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An Interview with the Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Tuesday, 28 January 2014 , ora 8.08
Patricia Kopatchinskaja is the kind of violinist for whom conventions don't exist; she herself becomes music when she interprets a work. For her, music means life, pure energy. In order to transmit this, she 'connects' to the soil as if it were a socket, playing barefoot so she can eliminate any obstacle between her and the telluric energy. And then she becomes unleashed. Given such enthusiasm, it is not difficult to understand how come she receives heaps of awards. The most recent is the ICME award for the best recording, granted for her album with works by Bartók, Ligeti and Eötvös. I had the privilege of conducting an interview with her; I asked her to talk to us about this album, about her passion for folk, but also about her friendship with the much-regretted Mihaela Ursuleasa.

Mrs. Kopatchinskaja, your album with works by Bartók, Ligeti and Eötvös won an ICMA Award and was nominated for the Grammy Awards. What connects you to these composers?

Their music is the music of the region where I was born. From the spiritual point of view, I recognize myself in it easily. I don't need to 'translate' it, because it speaks the language of my heart. When I interpret it, it's as if I were telling a story, in as natural a manner as possible. I understand this music or, at least, I hope so. What is certain is that I really enjoy playing it and I would be delighted if everybody interpreted these works more often. They represent intense modern music, which is wonderful and easy to understand.

All three composers whose works you recorded - Bartók, Ligeti and Eötvös - are Hungarians born in Transylvania, Romania. Which are, in your opinion, the similarities on their visions regarding composition?

All of them are somehow connected, and by all I mean not only the three you mentioned, but all the composers. If we take a look at Beethoven's scores, we'll find many common elements with Ligeti, for example. Thus, we suddenly realize what György Kurtág wanted to say when he was stating: 'Bartók speaks the Beethoven language.' By extrapolating this statement, we discover that Kurtág also speaks Bartók's language, and so does Ligeti. They all come from the same tradition and each learned from the other. And the fact that all were born in this part of the world, where people speak both Romanian and Hungarian, represents another aspect which links them;but, as I was saying before, I also find resemblances between the visions regarding composition of all composers.

Moreover, I believe that our part of the world (Patricia Kopatchinskaja was born in Kishinev, the Republic of Moldova) gives us a lot of power and energy to survive. Entire generations lost so much because of the wars and different regimes, with politics always being so unstable. I think that's why God gave us music, to help us get over all these. In my opinion, music and culture in general are essential in making us stronger, no matter what happens around us from the political or economic point of view. We are the sum of our culture. And the culture that defines our region is a very special one.

We were all able to see that you have a special inclination for the music inspired by folklore; we listened to your interpretations of this music dozens of times. Could you, please, tell us how it all started?

It all began at home, of course. As a matter of fact, everything I do has its roots in my family. My parents play folkloric music: my mother is a violinist, and my father plays the cimbalom. So, even as a child, I listened to this kind of music all the time. It's in my ears, in my soul and in my blood. In our home there was not a day without music: either we played it, or we listened to it, or we discussed about it. Everything was music - at breakfast, lunch and dinner…

As far as I am concerned, I can say that folkloric music is my blood, classical music represents my bones and the contemporary is the air I breathe. I think that folkloric music is important because it represents the foundations of classical music. If we think about Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, all of them learned from folkloric music and used it. Even Charles Ives, for example, used American traditional music in his compositions. All of them were more or less inspired by works they listened to in their childhood.

Unfortunately, it seems that people don't attach much importance to folklore anymore, but prefer listening to cheap, uncomplicated music, heard on the radio; I believe this is very sad, because musical traditions need people's support.

Traditional music from Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia is extremely interesting and comprises elements that link it to Scottish or Irish folklore, for example, but also Indian. It has many Asian influences, which circulated to the north of Europe. It's very interesting to study this kind of music. Unfortunately, I didn't do it professionally; I only listened to the folkloric music interpreted by my parents. But I think that to study it at the University must be extremely interesting. Traditional music is a real treasure for a nation.

I don't mean that we are forced to support it, because I don't want to make it sound as if it were an object in a museum. Music has to be alive, to be sung by children at school and at home. But it will slowly be forgotten, and I think the same will happen to classical music.

Even going to church has become a rarity, at least in the case of Western families. Most people don't usually go to listen to the religious service. But even this is part of our traditions, because we witness there important principles for family, for children; it is the place where they understand what they need to do in order to be kind and generous.

And my love for folkloric music surely derives from the love my parents have for this kind of music. When I realized what a treasure it is, I decided to put together a programme joining traditional music interpreted by my parents with works belonging to the classical - The Violin Sonata No. 3 dans le caractère populaire roumain by George Enescu or Tzigane by Ravel. It was an immense joy to play this repertory together with my parents and with an extremely dear friend, the late Mihaela Ursuleasa. Since Mihaela's death, we have been interpreting this programme in her memory.

I know that you used to perform together quite often. I also know that you recorded, with her and with other musicians, the album 'Rapsodia'. Have you ever thought of recording an album only with her?

Yes, of course. We wanted to record together an album containing only works by Bartók; it would have comprised the two Sonatas for violin and piano and the two Rhapsodies. Regrettably, however, there was no time before it was too late.

In an interview, you stated that 'I am not entirely from Moldova or from Switzerland or Austria, not a violinist, but I am… myself.' The feeling that you can't be placed in a certain category means freedom. Is this where all your force and vitality come from?

It sounds good, but I don't know what to say. We spend our entire lives searching for a meaning and I think that only a few of us know who we are. For example, I sometimes believe that being born in Moldova has a very deep meaning, other times it seems meaningless, since we all are only a small part in a huge mechanism. And each of us does whatever it is necessary for this universe to work. Who knows? Who chooses what has to be done? Is it us or something higher? I still don't know. But I keep searching for the answer and I think that music has this power, of helping us to understand who we are.

I strongly believe that music grants us access to another world. It's like a column of energy: if we are inside it, we can connect to another dimension. This happens to me during concerts, everything seems perfect and this extremely important connection takes place. I feel that I can still communicate with Mihaela, whenever I interpret Enescu's Sonata No. 3. Music is a form of energy that concentrates together what is alive, what is not yet born and what doesn't exist in our world any longer. Music is this force, which makes us feel infinite.

Petra Gherasim
Translated by Mihaela Olinescu and Elena Daniela Radu
MTTLC, The University of Bucharest