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Interview with Baiba Skride

img  Tobias

What does the word „interpretation“ mean to you?
That’s a difficult question (laughs)! To me, it means giving my opinion to the audience, while at the same time respecting what the composer might have wanted. It’s a combination of my personal beliefs and the composer’s probable intent.

Would you say that you rather work to come to a conclusion regarding a certain interpretation or is this more of an intuitive, emotional process?
Well, for me it’s mostly... no, rather almost always emotional. Of course, there are certain things you have to know about and naturally you do get your facts straight while preparing. But 99% is intuition, absolutely.

And do you sometimes revise this emotional decision on the basis of certain facts you might have gathered afterwards?
Of course! I mean, things change almost on a daily basis. You meet new people, other musicians and you get to know about different opinions. It might not even be a conscious thing, in the sense that you intellectually “change your opinion”. It’s more of a constant development. And everyday, when you play, it’s just that little bit different. Which may translate to a major change over the course of a few years.

Do you try to stay away from the concerts of colleagues or are they rather a source of inspiration for your own interpretation?
It depends on what kind of repertoire we’re talking about. When you’re dealing with well-known pieces, the core repertoire, you obviously know thousands of other interpretations and will naturally be influenced in same way or the other. I wouldn’t say it’s something I do on purpose... It’s simply very interesting to listen to what other people are doing and thinking. On the other hand, you’ve got to stick to your own ideals as well. Especially when you’re practising, you try not to listen to different opinions, but rather try to form your own.

There are those who claim that there’s no need to record Classical Music anymore, that everything’s been tried...
(laughing) Nooo! If that’d be the case, then people would have quit playing Mozart hundred of years ago! No, it really changes all the time! It changes every day! Yes, some pieces have been recorded and performed thousands or millions of times. But that’s the great thing about Classical Music – everybody cann add their own perspective to that.

And if you take the live situation – how much of that is preparation and how much is “the moment”?
In my opinion, this varies among musicians. To me, things evolve mostly from the moment, especially when it comes to musicality. Of course, you need to practise and be sure about technique. But then again, I learn a lot on stage. And during I concert, I will regularly observe certain aspects I would like to change and discover what I disliked or what I liked. You just learn such a great deal from that. The stage is where my inspiration comes from.

If I am correctly informed, you’re not particularly fond of working in the studio, are you?
I just don’t like it, it’s so artificial. I mean, it’s a great experience on the one hand and it’s very interesting, because the whole approach is different. And you concentrate on that one thing you’re doing from morning till night, while a concert takes maybe two hours. And it naturally serves to extend your horizon a great deal. But I really need the communication with the audience... And with other musicians, especially.

You’re current CD is a live recording... Would you therefore say it’s your favourite album of the three you’ve done?
(laughing) I don’t listen to them! I don’t like my own recordings! With this one it’s also a bit strange, because the concert dates back quite some time and it’s just a little moment in my life. I mean, it was a great concert, but three years have passed since then and I have changed during these years... It’s an excellent document, though...

Why didn’t you decide on a more recent concert, then? You’ve been on the road a lot, lately...
Well, it’s not that easy. When you do want to release it, you will need more than just one take, simply to make sure you can get rid of the more drastic mistakes. And this means that you need to play the same repertoire with the same orchestra several times during the same tour. And this simply doesn’t happen all too often.

But you really don’t like to listen to your own recordings?

(laughing) No! Of course, I do listen to them, before they are actually released. But it’s nothing I enjoy doing.

Has a new recording been scheduled already?
Yes, in the studio unfortunately (laughs). We will definitely do a recording of me and my sister Lauma. I believe this one will be released a little bit later, though. Before that, a recording of Brahms-concerts is planned, although there has not yet been a decision as to which orchestra will be playing.

I talked to Sol Gabetta two days ago and she mentioned that what she really liked about CDs was the fact that you can leave something behind for future generations...
Yes, and that’s also the strange thing when my first CD came out... it’s going to stay (laughs)! You can not undo it, it will be around... It’s simply a strange feeling. It feels almost as though it were my own child. Coming to think of it, it’s actually a pleasant sensation. Only, its merely a short moment in your life...

Returning to the live topic... What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion, what’s your approach to performing live?
Giving everything you have. There are many different things which come together – the right repertoire, congenial partners, the orchestra. There are lots of pieces which need to fit, but what matters to me most is simply giving everything you have in that very moment.

