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Interview with violinist Mira Wang

Tuesday, 2 November 2010 , ora 9.51

The following interview was taken in August 2010, on the occasion of the Moritzburg Chamber Music Festival in Germany. Mira Wang is a Chinese violinist, with a prestigious career in the United States of America and in Germany. She is married to the cellist Jan Vogler and together they have two daughters.

You play a Stradivarius violin that belonged to Joseph Joachim.

Yes, that is true. I was very fortunate. I had a performance in Boston, where I met a few people from the audience who also took part in the reception after the concert. Now I will tell you something that resembles a story from a book. At the reception, these people came to me and told me: 'We have a Stradivarius, we would like you to play it'.

When was this?

Nine years ago. And they went on: 'We have to go now, but give us a call'. My husband, Jan Vogler was there, too. I went to him and told him: you know, these people offered me a Stradivarius. And he retorted: you misunderstood them. So I called them, and it was all true, they had really wanted to give me this violin.

But how did the violin end up in the possession of this family?

The instrument had belonged to them for many, many years. They are all patrons of the arts. For example, they asked Samuel Barber to play the concerto for cello and orchestra. The violin came into their possession several years ago. The head of the family of the present generation is an amateur violin player, he is actually a neurosurgeon, and the violin was offered to him by his family as a wedding gift- this happened many years ago. So, to sum up, this is how I came to play this Stradivarius violin. At first, they told me they would lend it to me for a year, but later we became very close friends. They don't expect me to give it back now, I will be free to play it for as long as I want, and they will simply listen. They don't want anything else from me, except for the pleasure of listening. So, I was very fortunate.

How does it feel to play a Stradivarius like this one?

It's a genuine experience, a violin player's dream of a lifetime. Every Stradivarius violin has a different character, so you need time to adjust to it. I believe all the good instruments have their own personality, just like people. So at first, I must confess, I had to struggle with this Stradivarius. It's as if you are riding a horse- I don't really know how to ride, but I imagine it's basically the same thing, the horse doesn't do only what you tell him, he wants to show you what he knows, who he is. The same happens with good violins, which have their own personality. Eventually, you get accustomed to them and you learn to get the best out of them. But this happens after a long time of adjustment, about a year and a half, or two. It was a long process of learning for me, too.

How would you describe the personality of your violin?

Mine sounds gloomy, I wouldn't say it's a soprano, but rather a solemn and darker voice.

I would like to ask you, precisely because you have two daughters, are there differences between the education of the Asian and the European or the American children? Perhaps the Asians are advantaged because they are more determined to build something…Is it true?

Yes, I consider both sides of the matter. I am now referring to China, because I was born there, and I see that China continues its tradition of educating children at a very early age, they make them read a lot of books, learn Mathematics at a very high level, although they are still very young. On the one hand, it is better this way, but, on the other hand, when you lead such a rigorous life, you lose track of the notion of freedom, which rhymes with fantasy, and fantasy can't result from too much rigour. So, in a way, despite my better judgement, because I like discipline too, I would say that too much discipline is no good.

The children should have time to play, to be awarded this freedom, and I often see in China children who live mostly in the stories they read, they don't have the time to live their own childhood, they don't have the freedom to tell themselves: now I'm going out to play in the sand and to make my own army or castle. There is no time left for this. However, no system is perfect and solutions are being sought all over the world . It is important that every individual finds his own interior balance: for me, it's important that discipline exists, and that, at the same time, fantasy is not smothered.

How would you describe the soul of the Moritzburg Festival?

I believe the soul comes from leadership. Of course, there are wonderful musicians who come here, as it happens at other festivals, but they get to know each other very well, they play music and exchange ideas about it. And this creates a positive atmosphere. Here, there is no room for self-centeredness, each has the right to his own opinions and way of understanding music, which they share with everybody. There is no 'I came here to play, to show you what I'm made of', rather 'These are my ideas, what do you think about them?' This is actually what chamber music means, because it's not all about one person, but several, otherwise the know-it-all ought to become a teacher.

Do you help your husband with the organization of this festival?

No, but we communicate very well. He actually does so much: he plays and he also handles two festivals. He often needs a feed-back. He knows very well what he has to do, but on the other hand he is very open-minded. I don't want to get involved too much, because I know it's his job. I know what other women say-that I'm the boss behind the scene, but in my case this isn't true at all, and I wouldn't even want it to be.

You play solo, but also chamber music. Which one do you like more? Or do they complete each other?

They definitely do. They are two different creatures: when you play solo and you're on your own, you are responsible for yourself. You stay at home and you study and then you go to practice with the orchestra and the conductor. But when you play chamber music, even if you have it all clear, when you meet your other partners, your ideas can be easily messed up. So you have to be very flexible, to absorb new ideas.

Is the festival here like a vacation in any way?

I believe this is the perfect life for a musician, although we work quite a lot. We stay in a wonderful place and all we have to do is to think about music. In real life, there are so many things to take care of, so we can easily be distracted, but this is really a perfect place for a musician.

Cristina Comandașu
Translated by Teodora Gheorghe and Andreea Velicu
MA Students, MTTLC, University of Bucharest