One evening in September, my grandmother left me a voicemail while I was practicing in my room. The message was nothing but the Sibelius violin Concerto. It was so unreservedly beautiful that I had to stop and sit down to listen. Soon I called my grandmother back to hear the rest of the concerto, and for nearly half an hour I stood mesmerized, listening to this incredible music. At the end, a name was mentioned: Alina Pogostkina. What a great discovery I had made! It was different from anything I had heard lately. Articulated, meaningful, expressive, melodic, rich, the music had a whole new dimension to it. I was lucky enough to meet the young violinist in the weeks following a recital she gave in Montreal. I met a young woman who is definitely not afraid of challenges. Eager to learn and develop, she is open to new people and new ideas.
From a very early age, Alina Pogostkina knew that she was going to be a violinist. Both her parents were violinists so she says that she didn’t really have a choice as far as her career went. Her father, who was her teacher for 15 years, saw how talented she was from the very beginning. But the journey that led her to where she is today hasn’t always been easy, beginning with her emigration from Russia to Germany in 1992. Back then, her family had no money or connections, and neither one of her parents had jobs. They had to do something, she explains, so they started playing in the streets to earn a little money. She was never forced to play with her parents and actually enjoyed performing with them. Moreover, it taught her that a musician’s life is not always easy, a lesson that she would never forget. “After all, I am very happy I didn’t start on big stages because it makes me appreciate all those amazing opportunities I have now and the privilege of where I am today.” All those years she had to work really hard. For 10 years she participated in many competitions before finally winning an important one. “It took me time and this time allowed me to develop. I am glad I was not thrown into this kind of challenging life unprepared. I really had time to grow and I think that was the best way for me to learn,” she says.
Around the age of 15, the young woman began to wonder if playing the violin was really what she wanted to do. Could it be that it was her father’s dream and not have anything to do with her? “I had a difficult time figuring out what I really want and finding my identity in this life because I was fulfilling the dream of my father," she recalls. “But I realized there was nothing else I would love more and I would like to do more than music.” Gradually, Alina Pogostkina found her own way of making music but again, it was a very long process. To develop her own personality and interpretation of the repertoire it was very important for her to get away from home and learn from other people. She went to study with Antje Weithaas at the Berlin’s Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler. She discovered a totally new world, going from the Russian school of violin to a German teacher who was not the same generation as her father. “She [Antje Weithaas] showed me a whole new side of music, how to interpret, how to find my own way through it. She was not telling me what to do but was asking me questions all the time; what do you want in this place, what character does it have, etc. She really helped me to developed my own personality," says the young woman about Ms. Weithaas’ teaching.
For Pogostkina, it’s crucial to have a good balance between the influences you get from around you and your own understanding of things. “It’s difficult to say what are my influences. I think the whole life is a process of learning. And the more you learn, the more you build yourself a personality.” You have to meditate on what you have experienced, what you get from the outside to make it yours. Learning music is a long process that lasts a lifetime. “This is what I find the most exciting, that you can always improve. I think I am at the very beginning of finding out so much about what and how I can express. And it’s a continuing process, not only for music but also for life; to find out which way to go and who you are.” Pogostkina’s enthusiasm for learning is very inspiring. How often do people not give the impression that they have already seen and done everything? Rare are those who confess that it’s time for them to learn something new. “I think for some people it’s a way to protect themselves. You make yourself very fragile and vulnerable by saying you still have to learn. I mean, it’s scary to actually have the courage to say I don’t know and to really be open to influences and changes,” explains the young musician.
For the moment, she does not have the intention of playing in a particular concert hall or with specific musicians. Pogostkina says that for the next few years she is mostly aspiring to improve herself. “My main goal, if there is one, would be to get rid of borders and limits in everyway, on a personal level and as well as with music and expression.” The violinist believes that people are limiting themselves with tradition, morality and schooling conveyed by their education or by society. If you open yourself up to the world, an unexpected realm of possibilities might come to you. “I am meeting musicians of all kind; jazz musicians, flamenco musicians and I learn so much from them. Hopefully one day I will be able to improvise, it’s a dream!” continues the young woman. “But it takes time and courage for letting go.” Besides playing the violin, Pogostkina is interested in meditation, Buddhism and philosophy. She is also a very passionate tango dancer. She tries her best to experience different things and to be around interesting people from different backgrounds. “This allows me to keep my mind open. By staying only in the classical music circle with classical music friends I would be limited.” If you open yourself to other forms of expression it will gives you another perspective on what you are doing. This is especially true if you are expressing yourself through art. It appears legitimate that you need to have seen and experienced things to have something to say.
At the end of the interview I told Pogostkina that my grandmother used to say that I should eat one more piece of chocolate because it would worked out beautifully in my music. “That is exactly what is art and life about!” she exclaims.
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