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Laurie Niles interview with Janine Jansen: Back on stage in New York

February 25, 2011 at 3:45 AM

Violinist Janine Jansen is back, and if you are lucky enough to be in New York this week, you'll have plenty of opportunity to see her perform: tonight she starts a series of four concerts at Avery Fisher Hall, featuring the Britten concerto with the New York Philharmonic and Paavo Järvi. (Other performances are Friday, Saturday and Tuesday) On Monday she will play selections from her new album of French works at Le Poisson Rouge with pianist Inon Barnatan.

Exhaustion from several years of a 90-plus-concert-a-year schedule had forced a five-month break on the Dutch violinist last summer and fall, but she was in good spirits on Tuesday, speaking over the phone from the recording studio at Carnegie Hall.

Janine Jansen
Photo: Decca/Sara Wilson

"I'm feeling much better – I'm very happy to be back and playing again," said Janine, who is cutting back to more like 60 or 70 concerts a year. "It was definitely a break that I needed, but I'm fine. I love music, I love being able to perform and bring music to people, and that's what I want to do."

The Benjamin Britten Violin Concerto is a favorite for Janine, who recorded the work in 2009, and the idea of four straight performances excites her.

"We have four performances with this amazing piece," Janine said of this weekend's concerts. "Over the last 12 years, everywhere I would go, I would fight for this piece." She said she probably drove a few conductors and orchestra managers crazy, "They would ask me, 'What do you want to play?'" and her response was always, "'Britten, Britten!' But it's such a great piece, it's one of the greatest for me, and I want to bring it everywhere. I know that nowadays many more violinists are playing it, but it wasn't like that before. It deserves to be played, and it's so nice that, even though the piece may not be as well-known, we can still do four concerts at Avery Fisher Hall. It's a great chance."

Janine is also promoting her newly-released recording of French and French-inspired music, called Beau Soir ("Beautiful evening"), a project she had in the works before her period of rest. Named for the Debussy piece by the same name, the album includes all music for violin and piano, in collaboration with pianist Itamar Golan and with new pieces written by Swiss composer Richard Dubugnon.

It was Dubugnon who saw the connection between the pieces she had chosen – the Debussy Violin Sonata, Messiaen "Thème et Variations," the Ravel Violin Sonata and short works such as Debussy's "Clair de lune" and Fauré's "Après un rêve." The thread that connected each piece was the night, thus the music is meant to progress through one "beautiful evening." Dubugnon sought to fill in any gaps with the composition of three new pieces: "La Minute exquise," about a moonlight moment between two lovers; "Hypnos," named for the Greek god of sleep; and "Retour à Montfort-l'Amaury," an homage to Ravel that Dubugnon composed in the home where Maurice Ravel once lived, now the Musée Ravel.

Janine had met Richard Dubugnon a few years ago, when he wrote a violin concerto for her.

"I asked Richard if he would be interested in writing a few short songs for this recording, and I showed him the repertoire that I had in mind," Janine said. "He always has a very clear, bright look at things, and he really made sure that the recording had a theme going through it. He really made those bridges – going through moonlight, going through sleep, dreaming. A nice theme, I think. It adds to the recording."

Her partnership with pianist Itamar Golan has also been important, especially in a recording of French works, where both instruments have equally important roles.

"In this repertoire, especially in the Debussy Sonata, the whole sound world has to be kind of up in the air," Janine said. "It needs this incredible transparency and sound, otherwise, the whole balance in the piece is gone. It's so flexible in its form, in its characters and in its moods. One needs to be able to change and adjust to each other in seconds, to follow each other and to move together in the most flexible way. I think (the Debussy) is probably one of most challenging sonatas in that way."

And then there is that "Blues" movement in the Ravel Sonata, with its sultry slides, with a character part French and part African-American. While it has freedom, the rhythmic elements are pieced together with the precision of a clock.

"It needs to always feel a little bit like it's pulled back, but at the same time it needs to have this incredible edge and rhythm to it – and this bite," Janine said. "One can only find these things by playing together a lot. And now, even after recording, we've been playing it quite a lot in recitals together, and we still get further in that balance, finding flexibility with the control. There's also humor in it. There are moments in concerts where Itamar does something I'm not expecting – coming in slightly late after a rest or something. It makes me smile. It's great when these things happen, when you can surprise each other, but in the most positive way. If you can have fun with it together, you kind of inspire each other."

When I asked Janine if she had anything else in the works, she said that though she has a full schedule again, she is watching how much she has going at one time.

"I think that after this break, at least for the rest of this season, I have really decided I want to focus on coming back and playing concerts again. Not to immediately to dive under and drown. Just take it one step at a time," Janine said. "I think I learned a good lesson from the break I had to take, and I don't want to go back to that place, ever."

* * *

Janine Jansen speaks with composer Richard Dubugnon, about French music and the pieces he wrote for her recording:

Janine Jansen plays Fauré's "Après un rêve.":

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