastic teacher of consort playing.
During her four years there, Emilia changed subject to History of Art and made her own treble viol in the workshop of a lute maker, which she still plays today. At some point she was struck by the insight that if she was going to spend most of her life working, then that work ought to be the thing she enjoyed most. This was, and is, consort playing. So she duly went to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama to do a postgraduate course in early music, specialising in viol and baroque violin.
Since then Emilia has spent the intervening 25 years or so performing and recording, not just viol consort music, but a healthy pickings of most Western music written in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, playing not only viols but violin, viola and lirone. She spends her down time looking after her five year old, her dog, her garden and her husband, not necessarily in that order.