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Interview with Janine Jansen

img  Tobias

How did your tour go last month?
You mean the one with the “Junge Deutsche Philharmonie”? It was nice! I mean... (laughs) pretty strenous as well, we did a total of nine concerts in nine days. And of course there was all the travelling in Germany and in Italy. But it was really enjoyable. We had a group of enthusiastic young people, while it was definitely hard work. That’s a great motivation.

The next Spectrum-Concert will take place on June 14th. Are you looking forward to that already?

Oh yes! Always! This is the 8th Season that I’m playing there and even if you discount the fact that I love playing Chamber Music anyway – it’s such an incredible repertoire – it’s just the entire “club” over there. It’s just really enjoyable to be there. It’s like a family and we have a lot of fun together. So I’m always looking forward to it. And then we’ve got a really nice program in June, with one of my favourite Chamber Music pieces, “Verklärte Nacht” by Schönberg. Actually, coming to think of it, it’s a pretty demanding program (laughs). We’ve also got the Schulhoff Sextet, the Brahms Quintet and “Nocturne” by Robert Helps. These are all pieces I know, but I’ve never played them with these musicians before. So, I’m curious how it will go.

How would you characterise the ambiance in the Concert Hall? Is it one of excitment or rather relaxed?
Well, the Chamber Music Hall in the Philharmonie is a wonderful stage. It is pretty large for such a kind of music. When you play there for the first time, you have to get used to it – you’re sitting there right in the middle of things, in the spotlight. And then the audience is an extremely loyal one – these are truly Spectrum Fans. Which also adds to the atmosphere. You can actually see people coming back again and again.

So if you’re talking about a Spectrum family, would you count in the audience as well?
Yes. I mean to me it’s foremost the other musicians and everything to do with them. But then the audience is so special and it just keeps on growing. And if I’m not mistaken, there’s also a lot of young people, which is nice as well. You don’t see that all the time.

Do you sometimes get the chance to talk to the public after the show?

After the concerts you will usually have a few people come backstage. And it’s not always the same ones, there will always be a lot of new fans dropping by to say thank you. Or just hi. It’s great to have this kind of contact with your audience.

If you have a look at the success of Spectrum – do you have an idea what it was that these concerts provided music lovers with?
Spectrum has been around for almost twenty years – celebrations will take place in 2008. Frank Dodge is a very special kind of person and musician and he just has great ideas when it comes to finding exciting programs. We always try to come up with things which are suprising and just a little bit out of the ordinary. There is lots of contemporary music for example. And then there’s the musicians, of course. I mean, I haven’t been there from the very start (laughs) but I do know who used to play there in the early days. I think that it’s him and his input which makes the whole thing so special.



I also have the feeling that it’s not just about finding programs which make sense on an intellectual level, but also on an emotional one...
That’s true. Frank has a lot of great ideas about that. He also takes the time to talk about itt with the performers. And absolutely everybody comes up with suggestions of their own. That’s what makes it so much fun as well: You can always voice your ideas. Of course, in the end it’s Frank has the final say (laughs). But, yes, I am in very close contact with him when it comes to the repertoire we are going to play. I was introduced to Frank about eight years ago. I was participating at a Concours in Brussels and he was a member of the jury. He then invited me to come and play at Spectrum afterwards and from then on, I returned to Berlin to play Chamber Music for about 3-5 times a year. Slowly but surely, I have introduced him to a few friends of mine and he was like: “Okay, if you think they could make a good match with Spectrum, we’ll invite them over”. That’s how I managed to bring over quite a few people to Spectrum. And that’s great. And they’re part of the family as well (laughs).

It must be incredibly exciting to take this thing to the States...
Oh yes! This, of course, was a dream for Frank. That’s where he comes from and to be able to do a program in Carnegie Hall is amazing. It will take place in the new Zankel Hall, which I’ve never played before. I just heard a lot of very good things about it. I am pretty positive that it is going to be great to go there.

You called Spectrum a family. Do some of these ties extend beyond Spectrum?

Yes, definitely! I mean, I am on the road pretty often, playing live, but we are always in touch by phone or SMS. These are absolutely not just musical contacts. But that’s what makes it so great – musicians coming to Spectrum often say that at the end of their first concert: It’s like a new circle of friends. Everybody seems to agree it’s special.

How important is to you that you actually like the people you’re playing with on a personal level?
It is always important. Music is so intimate and direct... And it’s so emotional! It’s about feelings and if you can’t see eye to eye with someone, it would seem very difficult to be able to play together. It has almost never happened to me.

You might argue that the friction this causes can lead to exciting music...

Yes, you might, but I rather prefer the excitment caused by playing with friends (laughs). It doesn’t need to be negative pressure, after all.

You’re a great fan of Chamber Music. What sets apart in your eyes
Actually, in a way it’s not that different: You’re playing with other musicians. Only, with Chamber Music, you’re playing in a much smaller constellation and you can react so much more directly and in a sense you are simply more free. I mean, I do try to capture the same feeling when performing with a big orchestra, the same way of responding to each other. But admittedly, it’s more intimate in Chamber Music.

