July 2014

Vineta Sareika, the incredible richness of playing in a quartet

July 29, 2014 08:20

Sareika Vineta is a luminous and energetic Latvian violinist. In addition to making it to the finals of several international music competitions, she has been concertmaster in Antwerp, has performed as a soloist and has had her own piano trio. I met with her while she was visiting New York to play at Carnegie Hall with the Artemis Quartet that she joined in August 2012. Yet, Vineta says she had never really thought of playing in a quartet. For her, quartets were reserved for people who would do only that – play in quartets. Either you play in a quartet 100% of the time, or you don’t touch the form at all.

Vineta studied for many years at the Chapelle Musicale Reine Elisabeth in Belgium. She does not hide her love for the country. "I love Belgium and whenever I go back I feel at home," she says. "It’s really a great country. It’s the warmth that I kept as a souvenir of all my experience in Belgium, from the orchestra in Antwerp to La Chapelle. People are so welcoming, so friendly, without any fuss." Augustin Dumay, who was her teacher for four years, has been and remains a great source of inspiration for her, especially in her search for tone and artistic ideas. The young woman said that studying with him opened up a door to a completely different world.

Vineta began playing the violin so early that she doesn’t really remember life without it. Latvia has a great musical tradition and she was immersed in music from her earliest childhood. It’s simple: as soon as Latvians can talk, they begin to sing. There are choirs in every school, every university. She says of her first teacher, Yankelevitch who was a student himself, that he taught her everything from a technical point of view. "He was as passionate as a whole generation of people also was in my country. He didn’t count the hours and the money was for him completely secondary. He couldn’t even make a living with what he earned from teaching, but for people like him, it was a lifeline" The young violinist remembers going to his home on Sundays to work on the violin for hours. He made her repeat her scales with incredible patience, patience she never found in anyone else after. His students were an integral part of his life; he was like a father to them. "There were plenty of people like him at the time. Unfortunately now it loses a bit with the globalization and the people who leave the country because life there is not easy. But I want to believe that there are still people who will perpetuate this tradition, it’s a priceless thing."

It’s hard work that brought the young woman where she is today. Of course, it took patience and persistence, everyone goes through tough times; the secret is not to give up. Vineta also owes much to people. She has had the chance to meet professors and colleagues who have taught her a lot and opened up her horizons.

Compared to all the other experiences that Vineta has had in her life, the quartet is one of a completely different kind. "It taught me the very specific and effective work discipline, you don’t lose time, you always know where you are going, there is a highly regulated planning", she explains. "At first we think it doesn’t leave enough room for improvisation, but rather quickly we realize that it brings more freedom. Indeed, precisely because it is very organized you don’t waste time you go to the essential. After on stage you feel so much freer when you know exactly what to expect from your colleagues and what they expect from you, what will be the reactions, what is the sound we all seek together. Therein lies the great difference with the orchestra or solo play. "

When the Artemis Quartet meets, they usually start by reading each movement twice. They start with a technical reading to get the general picture. They discuss bowing and very general musical ideas. The second reading is much more detailed. "This is when we begin endless discussions and slug it out", laughs the young woman. Then, before each tour, the quartet plays the program for friends two or three times during "house concerts". Vineta finds it vital to have this performance experience together before going on tour and playing in a large concert hall. "It's one thing to know what to do, but to be able to accomplish it under the stress of the concert is something else."

The specific aspect of a quartet is for four personalities to form only one, to focus everyone's ideas and make it a single thing, a single organism. Of course this is not simple. Artemis Quartet’s golden rule is to try everything and then make a decision between the four of them. By playing together, musicians acquire certain common experiences. At some point there are things you don’t need to explain anymore, certain tones, certain reactions that you can guess and which you don’t need to put into words. Vineta realizes that the quartet’s members more or less have the same vision of music and the same aspirations. "That's why we found each other after all. We are on the same wavelength. I like the way to work with my colleagues’ way of working, how they see the music, the way they discuss it."

