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15 Questions to Viviana Sofronitzki

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Thank you, I am fine, very happy to be at home in the small town of Divisov, situated among fairy tale hills in the center of Bohemia.

What's on your schedule right now?
A lot – which involves preparing a Schubert recording and planning for a Mozart cycle of concerto and chamber performances this summer. For another thing, playing my husband’s (fortepiano maker Paul McNulty) Stein copy: it’s a new model for him, and for everyone else. Actually, recent researches in his field have unearthed much more about these pianos, and the results are a revelation: now, I’m trying to figure out what music would be best for it. My other projects include collecting Pleyel information for making a Chopin piano for 2010, and preparing for TV filming which will take place tomorrow.
If you hadn't chosen music, what do you think you would be doing right now?

I would probably have become a visual artist, designer or mathematician; in any case doing something where quality matters, and success is measured by best result. I could be a teacher, organizer or doctor. But not a writer!!!

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?

Books... old towns... touching old walls....people with energy... anyone who reflects the first idea… Do you mean to ask who has impressed me most? An old black lady singing Amazing Grace...her broken hoarse voice only made the impression more intense… I am most impressed with artists who reach beyond the instrument: I was astonished at Richter’s skills to get so much from the piano case… and brought to another world by Stanislav Neuhaus getting from the same box what could not be human-made. My father used to say that in the future concert halls will be no instruments, only an empty stage with a chair: when the artist comes on stage, he will focus and think - and music will start sounding.

What's the hardest part about being a musician and what's the best?
To give everything in one moment and always to keep a perfect balance is both the hardest and the best. This applies not only to performance, but to life on every level. One of the myths about the artist’s life is that playing is the only thing that’s important. Yes, it is, but many other things are also important and can be judged by a “plus and minus” system, as in the old joke: “it is better to be healthy but rich, than sick but poor” In this way good stage presence and social skills help a lot. But nothing will help if the most important aspect - soul - is absent.

What's your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
No, but there are always people who like to complain. There has been plenty of bad music and bad taste in all times: Just look in libraries! There are so many forgotten composers, and with few exceptions they are forgotten for good reason; the most published and most popular piece throughout the 19th century was” The Battle of Prague”, by Frantisek Koczwara. It was beloved for its sound effects such as “artillery shots” and “the cries of the wounded”, and this among educated circles! Still good things survive. I don’t mean we should be passive - it is important to share your passion – there always will be people who respond

As for organizers, their work is among the most difficult, but I am always wondering how in one town concert series can be closed because “no one wants to hear classical music any more” while in another town 25 km away all concerts are always sold out. I think the answer is that programming should never get stale. One excellent programmer is Patrick de Clerk, who used to run Handelsbeurs in Ghent, and is now director of the International Brussel Music Klarafestival: his programming always has an idea reaching beyond, fizzing with energy and the element of „happening”. This way, each concert is a unique life experience which listeners won’t want to miss. It is also a pleasure for artists, because they are in a perfect situation to share their passion.

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it's all been done before. What do you tell them? 

Good recording is a true reflection, but there can be more than one true reflection. Even if there are 1000 CDs of some musical work, if one has something different to say, one must record.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What's your approach to performing on stage?
Good performance involves decoding black symbols of the page and creating a floating link between the soul of the music and the human soul, who are looking to unite with each other and with higher reality. The practice of spiritual communion is not easy because each soul is imprisoned within “ego walls”. To break these bonds people use different means, from sharing a drink and revelry, to listening to minstrels and blind poets. Shared spiritual experience, such as theater or music performance or religious celebration, is a higher way to reach unity.

The essence of this act is non materialistic, and thus unmeasurable. No one can give a „legal proof” whether the performance was spirited (live) or formal (dead), but one can only feel it. It is very capricious, like riding the wind. One must have great skill to use the airflow, but the flow per se doesn’t come from us   we can hope for it, but we can not count on it - so it is always a miracle

My blessing and my problem is that I react to the listener. A concert is a joint affair, where the artist and listener unite their energy to make music live. I never play in public as if I were  alone, or as though there were an invisible wall between myself and the listener.  It might be theoretically possible, but I wouldn’t try it, because for me the result would be dead. When I am coming on stage I am trying to tune in with the energy coming from the listener and I use it for creating live music. When it is successful, it feels as if there were a magnetic field in the air, and parallel worlds come so close, they become one. I have also experienced this as a listener.

What does the word "interpretation" mean to you?
Very simple. There is a perfect interconnected idea behind the universe (commonly called Cosmos), and the universe itself is the never ending game of this idea’s reflection. When humans are born, they have a part of this universe, (mikrocosmos) implanted inside them, which is commonly called the „soul”. In my opinion, the main goal of the individual life is to develop one’s soul to the true but personal reflection of the main Cosmic idea. Musical interpretation is the way of making a link between the great Cosmos and the individual soul, by means of using the energy of the universe and via the gate of artist’s personality. In pre romantic times it was understood that God brought his ideas to earth by moving the artist’s hand upon the canvas. My father used to say “when I am playing, I am talking to HIM.”

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.
If I understand you to mean that emotion is „soul” (soul is more than emotions), then yes, without soul music is dead.

True or false: "Music is my first love"
Music is one of the means, maybe the most important; my love is in the source.

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.

The most important thing is to have an open mind; it is often the case that musically uneducated people have fewer prejudices. I don’t want to say that education is bad, as it allows us to get more experiences, but one should never lose focus and become confused by too much information. We should simply love what we love and not blindly sign under what we are told is „correct” to love.

What's your favourite classical CD at the moment?        
It is Franz Liszt's “Pièces Tardives” recorded by my colleague cellist Sergei Istomin and fortepianist Jos van Immerseel. These late pieces are very intimate compositions, bare of crowd-pleasing effects. I must admit that I never understood them before I heard Istomin’s performance. The intensity of the cello playing in this performance is breathtaking. One can experience exaltation and even pain, which soul may feel at the moment when balancing between life and death. I also very much enjoy 1930s jazz; this week I have another Fats Waller CD, which makes me very happy.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?

The question is not what instrument to play, but whether one has mastered it to the level where the instrument is not limiting the free flight of musical idea (this is why it is called „instrument”).

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?

Oh, yes, this would great! I was already actually doing it for some years in the past, when I was running the „Academy Concert Series” in Toronto. It was a lot of work, but I loved it. It would be great to have such a possibility again.

What I love the most are fortepianos, of course, and what I would put together would be a combination of chamber ensembles; period orchestras with concerto programs; series focusing on a particular master connected with a specific type of fortepiano, e.g. Schubert on Graf; and,  programming encompassing the historical range of the Viennese classical and French romantic piano literature, all written for specific types of instrument. Because of my partnership with fortepiano maker Paul McNulty, I am in a unique position to stage many excellent instruments to represent different historical periods. I am also lucky in knowing the best players personally, so it would be easier for me to organize the program so that with the least effort it would give the greatest effect. I would also like to program new music and programs using multiple forms of information content
Mozart - Complete Works for Keyboard Instrument and Orchestra (Euromusica)
Works for Fortepiano and Mandolin (Globe)
Beethoven Trios, with "Die Gassenhauer" (Suoni e Colori)

Viviana Sofronitzki

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