Frank Dodge answered the question as follows: “The artists stand out because they have the opportunity to do so. Here they are free and this they see and feel as a great chance to shine. “

Yeah, there is something true about that, you are able to show more of yourself. I don’t actually play in an orchestra, even though I used to at the Conservatory, and I can well understand what Frank meant. As an orchestral musician you don’t have the chance to do your own thing. With Chamber Music, you do and it opens up a lot of doors.

And when performing Chamber Music, you’re working in a group...
Yes... That’s most definitely true. The freedom is incredible. Of course, for me, the difference is not that big, since I play the solo part in orchestral performances. And then again, you always have to try and create something beautiful together.

So will your next album consist of chamber music?

No, it is going to be the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, in conjunction with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig. We will play a few concerts in September and then we will record it as well. The release date will be different per country, but it will likely be released at the end of 2006 or the beginning of 2007.

In a sense, Chamber Music is a very modern form of music. Do you fell it could be time for a renaissance of Chamber Music?
Hmmm... difficult question (laughs). What can I give you for an answer? I actually love both ways of performing. I would find it a shame if one of the two would just diappear. And I wouldn’t want to live without playing with big orchestras.

If you have a look on the Internet, there seems to be an enormous amount of Chamber Music festivals...
I actually started one myself... (laughs) In Utrecht. And the reaction of the audience has been very positive. I have chosen the time at the very end of the year, a rather unusual choice, but then again it’s family time as well and we thought this could make it a success. And there immediately turned out to be an interest in what we were doing in the very first year. It all takes place in the big concert hall of “Vredeburg” in Utrecht for a total of four days and we’ve had 6.000 people, making it 1.000 to 1.2000 people a day. And that’s great, of course.As to the crisis of Classical Music, I’m really not a pessimist.

Not since you’ve officially been declared “the queen of downloads” for sure...

(laughs) Yes, I know... (laughs) So you saw that... (laughs) That was funny, yes. It is just something entirely different. Maybe it’s the future, I don’t know.

You do prefer to play live, don’t you?

Yes, oh yes! I mean, what could be better than playing live? I do have a lot of CDs at home and I listen to them a lot. But there is nothing that gives me so much pleasure. Only to be there and you experience so much more of what is going on. It’ so much more physical, it grips you entirely... Live? Always!

So do you have a philosophy towards playing live?

It just really has to touch you, it has to be absolutely convincing. The music and the emotion has got to take a hold on you. Apart from that, I don’t really care if I’m hitting 100% the correct notes, as long as the music comes across.

And do you sometimes adjust your interpretation to what is happening in the concert hall?
Yes, always. The feeling and the moment are never the same. Music needs to be spontaneous to me. After all, your feelings are very spontaneous in that very moment on stage. It can be very different on various occasions. That is the great thing about making music. Take the “4 Seasons” by Vivaldi. The first question everybody asked me when that came out was: “Why the 4 Seasons again?” There are so many interpretations out there, but I just don’t think about that. I might as well ask myself, how many times the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto has already been released. I will play it again tonight, so why do I do it? Because every person is different and subsequently every interpretation is different. Every emotion is different. It will be different each single time!

Maybe these questions really only come up when one thinks too much...
Probably... And I don’t like to do that (laughs). I rather just play from the moment and do what you feel like doing. Questions like: Why would I do this? How can I do it differently? That’s not music to me...

So you probably don’t believe that people need to be educated to be able to fully appreciate Classical Music?
No, I don’t. I sometimes talk to people after a concert and then they’ll go like: “I really don’t have a clue, but here’s what I thought...” And then I tell them that they really don’t need to have a clue or be terribly informed! Music is something you experience, something you feel. Everybody will have their own opinion on this. Either it hits you or it doesn’t. This sense of rational understanding does not seem to be a part of that to me.

Would you agree that a perfomer needs to put his personal emotions into the music he is playing?
Well, music without emotion is no music to me. After all, the composer put his emotions into his pieces when he was writing them and you have to use your own to understand his intentions. So, yes, it is essential to me. Of course, this doesn’t mean letting go completely. Some works have been written in a certain style and with that in mind you offer your own rendition.

I was just thinking: Do you sometimes listen to Jazz?
Oh yes!

Because Jazz, within certain limits of course, is also about playing what comes up inside of you in a particular instance...
And that, to me, is what music is all about.

Last question: Do you already have a program set for the next edition of your own festival?
Yes... It will be pretty varied. We will be doing the Clarinet Concert by Penderecki and the Mendelssohn Octet, Arensky’s String Quartet with two Celli, Grieg, Brahms. It will be a mix of well-known and slightly more obscure works. I’m not really into finding “themes”, so it’s more about looking what might fit together in a nice way. But these decisions are taken more on an emotional level.

Spectrum Concerts Utrecht...

(laughs) Who knows...

By Tobias Fischer

Janine Jansen (2003) Decca
The Four Seasons (2004) Decca

Janine Jansen - Offical Homepage
Janine Jansen - Dutch Homepage
Janine Jansen at Spectrum Concerts Berlin

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