Chamber music is a perfect example of life in society, of democracy in some cases, but sometimes there are also dictatorships. "For us I want to believe that democracy is prevailing in the quartet. This is very important. Life is not always pink. It's like in a couple or in any society, there are times when we get on very well and other times when we must make compromises, there are days with and days without. You learn to know each other. On one hand there is the music and on the other there is four people, this is an incredible richness. It teaches a lot about life."

For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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Valeriy Solokov: The special skill of playing the violin

July 21, 2014 09:06

I heard the Ukrainian violinist Valery Solokov in concert only once. It was very long ago, but I remember everything about it. Most of all, I remember his magnificent sound – one of the most beautiful violin sounds I have ever heard since. I remember how stylish and handsome he looked on stage. I remember how accomplished he was with the orchestra; the smiles, the looks of complicity.

Valeriy started the violin in a small middle school in Ukraine. At the time he was also enrolled in ballet school. The two schools were next to each other. For several years the young boy was wondering if he would be playing the violin or dancing ballet. But when he was younger the violinist says that he was kind of chubby so in the end the choice was made by itself. In the Russian and Ukrainian cultures, parents make children study a lot of different subject on a high level in order to develop their abilities. Therefore the violinist studied English, rhythmic, arts, etc. He was good at playing the violin and his violin teacher pushed him, as did his mother. From then on he was almost only playing the violin. Valeriy says he never really had choice of playing or not. He was doing what he had to do. That was what he was doing all day long. Of course he wanted to have fun and be with normal kids instead but he felt the pressure of doing well.

At a relatively early age, the young man left his parents’ home in Ukraine to go study at the Menuhin Music School near London. Leaving his home gave him a kick but again it was also a lot of pressure. “Of course I did all kind of things when I had the freedom out of my parents’ sight but I always felt the pressure from back home,” he remembers. “So I always tried to do well. Plus there was the motivation of wanting to be different. There are many people in Ukraine and in this world and I ought to be different.”

After all Valeriy says he is very happy to be a violinist. “It’s so interesting all the time. I learn how to be a better person everyday in all aspects. Not only on a music training level but also on the personal level. I am not such a media person. I am not interested in showing-off. I am just trying to do my best, playing concerts everywhere, playing with great people. Giving happiness around.”

For him playing the violin is worth it. First of all it’s very difficult to learn but when you have learned it it’s such a special skill to have. “The best with it is that you don’t need to know people’s language to communicate and meet with people, to travel all around the planet and see different places.” By learning how to play the violin you learn a very handy means. By learning how to play the violin you make sure people will accept you wherever you go, people will accept you because of how you do things. “It’s incredible there is almost no other professions that offer you such a lucky way of doing thing, that offer you a passkey to people,” adds the young man. Of course you have to be good in what you are doing and you have to have something to say. With music if you want to do it well you have to be perfect. Daily practice is not doing all the tricks to stay at the top, reminds the violinist. You also have to attempt to be up-to-date with everything that is going on around. “I feel a little too small to answer the question whether it worth playing the violin or not but what I am sure of is that it’s very important to do something that you are very good at.”

The violinist especially loves playing the 20th century repertoire because it’s a language close to ours. It’s fresh, contemporary; it feels like it’s simply telling about us. That said, the young man is also interested in understanding and playing very well the classical repertoire; the great Schubert Sonatas and Beethoven and Mozart Sonatas. “Contemporary music, baroque music; you play what you like. If you like to play contemporary music please do. If you play this music just to be fashionable, to please a certain type of people and be famous, that‘s another reason. We can’t condemn it, it depends on what you are looking for.”

You have to be true to yourself, find you own ways and enjoy the process, believes Valeriy. “Competitions, for instance, are very important but not so much for the result. Competitions are very important because they make you play better.” The next season will be very busy for the violinist. For next, the violinist just hope to keep playing as well as he can. In fact with music you never know what is going to happen, so you better do the best you can, take the opportunity and enjoy the moment.

