On 22nd September, she appeared on a larger than life screen at the Basel ceremony of the Swiss Grand Prix of Music. She was in front of a plywood wall in her Bucharest hotel where she was preparing to play Ligeti, one of her favorite composers.
Four-time winner of this prestigious national award and a true ray of sunshine. Here was the perfect opportunity to have a little exchange with this young violinist of Moldovan origin, who came to finish her conservatory studies in Bern at the turn of 2000, the capital which has since become her reference point.
A great career
For Patricia Kopatchinskaja this is not her first prize, far from it, she is one of the most renowned violinists of our time and the list of her prestigious collaborations is long and wide. From the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra to the London Philharmonic Orchestra, from Berlin's Deutsche Symphony to the NKH in Tokyo, she can be found everywhere, under the baton of the greatest such as Vladimir Ashkenazy, Roy Goodman, and Philipp Herreweghe, with whom she will soon play Schumann's concerto: “He discovered me while I was still a student and was one of the first to give me a chance. He is a great artist who knows a lot about the cultural and philosophical background of each piece he plays”.
You must not bore your audience
Learning, having fun and discovery seem to be the guiding principles of this extraordinary violinist, but when asked what she believes to be the essential qualities of a good musician, she does an unexpected turn: “There are three criteria: 1. You mustn’t bore your audience. 2. You mustn’t bore your audience. 3. You mustn’t bore your audience”. By listening to her play, one doubts that this has ever happened to her. Patkop, (her nickname), has a presence and style that are breathtaking. There’s something of the Martha Argerich about her, minus the drama. She is all twirling, jumping, fully living all that she interprets, more often than not barefoot, (she once got distracted and forgot her shoes, then discovered the vibrations of the orchestra through the floor).
Not a real violinist
Yet she does not consider herself a ‘real violinist’. "In the sense that I am more interested in music than in any instrument. Does a poet identify with his pen? A painter with his brush?” Later adding, "the instrument is an extension of the soul, of our voice, of our hands, of our spirit. But most of the time, it's also an obstacle. A bit like the paper for written music - which is only a map of the sky, stories, a vision - and our duty as a musician is to translate this information, to pass it on, from heart to heart. So developing a very personal style would then surely lead to something universal? It's very complicated. A good piece of music attracts you, then you enter into it and it enters into you. It is not you who represents the piece, but rather the opposite: the piece owns you and you become the piece”.
A technical question
Technical mastery is not everything. “The mechanical way of playing is a modern disease. People sometimes seem to think that music is a nothing but a multitude of notes played one after the other. But this makes no sense. If you take Bach, some were able to see the immense baroque drama present in his music. Edwin Fischer or Glenn Gould on piano, George Enescu or Adolf Busch on violin ....with them you can easily understand how this music resembles a baroque church”.
When asked about the rigidity, the sometimes dusty side of the so-called ‘classical’ music world, she relativizes without getting discouraged: "There have always been difficult boundaries to cross. In his time, Richard Strauss refused to perform Schoenberg pieces in Berlin. Beethoven had already shown his transgressive side. My daily work, in fact the simple essence of my being, is to try to move these boundaries”. Hence the many beautiful collaborations with a multitude of experimental musicians using the accordion, the decks, electronica or even a meeting with Anoushka Shankar. She is always looking for a childlike approach, a pure and bold way of being playful.
Her opinion of the Swiss music scene?
What does she think of the lack of competition that Swiss musicians sometimes talk about? Of this comfort zone that might harm the creative process and make people a little lazy? "Lazy people are everywhere and they do not count. The Swiss landscape is colourful and interesting, and has produced extremely original and inspiring personalities. There are some remarkable musicians such as Frank Martin, Honegger, Ansermet, Dutoit, Armin and Philip Jordan, Marcello and Lorenzo Viotti, Heinz Holliger, Hansheinz Schneeberger, Reto Bieri, Dieter Ammann, Thomas and Patrick Demenga. Many of them have made a career for themselves abroad. I think we have to know how to leave our home city, our school and our country in order to grow up as an artist. "
When referring to her great sense of curiosity, the fact that she’s into everything, she becomes surprised: "It is strange to have to speak of this, to have to justify it so often. Of course, Bach and Beethoven were the greatest, we know that, we know their works. But I cannot repeat their works indefinitely. A physicist knows and respects the law of gravity, but he no longer experiments with it. He carries out his research where there is still something to find. As for the money won with this prize (100,000 CHF), it will be wholly invested in the creation of new music and for experimentation". As of 2018, Patricia Kopatchinskaja will become the new artistic director of the Berne Camerata which, like us, is totally under her spell.