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15 Questions to Barbara Kuster/Asasello Quartett

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am fine, thank you. At my desk in Cologne.

What’s on your schedule right now?
Rehearsal is at 3.30 pm, we will work on Fanny Hensel-Medelssohn and Wolfgang Rihm "Blaubuch". That is a lot of work because there are sooo many mistakes in the printed parts compared to the handwritten full score! Not always funny. The good thing is, we end up having similar conversations about the music and the intentions of the composer as we have with the "Kritischer Bericht" about compositions of Beethoven or others. 

Can you still remember the first time you heard a piece of classical music?

No. There was so much music at home all the time with my father practising (very often one of the Mozart flute concertos) and my mother also playing the piano. But there are a few pieces which made a very stong impression at a young age: "Zauberflöte" under Karl Böhm with Fritz Wunderlich as Tamino and Chaconne of the d-minor partita played by young Menuhin, a single record my mother once brought me home when I was ill. That was one of the rare moments when I really wanted to be a violonist, just to be able to play that piece.  

What was the deciding moment, which made you want to become an artist?

At the age of eleven I had the wonderful chance to be "Pollicino" in Henzes Opera and I wanted with all my heart to become an Opera singer.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
It is very hard to always fight against myself, my nerves, my laziness, my tiredness, sometimes my anger against stupid, respectless people, which should rather be ignored than fought against... The best part, well there are so many good things about being a musician! The art itself: groove, vibrations, emotions. The way to get there; which first means communication,dialogue- with my collegues, the composer, the  public- and second, the reflection about what we are doing here and now, respecting and always trying to understand taste and style of our ancestors. Last but not least we meet wonderful people, travel a lot and therefore have many different dishes to taste and eventually funny stories to tell. 

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
When I get the feeling that there is something good happening right now at this place with these people under these circumstances, a feeling for the moment, the right tension, realizing that we all are alive and here for something, risking a lot. We try to find solutions in the rehearsal which are strong enough to stand the pressure so we don't have to question too much what we are doing on stage and are free to do what we have to do with all our hearts and brains. That means, of course, we have to be as sure as possible technically and, equally important, we have to know what we want with the piece. But sometimes I wish we would not be "on stage" but more with the public, without having to convince and be strong and unvulnerable all the time. The sporty aspect of music, technical brilliance and winner characters are not everything and the artists who look for that only run the risk of becoming  exchangable. I even think, that there are passages in compositions, contemporary anyway but also for example in Beethovens music, where we need to struggle and fight and sweat, because it is written like that. Crazy tempo, dynamics, intervals or sounds. If our "solution" is too perfect, easy, smoothe we loose the basic message of the piece, contemporary or classical romantic, there is no difference at heart, only in language. 

How do you balance the need to to put your personal emotions into the music you play and the intentions of the composer?
I will try to understand what the composer wants and make that somehow relevant to myself in order to be able to convince a third and forth person (my collegues and the listener). It is always an act of balance between emotion and calculus. We should not be too emotional, emotions are mostly left to the end of the chain (composer, interpreter and finally listener). 

In which way, would you say, is your cultural background reflected in your performances?
First I don't know what my cultural background really is. Probably I started "swiss" and ended (so far) "european". Starting in Basel I would say, that there are different approaches to music. There is a society in my hometown where classical music (mostly ignoring, of course, contemporary classical music)  is "good" and children playing an instrument are "good" children from the point of view of education in a humanistic old european way. The result is sometimes very boring and has not much to do with what I am looking for now. Then there were times in Basel during and after second world war where Basel became important because the avantgarde, supressed everywhere else in Europe and Russia, found some freedom there. That was a very important time for Basel and I could still feel some of that spirit as a child, which was very important for me as well. But personally I think it was not easy to grow up between a quite protestant and dusty tradition of old european house music making and the thinking back to these aswell already passed times between the fourties and sixties where there was actually something important and contemporary going on. Plus, the swiss way of education means unfortunately always  trying to reach a quite good level, not better and not worse than everybody else, there are very few exeptions to that rule. I wouldn't have gone anywhere as a violonist in Basel and the one year of "american input" at the age of fifteen would't have been able to change that really.