For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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Tatsuki Narita: The truth of music is found beyond virtuosity

July 14, 2014 09:23

Whether he plays in a gym for children or in the finals at the Queen Elizabeth Competition, Tatsuki Narita says he doesn’t change the way he plays: for him it’s the contact with the audience that is different. The Japanese violinist won second place at the Concours Musical Long-Thibault, the Queen Elisabeth Competition and the International Competition of Sendai. Communication and human contact are very important to him. My interview with him was one of the most charming I have ever had. The endearing violinist doesn’t hesitate to sing and show me some music sheets or to mimic his discovery of the Paganini Caprices or the effect of a baroque bow in the hand. He talks in terms of lines, curves, and phrases: of life, of thought, of music. In addition, the young man, who has lived in Paris for several years, speaks a beautiful expressive French. Thus we alternated between French and English, choosing the language that best illustrated our idea of the moment.

Tatsuki NaritaWhen he was young, a violin teacher lived in Tatsuki’s street and his mother, who is a schoolmistress, suggested that he take lessons for purely educational purposes. Nobody is a musician in his family and no one expected him to become a professional musician. "I've never been forced to play the violin. Besides, if I had been forced I would probably not have wanted to play," he said.

For his 15th birthday, Tatsuki’s parents gave him the score of Paganini’s Caprices. It was love at first sight. "I was so curious to discover them that I played all the Caprices that night. I turned the pages one after another and just like that I went through the book. But then by the next day I couldn’t play anything," says the young man laughing. Since that day his curiosity and love for Paganini hasn’t faltered. He says he has so far played almost all the works of the Italian virtuoso.

I was in the concert hall of the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels for the final of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2012. I was in the concert hall when Tatsuki played his phenomenal Sauret Cadenza of Paganini's First Concerto. The technical level of his playing was amazing. I had difficulty in measuring the full extent of what I was listening to. I found myself giggling while having tears in my eyes. I was hot and I wanted to applaud. I wasn’t the only one. An enormous tension reigned in the hall; everyone was sitting on the edges of their seats.

In front of my admiration for the virtuosity of his performance, the young man keeps a cool head: according to him if a work was written, then it can be played. Virtuosity is not music. "I can’t stay in the virtuosity, I need to look above. The truth of music is found beyond virtuosity." The result of a competition or a performance is the result of a moment. For Tatsuki, a competition shows him where he is, shows him his level of play. Whatever the result, he is never fully satisfied and always has something to learn or to improve.

Moreover, Tatsuki’s great concern of the moment is to let life influence him, to live music with the feelings and emotions that it brings him. For him, we must keep a melodic line in synchronism with life. Our music must evolve with life. Many people would like to change and grow, but are afraid and stay stuck in their small practice room. It takes courage to be swayed and accept life’s experiences – happy or sad – to accept change. "All life experiences are useful to me in seeking and finding the truth of music," said Tatsuki. "For example, if I want to go to Spain, I am preparing. I decide if I walk there or take the train. The preparation to obtain a very beautiful travel line can influence a very beautiful melodic line."

Recently he read somewhere that to live in this world one must learn love without laws. According to him it means one must stop seeking perfection. We must broaden our horizons, let ourselves be carried away and influenced by the experiences that keep coming. The experiences of life, what we read, what we see and hear are all part of us. We can’t necessarily put them into words, nor quantify them, but our music always results from our experiences. Something necessarily changes when we’re in contact with other people, in contact with ideas and life.

For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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Elizabeth Fayette: In general, loving what we do is enough

July 9, 2014 06:30

The violinist Elizabeth Fayette is a pretty unique musician. The way she looks and the way she plays are very different. Muscular and earthy, she has this gorgeous tone and musicality that make you want to listen to her again and again. Above everything else, she is one of the most inspired and wise young women I have ever met. She thinks about things and without ever imposing them on you, she has opinions.