Is that why you prefer playing with live partners, who are close to you on a personal level as well?
Yes. That’s actually something which happens automatically, when you’re playing in a team. Sorry, I’m just entering my appartment now (laughs). It’s a kind of work which requires closeness and you have to get along. Sometimes you don’t even have the time to get to know each other well. And then you notice, right in the moment when you hit the first tone, what kind of person you’re playing with  and if you’re going to get along. And you notice immediately, if something’s not right.

On the other hand, I could well imagine that this can lead to some tensions, which might benefit the music...
(laughs) Yes, this has actually happened once... It’s a very rare thing, though and it’s not much fun either. It’s just more enjoyable when the contact’s free and when you can create something beautiful from the occasion.

When you’re on stage, do you feel as though you’re somwhere else or do you experience things very consciously?
It’s a combination of both. The moment you start playing, you immediately find yourself some place else. But at the same time, you need to be aware of everything for 100% and concentrate on certain things. You don’t think about who’s in the audience, that’s of no importance whatsoever. Rather, it’s about being able to give the best you’ve got and that simply requires a certain dose of concentration. But apart from that, it’s an entirely different world.

After performing live on so many occasions and recording various CDs – would you say there is a crisis of Classical Music?
(decidedly) Not at all! I mean, I can understand where this is coming from, but I put a lot of trust in Classical Music. Even when there will no longer be CDs, there will always be enough interested people. And the live scene, concerts – that just can not disappear.

Maybe it’s more of a transformational process... I mean, Chamber Music seems to be making a comeback...
Yes, and a big one, too! Every little town has got its own Chamber Music festival, with loads of people attending and listening. And besides, it’s simply not true that young people are no longer coming to see these concerts. There’s definitely a group of young people who do attend... Really, I am not worried all too much... I don’t know if this goes for other genres as well, such as opera, but it’s definitely true for my line of work. And it’s great to see all these young artists. There’s till plenty of interest among the new generation. Yes, 80% may be “older”, but still...

Do you think people need to be educated about Classical Music, before they can really appreciate it?
Well, that’s a difficult issue. It’s hard appreciating a Bruckner symphony, if you know nothing about it. And it makes things just that little bit easier, if you can establish a relationship and know how this work came into being. But some people definitely have the wrong idea that Classical Music is for the elite only and that you can exclusively attend a concert if you meet certain intellectual criteria. And it’s no longer required to dress up... Still, the idea that it’s a high class-thing is still present.

While it can be a very emotional experience. I suppose your first contact with Classical Music was very emotional...
Yes, absolutely! This has to do wth my family as well and with the country I’m from. And that’s why it’s so important to take little children to concerts – because these impressions will stay forever. And I’m not just talking about Classical Music here. It’s simply important to start at a young age...

Do you listen to other music, besides Classical Music?

Yes, of course (laughs)! I mean, I don’t really have a clue, but it’s what’s playing on the radio...

Would you consider yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a certain “school”?
No... I wouldn’t say that I’ve been overly influenced by anybody. And I’m absolutely not part of the “Russian school”. And really, it doesn’t exist any more today, as a result of increased mobility. Teachers are spread all over the world. If I’m part of a school, then it’s the one which says “you have to think by yourself”.

So who was a major influence on you?

Well, lots of things, that blend together. My family and the musical tradition of Latvia. My country and its culture have been a strong influence. And then, certain people, of course – my two professors...

If you hadn’t chosen for music, what do you think you would do right now?
No idea! (laughs) It was always so clear – I never really thought about that!

Two short questions in between: What’s the best part about being a musician?
Experiencing the music.

And the hardest part?

Being lonely.

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
Oohh... there’s lots of possibilities! Well, Chamber Music first of all. And... There’s so much great music. I would also play some new music, simply to reduce some of the fear people have towards it. I mean, people are even afraid of Shostakovich and it’s just not “new” at all! For a festival, it should be a good mixture.

Do you have a current favourite Classical CD?
Well... I’ve been listening to “La Traviata” with Anna Netrebko a lot (laughs). That’s a great album. My all-time favourite is Mozart’s Mass in C Major by Gardiner... the most beautiful CD ever!

Have you ever tried playing a different instrument?
Yes, the piano! I played the piano for a long time and I loved it, because of the sound you could get out of it, without practising (laughs). That was great... I just had to give it up at one time. In college, you had to play a second instrument as well. It was never meant to be all that serious, but I really liked it. In Latvia, you also had to play the piano in elementary school...

In Germay it’s always the recorder...
(laughs) Well, it never crossed my mind to play the recorder...

"Bach Bartok Ysaye" (Sony Classical) 2004
"Mozart & Haydn: Violin Concertos" (Sony Classical) 2004
"Shostakovich & Janacek: Violin Concertos" (Sony Classical) 2005

Baiba Skride

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