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An Interview with the Violinist Valeriy Sokolov

Thursday, 19 February 2015 , ora 10.11
 
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On 16th February, 2015, the soloist of the Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, for Violin and Orchestra by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was Valeriy Sokolov, playing at the Bozar Complex in Brussels. The day after his incredible presence beside the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Michel Tabachnik - you can read the review within the dedicated section on our website -, we conducted an interview with the Ukrainian artist. First, we asked him what his connection to Tchaikovsky's concerto was.

My personal relationship with this composer is very special, because his music belongs to the geographical region I myself come from. I feel that I am getting closer, either at a rational level, or from the point of view of sensitivity, to both the lyricism and the culture that are characteristic to him. Tchaikovsky is a well-known composer, so perhaps I should not use our names in the same phrase; still, I try hard every time to convey his spirit, his feelings and, of course, his style as accurately as possible. I believe that this is something very important; in my opinion, there are only two options: you either play Tchaikovsky well, or you play very bad. What is in the score is one thing, but you also have to understand what the composer meant and how he did it.


So, is looking for hidden details what makes the same score be different with each new interpretation? For example, you will be performing Tchaikovsky's Concerto many times this month. What changes from one evening to the next?

It is a process of re-creation, or revaluation, which makes you carry on; it is also important to use the experience of the previous concert, to transfer it to the next one, and so on. In time, you start seeing more and more things in the score; then, you realize that the score becomes more transparent, and you are able to use some details in a certain way: physically, psychologically and through everything related to the interpretation. You start thinking beyond a simple good technical execution and it is then when you begin to get superior results. The orchestra and you are different mechanisms; it takes time to connect these mechanisms into one and to create together a meaningful music, but the end product deserves all these efforts.


You talked about good results; has it ever happened to you to refuse to play a certain work?

No, it has not. In general, I am not such a radical. I can give you an example: if I have to study on my own, without my partners, second violin for a chamber work that lasts one hour, let's say, and which is difficult and complex, I may put it aside, but only for a while. I like everything I play at a certain moment.


What makes you choose new works for your repertory?

There can be different circumstances: I simply love that particular work, or I am studying a new work for a special project. As an interpreter, you live in a certain circuit: the stage and outside the stage. But your life between the concerts needs to motivate you to play better and to permanently evolve. In my opinion, it is necessary for an interpreter to be able to always have a wider perspective on music, to develop his personality as an artist beyond the concerts given. If you find a work that you enjoy, you need to study it a lot, to study it thoroughly, even if you do not intend to play it in front of an audience. You should always be able to play the great concertos - Shostakovich, Mendelssohn - without having a due date. It is complicated to do it when you have a very busy tour schedule, because of the high pressure and of the others' high expectations, since a new score has to reflect your personality, not be "just another concerto" in your repertory.


Is there some piece of advice that you received and that helped you develop or shape your personality as it is now?

I have received and continue to receive advice from musicians I respect, both violin professors and interpreters in general. But I am especially grateful to my professors: at the moment I am studying with Boris Kuschnir in Vienna. I greatly admire him and he is a wonderful pedagogue. I lean toward separating violin technique from artistic interpretation, and I believe that it does not have to be the same person offering instructions for both directions; they are connected, but they are also distinct parts of the musical process. I think that inspiration is one thing, whereas technique, the physical possibility of translating inspiration at a very high level, is a completely different thing. Sometimes you have too much of one and too little of the other! I am looking for a balance between the two, and that is why I fully use all the advice I receive and which helps me become better.


But what would you advise young violinists not to do?

Again, I would rather not be very clear-cut on this topic; however, I would say that given the times we are living in - we have no access to the past and no idea what the future brings, but we know the present - classical music is also an industry; there are many famous, very active interpreters who benefit from constant marketing. Everything has to rely on an extended and precise training; you must not choose a career as a violinist just because it can make you successful. It is important what you really want to obtain, but of course, every musician is educated in a certain kind of environment. I graduated from the 'Yehudi Menuhin' School and, since we are now talking for Radio Romania, I have to mention the influence that Enescu's music and personality had on me; so, I come equipped with a certain 'luggage'. Certain things work for me, whereas for others these things are completely different ones. What is valid for everyone, I think, is that great conductors and very good orchestras value if a soloist has full confidence in what he does and if he can tackle a diverse and interesting repertory. Our profession is very subjective, you cannot say precisely what is well and what is wrong; however, having a very good technical training and being flexible are really important.


You won the 'George Enescu' International Competition in 2005, when you had not turned 20, you were granted the 'Best Performance' Award for a sonata by Enescu, as well as the Enescu Foundation Prize. You then recorded that sonata: Sonata No. 3 'In Romanian Folk Character'. So, what is your relationship with George Enescu?

Enescu has been playing a very important part in my life so far. Given that I studied at the school named after one of his famous students - Yehudi Menuhin, I feel that I am somehow part of a wonderful genealogy of musicians! Nevertheless, I rather have a common background with Romania and its contemporary artists than with Enescu himself. His music is amazing, I made a good recording with Sonata No. 3, I will play it, just as I will play Sonata No. 2, in future seasons, but I am now focusing on the relationship with the Romanian musical activity of the present. I have very good friends in Romania, as well as former colleagues at the Menuhin School - for example, the composer Vlad Maistorovici, with whom I have been friends for a long time. This way, I realized that in Romania the attitude towards classical music, interpretation and composition is quite serious, and musicians are intellectuals, very cultured people. Returning to the topic, I would summarize George Enescu's personality by saying that he was, simply put, one of the greatest figures of the last century. What else could I add?



Maria Monica Bojin
Translated by Mihaela Olinescuand Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest