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Interview with Patricia Kopatchinskaja
The first steps are the hardest. And it is no different for talented musicians - doubly so, presumably, if your name is Patricia Kopatchinskaja. The violinist, currently artist in residence at the Konzerthaus Berlin, is creating something of a kerfuffle with her quirky ideas for the programme and her approaches to new and old works alike. It was evidently something that critics and audiences found hard to swallow at first. We can be glad, then, that they have come to realise what a cool, artistic fighter they were dealing with, someone who is quite prepared to put the frighteners on a classical music world that sometimes appears somewhat fusty. So, Patricia Kopatchinskaja, did you find it hard to get through that period?

It’s true, it was a huge job of work persisting with my approach. But my dream has been a reality for a while now and musicians, organisers, festivals and record labels are on board and really happy to be involved. I was keen to work out my own personal view of the pieces and get that across, wanted to be an exponent of the key works of music of the modern age and most recent times. And I wanted to work with composers. It feels good to at last be able to do that.

You play Haydn backwards and Beethoven’s violin concerto sounds totally different in your hands. You take scores that have been played a million times and create something totally new, because you dare to bring a freedom to the interpretation. In your first concert as artist in residence at the Konzerthaus Berlin on 11th November you will be performing Schumann’s violin concerto with the Konzerthaus orchestra under the baton of Principal Conductor Iván Fischer. That’s one of the most unappreciated violin concertos out there, right?

Schumann wrote the concerto when he was going through a very difficult period. A little while later he attempted suicide and ended up in an asylum. So this concerto is not about heroic virtuosity but more about bad, spooky premonitions, deep need and hopelessness. It’s also him saying goodbye to his wife Clara. If you look at it from that angle it’s one of the most moving monuments in music. I’ll be performing with Iván Fischer for the first time. It very unusual to start a collaboration with such a tricky but brilliant piece of music. It’s so incredibly fragile and personal.

Later in November, on the 24th, you’re returning with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and a glance at the programme suggests that the audience can expect a rather special evening. What’s the thinking behind this somewhat unusual sequence of works?

The idea of playing Franz Schubert’s string quartet “Death and the Maiden” did, in fact, come from the orchestra. During rehearsals we came up with a new angle: there’s a lot of emphasis on the quartet in the second movement, with the tuttis only used for embroidery. Then we tried using other works to illuminate the piece - in the same way that they do in exhibitions, when very famous pictures are placed next to pictures on the same subject but from different epochs and trigger quite unexpected emotions in the observer. For instance, we’re juxtaposing the Schubert with August Nörminger’s “TodenTantz” from around 1600, one of the oldest pieces we could find on the subject. And we’re also doing a pavane by John Dowland because the slow movement in “Death and the Maiden” is a pavane, a dance that kings used to dance and which, in Schubert’s work, represents the majestic sovereignty of death.

Do you sometimes feel you’re under pressure to deliver something out of the ordinary?

Definitely not! It’s just that I have zero interest in playing a Tchaikovsky concert in exactly the same way that it’s always been played. A work shouldn’t be on the programme unless it’s telling us something relevant to the here and now.

And what about the audiences, the concert halls, the musicians and festivals that would rather be fed the old Tschaikovsky and are not up for an alternative? And do they exist at all?

They exist, obviously, but I don’t perform at those venues, so luckily we don’t cross paths.

Interview: Renske Steen

Foto: © Marco Borggreve
(c) Marco Borggreve_13