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15 Questions to La Villanella Basel

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
We are fine. We’re in our seperate homes right now – our singer Heike in Naumburg, Irene (viola da gambe) in Berlin and both Mechthild (Keys) and Claudia (recorder) in Leipzig.

What’s on your schedule right now?

Our ensemble celebrated its tenth anniversary as recently as September. In between, we are all busy with our other projects – until we meet for the next concert. We’re already planning our next live appearances as well as a new CD.

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?
Two of our members, Heike Pichler-Trosits and Mechthild Winter visited two so called “Special Schools” (meaning musical boarding schools) in GDR-times, which prepare its pupils for a career as a musician. And both have decided to continue on this path. Our viola da gamba-player Irene Klein once thought about going into music therapy. Speaking for myself (Claudia Nauheim), if I hadn’t chosen for music, I would have gone for something similarly creative. 

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
The fact that we carry the city of Basel, where we all studied, in our name, already tells you something about our roots. That’s why it’s safe to say that our teachers from Basel influenced us most musically. Apart from that, we have all made important experiences, which don’t always relate to music directly.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?
What’s hard ist the lack of time. You have to be well-organised if you don’t only want to make money, but be creative at the same time. It can be highly straining. It is also hard having to market yourself. And finally, there’s this one moment, which you have aimed at for so long. You can’t afford to make a mistake, because you won’t get a second chance. The best is the music itself, the concert experience, working with the music, which, to us, can even be a way of relaxing from everyday life.

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?

What we experience is that the means are badly (unevenly) distributed. Only very few organisors pay good or even very good wages, smaller ones pay next to nothing.

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
For one, if you take old/medieval music, not all of it has been recorded yet – simply because not all of it has already been discovered. There’s still a lot of exciting material waiting in the libraries. And then every generation has its own point of view. If you add to that the musical currents, which original practise was subjected to over the last few years, playing the same piece in different ways can be fascinating!

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?

Our approach is to create the right ambiance. If the public breathes with us, if it is so quiet that you can hear a pin drop, if noone dares to applaude at the end of a piece, then you’ve done good. It’s about transfusing emotions to the audience and giving them more than “just” tones. We want to position the listener directly in the emotions of the pieces and in the flow of energy which connects the ensemble during a performance. The greatest compliment you can get is when someone cries at the end of a piece. We also feel that the piece should fit the occasion, take account of its location and regard the audience as an active element.

What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
It’s an area of tension between the notes on paper and a possibly intended performance (in as much as we can draw conclusions to that today). With old music, quite a lot of the playing- and performance techniques have not been written down. So you get them from somewhere else. The question is how much you can move away from a piece, until one is unable to recognise the original. Quite an interesting topic with regards to instrumentation, ornamentation and the playing order. Then there’s the issue of whether sources make a reference to playing at all: What don’t they talk about, where does artistic freedom start and where does it end? “Interpretation” also means filling a composition with your own knowledge, conscience and feeling and thus allowing it to live.

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.
Without your own emotions, you won’t reach the audience and the music will remain cold and impersonal. If you allow yourself to be taken over by them, there’s the danger of mannerism. In the end, what’s important, is creating emotions in the listener!

True or false: “Music is my first love”
Wrong. It is the basis, a constant companion and never enters into a competition with other loves. It is totally independent and can, by its nature, not be compared to the love for other people. It is extremely strong and pervasive.

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

Wrong. You can enjoy Classical Music without prior education, if you have sensitive ears. But you’ll be able to relish it more and more with every piece of information you gather.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
We’d naturally decide to go for something along the lines of our ensemble’s focal points, such as heavily orchestrated works from the 17th Century and music by female composers - and we’d put an emphasis on performing free from commercial pressures. With regard to the latter, I’m especially thinking about the recorder parts, which are mostly taken over by instruments or even completely left out because of financial constraints.

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?
It’s very different with each one of us.

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument? If yes, how good were you at it?
Of course, every musician has. It’s one of the obligatory exercises during your studies. In the old music scene there are many musicians, who are cpable of playing a lot of instruments very well. We however like to keep to playing them at home...

O Dulcis Amor (2004) Ramee

La Villanella Basel

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