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An Interview with the Violinist Vlad Stănculeasa on the 'Romanian Journey' Album

Monday, 25 November 2013 , ora 10.26
On 25th July, 2013 the recording label RCA Red Seal, a Sony division, issued a CD entitled Romanian Journey, recorded by the Romanian violinist Vlad Stănculeasa and by the German pianist Thomas Hoppe. The album comprises works by George Enescu, Mihail Jora, Paul Constantinescu and Tiberiu Olah and is broadcast in Romania for the first time within the Music Box radio show, on 25th November 2013, at 19:00.

It is a great joy to have a CD with the name of a Romanian interpreter on the cover, entitled
Romanian Journey and issued by an important recording label, RCA Red Seal. First of all, I will ask you how you came to collaborate with this recording company.

The starting point was when the pianist Thomas Hoppe and I played together at the Menuhin Festival in Switzerland. After our recital there, Thomas came up with the idea to propose Deutschland Radio, the public German radio, to make a recording in their studios at Siemens Villa in Berlin. And, of course, once we proposed such an interesting programme for the Western European audience, we managed to draw the attention of Sony RCA who manifested their interest in promoting this programme. As you know, it is very seldom played and almost unheard of in the West of Europe. The contact with Sony was facilitated by the organizers of the Menuhin Festival; I have a good relationship with them and they immediately helped us to get in touch with Sony when they heard the news that the Romanian programme would become reality after all.

Why are you saying that the programme is very interesting for those in Western Europe?

In my opinion, this is a rather sensitive issue. It’s interesting because the programme was not promoted at all; Tiberiu Olah is unknown, the same goes for Paul Constantinescu (maybe a little more is known of him, but not very much) and Jora – even less. It’s interesting because, in general, the recording companies are totally saturated with a repertoire that was recorded again and again by great interpreters of the previous and current centuries, so the idea of novelty and innovation is always welcome. Unfortunately, many abuse this idea of novelty and innovation because, to a certain degree, they rely very much on this idea of promoting something new and of presenting something more or less exotic for the ears of the classical music aficionados.

But why ‘unfortunately’?

Yes, from this point of view it’s a winning strategy, but regrettably people focus exclusively on the character of this music which, in our case – Romanian Journey – is that of the Romanian folklore. I mean, it’s clear that our composers drew their inspiration from the Romanian folklore. The point I want to make with this whole story is that many times the interpreters who use this repertoire will approach it mainly from this perspective, emphasizing the origins of this music. Namely, if it’s the case of the Romanian folklore, they will almost exclusively talk about and show their appreciation towards the origins of this music, the Romanian folklore. To make things more clear, why did I choose to record these composers? Because when it comes to this music, these composers that I approached in the recording are those who struggled, who chose to include Romanian folklore in their compositions; but it is not our intention to approach music mainly from this perspective, the exclusively folkloric one.

You compiled this programme, didn’t you?

Yes, I did. Together with Thomas.

So, George Enescu. I think
the reason is obvious, but I’ll allow you to tell us why George Enescu is on this CD.

George Enescu…I could say that I have a rather special connection to our maestro, because I grew up with his music, I have always felt close to his music. During my teenage years, I enjoyed very much this work that I also recorded on the CD – Impressions of Childhood. My years in Switzerland have brought me even nearer to Enescu because I’ve had and still have the chance to play one of his violins. So, the connection is quite strong and, of course, whenever I have the opportunity to include Enescu in the programme of my recitals, I do it.

Will you please give us more details on the instrument you play on, an instrument which also belonged to George Enescu.

The instrument is a Santo Seraphin, made in Venice in 1739 and I have the great opportunity to play it due to the Tarish Foundation in Switzerland which, during my studies at the Menuhin Academy, entrusted me with the violin. Theoretically, the instruments are on loan to students only during the period of their studies. My extraordinary chance was that the Foundation wanted to continue to lend it to me even after I graduated. We bent the Academy regulations a little, but in the end it was their choice. And for this I feel lucky and happy.

Now, let’s talk about Paul Constantinescu.

Paul Constantinescu…As a parenthesis, I would like to say something about the three composers: Jora, Constantinescu and Olah. I first encountered their music when I was in high school, maybe even before, and it seems to me that even now we have a certain misconception when it comes to this music: that it would only be appropriate for high school or that it would only be approached by students in preparatory violin classes. Or, I remember that when I studied these works, I can’t say that I went very deep, but I felt that they were something more than some works you interpret in an audition or that you use to practise your hand, your sound or the vibrato. And then, when I revaluated and paid attention to these works, I realized that I was right that time, when I studied them, that there was something more to be discovered in them. This is another reason why the wish to record them was rather strong: I knew for sure that this music deserves to be issued and it deserves to be better known.

Is this your first CD?

Yes, it is.

Have you already received some feed-back from the recording company regarding the general, international reception of the CD?

As far as I know, the people at the German radio are very happy with the result, I don’t have much information on sales. What I can say is that two good reviews have already been published. It’s interesting that the second review somewhat tends to reproach that this kind of music requires more energy, a non-conformist manner of playing, something more extrovert…and that makes us come again to something I was saying earlier: it’s a pity that when it comes to Romanian music, everybody automatically thinks either of fiddlers, or of something more exotic; there are many confusions being made between a freestanding work and one which, even if influenced by Romanian folklore, doesn’t necessarily have to be a folkloric work, where these feelings labeled as introvert or extrovert are clearly visible. We know very well that when the music is very cheerful or fast, we often deal with an extrovert. It’s difficult to offer a clear explanation now, but what I want to get at is that people, the moment they hear of Romanian music, immediately start thinking of a certain kind of ethnic music. This is partly the fault of the people who recorded this music, because they rather insisted on the origins of this music than on the effort of the composers to create a freestanding work that would be part of the repertoire, the compositions inspired by our extremely rich folklore. I said it seemed a pity to me that people chose to focus only on one side of this music.

Now, at the end of our interview, please invite the Romanian audience to listen to and, why not, to purchase this CD.

I could start from the fact that there is a lot of music inspired by the Romanian folklore, but I didn’t want my interpretation to focus on this aspect. In hindsight, the focus is on the work and itself and on what the composers tried to describe using folkloric elements. I could also say that this CD presents the introvert side of our universe and of our nation in which I have faith and of which I am very fond. Some technical explanations related to the recording: Thurbion Samuelson and Gunnar Andersson were the sound engineer and the producer, respectively. These two people are well-respected in the universe of records. I think that the recording has indeed a quality of the sound which fits the repertoire perfectly – we were a perfect fit from this point of view and there also might be something specific to Sweden that goes very well with the Romanian specific. We might have something in common. Thomas Hoppe is an amazing pianist who gives a lot of concerts with his trio Athos Trio (I think they came to Romania, too); he is an incredible pianist. This kind of program is difficult to find even in Romania and I think it could be a source of inspiration for those approaching this repertoire.

Cristina Comandașu
Translated by Mihaela Olinescu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest