Who or what inspired you to take up the violin and pursue a career in music?
I come from a family of professional musicians, and it was always clear that I would do music. Moreover, because my older sister already played the violin, I wanted to do the same under any circumstances.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My mother practised with me very often. When I left the Soviet Union at the age of 13, I finally discovered contemporary music. To me this meant freedom, and became the central mission of my musical life.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
It was sometimes difficult to stay the course at the beginning, when many “experts” tell you that you are wrong and should play differently. But I guess nothing is easy in my career. I move forward the only way I know how to.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
The one recording closest to my heart is “Take-Two” (Alpha Classics) where I collected dear friends to record duets from the last millennium. The booklet – which I wrote together with my then 8-year old daughter and my husband – explains music history and my philosophy of interpretation as if to a child. One piece (“Das kleine Irgendwas”), composed by Heinz Holliger, is based on a text by my daughter.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
People perceive me as being at my best in recent and contemporary music, probably because in that repertoire nobody can tell me that I am wrong. But I do not see much difference between old and new music. I can play both well and not so well – and both at the same time.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Well, it depends very much on the partners. Recently I took up the voice part of Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” because I had a painful arm condition and could not practice the violin as usual. I love this piece very much and will perform it often, for example with Berlin Philharmonic. And now I’ve taken up Kurt Schwitters “Ursonate”, a Dadaistic nonsense poem, also for voice, which I will perform with my clarinetist friends Reto Bieri and Anthony Romaniuk.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I am almost immune to venues… to me the kitchen, the casino, the church, it doesn’t make much difference. What is central to me is the piece, the message.
Who are your favourite musicians?
There are too many to name them all. But let’s mention two unknown ones: the young conductor Aziz Shokakimov, an astonishing talent of primordial power, he will go very far. And then my piano partner, Polina Leschenko, not a musician, but a poet of colours and perfumes, technically on a level with Cziffra or a young Pogorelich. She likes to practice and to play, she loves music, but everything is just for herself. She is not at all interested in a career, therefore only insiders know her. I try hard to get her out of her ivory tower.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are many, however last year particularly during the tour with Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra where I thought we reached a level of mystery I didn’t think possible.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When you can play what you like, in the way you like and with whom you like. When you have attained that, you have to stay curious, reinvent yourself and your repertoire all the time to prevent yourself becoming bored or burned out. Gidon Kremer is a model of how to do this.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
First, only take it up if you cannot do otherwise. Without talent music is a sad job. Learning an instrument to perfection is already difficult but not nearly sufficient: you have to learn to understand the construction and the meaning of music. For this, studying composition is a very efficient way, even if you are not a great composer. Then you have to read biographies, history, letters. You have to study manuscripts and art history: paintings by Turner can teach you a lot about violin playing. Only then will you be able to keep fellow musicians and the public interested in what you are doing.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
If you and your loved ones are safe and in good health, if everybody has a worthwhile occupation and earns enough for a decent living in a functioning state. What do you need or want more?
Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s new album Deux – Music for Violin & Piano by Bartok; Debussy; Poulenc; Ravel with Polina Leschenko is available now
Violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s versatility shows itself in her diverse repertoire, ranging from baroque and classical often played on gut strings, to new commissions and re-interpretations of modern masterworks.
(Artist photo: Julia Wesely)