Fortunately now I play in a stringquartet with members from Russia, Poland and Switzerland. Our teachers and friends are very international. I am sure, this conglomerate is defenately reflected in our performances.  

How would you describe and rate the scene for classical music of the country you are currently living in?

Now I live in Germany. I don't know enough about the scene. I see lots of people trying to do something with very different approaches. School projects (education, more or less successful) avant- garde  (important festivals for contemporary composing), traditional small concert series in smaller cities,  mainstream in order to sell a lot of tickets and fill big halls etc. There are many musicians in the big cities and "Konkurrenz belebt das Geschäft". But there is, for my taste, also sometimes a too serious approach and not enough pleasure ("Freude" (joy) not "Spass" (fun)!!! very important) in the whole business. And, compared to Basel, there are not enough private "connoisseurs" willing to support artists without focus on the commercial side. (Of course there are exceptions like, for example, Karl Heinrich Müller and the  "Museum Insel Hombroich" in Neuss, the life project of a visionary.) 

Do you consider it important that more young people care for classical music? If so, how, do you think, could this be achieved?
It is absolutely important that more young peolpe care for classical music. I think, one way young peolpe can be reached is over the contemporary  classical music, performed live. Children are often not so full of prejudices and really open to what happens at the moment. They also care less about somebody being famous or not, a fact which sometimes impedes sophisticated peoples willingness to form their own opinion.  


How would you rate the importance of the internet and new media for classical music?
In general very important but not for every artist in the same way. For somebody like Lang Lang it is a wonderful way to reach peolpe of all ages and he definitely proves that since a few years successfully. 


What’s your view on the relationship between musical education and classical music?
I am afraid I don't understand the question fully. Does it mean if I think that we need musical education in order to be able to understand classical music? People are different and musicians are very different. There are composers with an incredible musical education and enormous talent like the genius Mozart, to name the most famous example, and there are wonderful musicians, who have even a hard time reading music, but are still wonderful musicians. There are listeners who "know" everything about everything but don't understand a thing, completely blocked up ears, and they just go on everybodys nerves with their wonderful musical education. And there are people who don't know anything but are the best listeners and give most precious feedbacks. There are amateur musicians who still suffer at old age of the injuries caused by ambitious teachers and will never be able to loose their fear and play full power as long as they live.  But the achievement of for example Walter Levin and his quartet collegues in the United states is fantastic. But it prooves, that musical education like any other education is a delicate thing and is mostly only fruitful if it is done well. 

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
There are certain peolpe I would like to hear. Keiko Hattori with Mozart concertos, the Brentano srtring quartet with whatever piece, the Jack quartet with Lachenmann, the singer Nuria Rial, Amandine Beyer with Bach concertos, Gérard Wyss and a swedish youth choir. But to make a good program is a different thing, I would want to discuss that with experts.  

How would you describe the relationship with your instrument?
There are two: violin and bow. I have different relationships with both of them . Violin is the good one. If something doesn't work it is always my fault . Sometimes I don't like her for being too good. I have two bows. Never know for sure which one to take. For "hard" pieces (beating, playing very very loud and loosing the hair for example Ligeti 2, fourth movement) I know whom to take. Other things are more complicated and I am not in love with either of them anyway, I blame them sometimes. That is unfair, material is always innocent, isn't it? 

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
Besides the piano and the viola which I had to play during my studies and both liked there is my voice (sometimes) and once I tried the trumpet. That was farthest away to the violin, it was great, maybe it would have been a good choice?

Picture by Wolfgang Burat, Cologne. Courtesy of Asasello Quartett 

Beethoven/ Kojevnikov/ Mendelssohn Bartholdy (2005)
Mendelssohn Bartholdy/ Kurtág/ Haydn (2007)

Asasello Quartett

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