Elizabeth FayetteWhere did Elizabeth get her individuality? “There is nothing to do”, she answers. “I can’t be anything else except what I am, that’s what I am. In my practice I never think how can I be more special, how can I be more unique. What I do, comes from the text and the music and from my training and I don’t see how I am any more or less different than anyone else.” When we interact with people we often use others as a mirror. We use people to reflect back to us what we want to see about ourselves. We see in other people the affirmation of an opinion or a reflection of what we want to see. Elizabeth believes you shouldn’t measure yourself against other people. If others have things you would like to have then try to understand how they got there. But you can’t live your life as a person or as a musician comparing yourself to other people. First of all your skill set is completely different from everybody else’s: the way your brain works, the way your hands work, the way your heart works. You can glean knowledge from other people, you can gain information but you can’t measure yourself against them. You can only live your life the way you believe you should. You can’t do anything else. “I really believe that and I think it shows somewhere. I think when you are not convinced of what you are doing I think it shows in your playing, that emptiness, that hollowness”, comments the young woman.

You should be convincing about what you are doing. You can easily be paralyzed by all the choices you have: which bowings, which fingerings. Really sometimes all you need to do is to decide to go a certain way, to make a choice. You don’t need to have an emotional attachment to it; you have your whole life to play it differently. To really believe in something even if it’s something like down-bow or up-bow, to really feel it’s right changes everything. “When you go up on stage you don’t have the luxury of doubt. Doubt is not a useful emotion on stage,” Elizabeth reminds us.

The first thing Elizabeth said when the issue of practicing came up is that there is more to life. “Sometimes I find when I have a lot going on and I am really busy it helps to go to a concert or read great music with people whose playing I really love. So I am still playing and I am still thinking about music on a high level but I am not trapped with myself.” Of course there is no substitute for practice. Hopefully, practicing is never a chore for musicians. There is an element of a repetitive thing: you have to do it every day; it’s a cumulative thing. But it should always be in the vein of exploration and excitement.

Elizabeth remembers something a friend at Juilliard, the violinist Jiafeng Chen, told her once. “At a certain point you are practicing for yourself, you are practicing because to be a musician is in some way a humanistic endeavor, and philosophical and you are sort of an embodiment of human. Think when you play Bach or Mozart, you are sort of the embodiment of the best, of the best thing that humanity can offer. So you have a moral obligation to practice, you have a moral obligation to play well because you are so privileged.”

Elizabeth Fayette is really in love with what she does and is persuaded that everyone can love classical music. Playing music is one of the best parts of humanity; it brings out the best in us. Not only what is most refined because you can have a very primitive visceral emotional response to very refined music. Elizabeth gives the example of Don Giovanni: “yet the most refined opera it makes you feel terror, joy, alienation, humor. You don’t need to know anything to feel that and it’s something completely apart from the industry of opera. People should separate what they don’t like from what moves you. There is a difference.” She is convinced that everyone can love classical music. They just don’t know what it is. They don’t even know where to start. They also don’t know how much classical musicians love it. “I think if people see that somebody cares about something even if they don’t care about it, they start wondering why shouldn’t they care.”

The young violinist doesn’t think it’s pandering or dummying to present classical music to a large variety of audiences as long as it’s done at a high level. In the end that’s the only thing we all look for: well played great music. “I don’t think classical music is dying. First of all how can something that I feel is so basic and so essential and so integral to the human experience be dying? Human emotions don’t change. I think in general loving what we do is enough.” Love is the best way to convince people. People who are fascinated by something fascinate by association. “I have this constant reminder that music is human, even the most complicated Carter or Babett, it’s human. These are people – very smart people sometimes, but people. Same way that Notre-Dame was build by people, same way that the pyramids on the backs of people – people!”

Be alert, be interested, reminds us Elizabeth. You are always the sum total of who you are and you never know if something from years ago will fit back in your life of today. “It often feels like things that I am still working through from years ago that I wasn’t ready to use or to explore but now it’s kind of relevant. Be hungry for everything I guess even if you can’t use it right now. This is your life don’t you want to learn, don’t you want to know? We are so lucky to do something that you really can fall more in love with it all the time. We do something that we can be fascinated and fully occupy an entire life with.”

For other articles please visit my blog at: www.jacquelinevanasse.com

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