Friday, March 18, 2016

Talking to young Russian-born virtuoso violinist Marianna Vasileva

Marianna Vasileva (photo:Maxim Reider)

On February 6th 2016 I met with 28-year-old violinist Marianna Vasileva (Russia-Israel) at the Dan Eilat Hotel, where she performed in two of the concerts of the Eilat Chamber Music Festival. Ms. Vasileva took her first violin lessons with her father, later studying with such prominent teachers as Vladimir Ovcharek (St. Petersburg), Zakhar Bron (Cologne) and Dora Schwarzberg (Vienna). She has won prizes in several international competitions, including the prestigious Henryk Wieniaski Violin Competition and the Prague Spring International Music Competition. In addition to her international performing career, Ms. Vasileva holds master classes and is currently teaching at the Music Academy in Madrid. She has over 40 concertos to her repertoire.
PH: Where were you born?

Marianna Vasileva: I was born in St. Petersburg to a family of musicians. My father is a violinist and my mother is a pianist.

PH: What is your earliest musical memory?
 
MV: As a small girl, my eyes, reaching the level of the piano keys, watched my mother’s fingers. I seemed to understand how the piano sound was produced, but I did not understand how my father produced the sound on the violin. When I was alone at home I tried to imitate them. But the first instrument I touched was the piano and I tried to improvise something. The first violin pieces with which I became familiar were the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and the Chaconne from J.S.Bach’s Partita no.2 in d-minor. Those works were the beginning of my childhood musical memories.

PH: Did you start your early musical training with the violin?

 MV: Yes. Since my father was my first teacher it was hard work right from the start at the age of four or five and, fortunately, I was already practising in a professional manner – for a few hours a day, with only around one hour free for me to take a walk and twenty minutes to watch cartoons. My father was a good teacher for a child.
PH: Did you attend a music school?

MV: Yes, at the age of seven I started attending a special music school which was under the auspices of the St. Petersburg Conservatory. This meant that children at the school were taught by professors of the Conservatory.
PH: What about higher studies?

 MV: After finishing school, I then completed studies at the Conservatory itself, but, by the age of eleven, I was already also studying with Dora Schwarzberg at the Hochschule für Musik und darstellende Kunst (University of Music and Performing Arts) in Vienna. From the age of 17 or 18, I studied with Prof. Zakhar Bron at the Hochschule für Musik und Tanz (The Cologne University of Music) in Germany. So, from age 11, I was actually studying in two conservatories at any one time.

 PH: When did you start performing?
MV: My first concert was at the age of eight. At age ten I won my first international competition. That was in Russia. In that year I made my solo debut playing the Bruch Violin Concerto with orchestras in Russia and in Germany. 

PH: I believe you have immigrated to Israel.
MV: Yes. I came to live in Israel in May, but I am always traveling. Still, I am happy to have the opportunity to spend time here in Israel. I am in love with this country and feel at home here. I feel at home only in Russia and in Israel.

PH: So you are busy with your international concert schedule.

MV: Yes, very busy. For example, I recently played a concert in Palermo with the Sicilian Symphony Orchestra. That was a day before I arrived in Eilat! I also have to be in Madrid frequently to teach my students at the Music Academy.
PH: As a performer, how would you classify yourself – as a soloist, recitalist, chamber musician?

 MV: I am a soloist, but really enjoy playing chamber music as well. I find playing trios and quartets most pleasurable. And sonatas, of course, are chamber music, too.
PH: Do you have any chamber music ensembles you play with regularly?

MV: Unfortunately not, but I have pianists in different countries with whom I like to perform. Here in Israel, for example, I like playing with Tal-Haim Samnon.
PH: How would you sum up your performance schedule of the last year?

MV: It was taken up with performances with orchestras and with my concerts of Paganini’s 24 Caprices. That is how it turned out. Maybe next year will be completely different.
PH: Would you like to mention any special projects in which you are involved?

 MV: Yes. The first Violin Festival in Russia, in St. Petersburg, a fantastic festival. Next season, the concerts will not only be in St. Petersburg, but in Moscow and other big Russian cities. There are plans to have some of the festival events outside of Russia. I opened this year’s festival with my performance of the Paganini Caprices in the large St. Petersburg concert hall and I will close the festival on March 2nd with a program of “The Eight Seasons” - Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires”. I will be the soloist and the orchestra will play without a conductor. Following a week that I will spend with my students here, who will be coming here from different countries, I will travel to St. Petersburg for rehearsals with the St. Petersburg Academy Orchestra, with whom I will be performing the Eight Seasons concert.
PH: Will this be the first time you perform the Piazzolla work?

MV: No. The last time I played it was in Poland with the Silesian Chamber Orchestra.

PH: Do you record?
MV: Yes. I have recorded a CD with Dmitry Kogan, Leonid Kogan’s grandson. It consists of repertoire for two violins – the Ysaÿe Sonata for two violins, a Telemann Canonic Sonata and Boccherini on the Delos label. We tried to imitate the spirit of Dmitry’s grandparents – Leonid Kogan and Elizabeth Gilels. They played these works many, many years ago.  Many recordings of my playing appear on the Internet.

 PH: When you play Baroque music, do you play without vibrato?
MV: No. We are in the 21st century and I play on a modern violin. I don’t play a Baroque violin or with a Baroque bow, neither am I playing in Baroque acoustics. Everyone should imagine how this music would have sounded, but it is always a compromise. One needs to create the Baroque atmosphere but to bring it in line with our times.

PH: Do you write music?

MV: Writing music takes a lot of time. At the moment I am not writing music, but perhaps in the future.
PH: Do you write your own cadenzas?

MV: Yes.
PH: How do you find Israeli audiences?

MV: Warm. For me it is very comfortable and relaxing to perform here. I enjoy having this “conversation” with the public. I was very thrilled seeing such a large audience this morning when I played the Paganini “Caprices”, possibly because hearing this work is rare. The audience seemed made up mostly of people who are not musicians and I can imagine how difficult it must be for non-musicians to listen to a program as serious and difficult as the 24 Caprices.
PH: How do you view the work?

 MV: It is really folk music. Paganini wrote what he heard around him. There are some simple things, like the Scottish bagpipes – but they are still not easy and the work goes on for more than one and a half hours. I really appreciated the warmth I felt from the public today.

PH: How long have you been working on the Paganini Caprices?
MV: Two years, but I am only at the beginning. These pieces are a project for one’s whole life!

PH: Well, playing all 24 Caprices is about as ambitious as it gets!

MV: There are very few artists who have done it. It was violinist Shlomo Mintz who told me I should do it!
PH: What other challenging works would you like to have in your repertoire?

 MV: All of J.S.Bach’s sonatas and partitas and all of Eugène Ysaÿe’s sonatas. The latter may be my next project. It is fantastic music and very interesting.
PH: What music are you mostly enjoying at the moment?

MV: Repertoire is like a rainbow. I am in love with all the works I am presently playing. It is impossible to play and understand music without being in love with it…even contemporary music. I understand some composers better than others, but it is a question of how fast I will recognize the idea. For example, I sense Shostakovich’s music immediately…it is in my blood. With a composer like Brahms – I love his music very much – it will take some time to get into – it is not immediate. I am not willing to perform music on stage before I am deeply involved with the composer.
PH: What about contemporary and new music?

MV: I do play it sometimes, but I am not such a big fan of contemporary music. There are nice pieces, but this, unfortunately, is rare. Of course, we can sometimes find some very interesting contemporary pieces. But did you see the Concerto for ping pong and orchestra on the Internet?
PH: No. So how will the concert scene survive?

MV: I know we are not at a “golden age” of music at the moment, but I am sure that will return – it always comes in waves. But everyone is thinking of how to survive, how to bring new public to the halls. I am really sure that classical music will survive when performed in an absolutely professional way. The great Russian artist Grigory Sikolov, one of the greatest pianists of our times, is such an artist, and he always plays to full houses. 
PH: When you are not busy with your career what interests you?

MV: I love to sing Russian romances. However, I do not have much free time.

PH: Marianna Vasileva, many thanks for your time and sharing your experience and thoughts.

 

 

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