RSS feed RSS Twitter Twitter Facebook Facebook 15 Questions 15 Questions

Interview with Sol Gabetta

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you?
Fine, thanks!

What’s on your schedule right now?
My cello is being repaired! It’s at the violin maker’s for twenty days. Concerts will follow at the beginning of May – so I’m preparing my new program.

Any concert- or festival dates fixed yet for May?
Yes, I’m playing in Berlin on the 5th at the “Komische Oper” with the Tripple-Beethoven concert, then on to Rio de Janeiro with the Shostakovich concert and then, as a last example, I’ll be in Vienna at the Musikverein with the Dvorak-concert. Those three are really the biggest things coming up in May.

I’ll probably be talking to Baiba Skride in two days... Anything planned for a renewed live collaboration?

I think in June... Let me just have a look at my agenda... Yes, we’ll be playing together in Bad Kissingen on the 9th. Nothing planned before that, but yes, we do tend to play together pretty often...

Your way of working together seemed to be very agreeable...
Yes, of yourse! It really works very well...

Let’s imagine you wouldn’t have decided to become a musician – any idea what kind of profession you would have taken up?
Hmmm... Interesting... I’ve always been interested in many different kind of things... One of them being archeology (laughs). Nothing to do with music, but it’s definitely something I would have loved to do. It wouldn’t have been a problem for me living in Egypt – I don’t know if people would understand me (laughs), but I really like the climate, coming from Argentina. Looking at things from this perspective, I probably didn’t choose the right place to live, did I? (laughs)

Well, it could be worse – over here in Münster it rains all the time...
Yes, you’ve always got that, yes... (laughs)

Who are what was your greatest influence as an artist?
Well, most of the time one will name great musicians – and there are lots of them, which can serve as an inspiration! – but it’s not always just them alone. And with me, it’s even less so with cellists.  I mean, I’ve had great cello-teachers for fifteen years and I learned a great deal from them. But as time moves on, I realize that there are other musicians, other personalities... In the recent past, I’ve learned a lot from great conductors, great pianists – yes, they are musicians as well, but you don’t discuss technical questions with them all the time. Musical input can come from the most diverse directions... I wouldn’t want to single out a single person or give you any names, though.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician?
It really depends. Many will answer that it’s stage fright or the travelling... Me, on the other hand, I really like to travel. I came from Argentina, then moved to Madrid for two years and I’ve now been living in Switzerland for 14 years. What’s hard for me is keeping the ever-changing repertoire on a constantly high level. You sometimes have to play the most diverse kind of pieces in a single month... Of course, you could simply decide not to play, but I’m of the opinion that you can always acchieve a lot more than you’d assume at first. You have to work hard. And you’ve got to be extremely well organised!

And what’s the best part about it?
Music to me is like a language, like a message, like a poem, if you like. So when I’m playing, when I’m on stage and I discover that the music holds a message for me, that’s the greatest gift to me.

Yes, communication. It’s an international language, a language which really knows no boundaries. For those speaking German, for those speaking Russina, for those who are blind... It’s for everyone. For children, for grown-ups... Regardless of the country or culture they come from.

If you have a look at the classical scene at the moment, would you say, there’s a crisis?
I keep hearing that it’s no use recording any more. And of course, you’re free to have your opinion, but I tend to disagree. Today, you can start your own company, get yourself a recording engineer, record a CD and sell it. Personally, I am very lucky to be able to record with Sony. Maybe there’s a crisis in the sense that Classical Music is not as favoured as Pop music, but this has always been the case. Back when Beethoven was composing his symphonies, people were throwing tomatoes at him. Today, the general level of competition is higher. There’s more people, better people, talented people and they’re starting at a very young age. It’s true that you need an record, an agency, that’s a question of administration – and there’s no denying that you need it. To be able to play my music, I need these people working in the background. Only very rarely do you have those able to build a big career without recording an album. And with “career” I don’t necessarily mean being famous, but being a personality. The problem is more with the media: if radio and TV don’t allow these personalities the opportunity to shine, then they’ll stay at home. I guess everybody’s trying to find his way...

So, are playing live and recording of equal importance to you?
Well... playing live has a certain spontaneity, which will be very hard to acchieve on an album. I really like the combination, the live recording of a concert. Of course, and this is the same with me as for every other artists, I love being on stage and I try to hard to be able to. On the other hand, a CD is always the result of something you’ve been working on for years. And it’s like a painting. While you’re working on it, you can always apply spontaneous ideas, but when it’s done, it’s done. During a concert, every single second is different. It can never be repeated. That is the special thing about the live situation. But I’m really happy that I’ve been given the chance to record as well. You’ve got to be able to show who you are. If you record the same thing ten years later, I bet you won’t be satified with what you did back then. It’s simply the result of where you were at a certain point of time.

Freddy Kempf mentioned in our interview that it’s hard performing without an audience in a studio...
Yes, it’s true... My CD isn’t out yet, but I just received it to add some corrections. And pretty often, I am really caught asking myself what to do... I hear a certain section, which is not really wrong and then you’ve got to ask yourself – do I want to make a cut here? And you’ve really got to be very careful. Maybe it was just a detail and sounded much more lively with this section still included in it... And when I was recording, I took special care for things not to be boring. But it’s true: Firstly, you’re in a state of panic, simply because the microphone is standing right in front of you. And then music really does flow better when you’re playing in front of an audience.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, whom you know of the Rüthihubeliade, has a very decided stance on this issue: She basically doesn’t record at all, does she?
Yes, yes, it’s true. She often mentions that she will never ever record a CD, but I think she’s just a very special person. I mean, she’s not stupid – quite on the contrary, she is very intelligent and tries on everything in her life. I’ve been talking to her about this a lot. I just think it’s a great shame. Just think about it: If you didn’t have recordings from the likes of Horowitz or Menuhin or whomever, there’s thousands of examples I could give you, you wouldn’t be able to listen to these personalities today. And if she sticks to her principle of not recording, nothing stays. Yes, there are radio recordings, but with those, it’s always... Maybe you’re lucky and someone will come and release a CD with everything by Patricia Kopatchinskaja... But maybe it won’t happen. There’s so many artists and composers out there, without anyone knowing of them. But how are people going to find out about them? You’ve got to have the time, you’ve got to be interested and go to the libraries, looking for scores... That’s why I think: If you don’t start archiving your material today, so that it’s there for future generations, then they won’t be able to listen to us. I’m not even saying that we’re the best or anything... we’re just the current generation. But I do think she’s starting to change her opinion in this (laughs).


Your upcoming CD on Sony is a pure studio album, though?
Yes... It will feature a piece by Ginasteras from the 20th century. And then the Rococo variations and the “little pieces” by Tchaikosky. It will be released on the summer.

What’s your approach to playing live? What’s important for a good performance?
You know, I work so hard to make every concert a special experience. There’s this immanent danger today that, because you’re living off it... I mean, there’s people with a high degree of moral and those with a lesser degree of it. There’s nothing wrong with having lots of concerts and there’s nothing wrong with earning money with it. But you’ve really got to take care that things don’t turn into a perfect copy: You practise, you play and then you copy it a thousand times. It really depends on the artist. You can listen to the same Brahms or Chopin piece a thousand times and it will be something special each and every time. And then there are artists, who will give you the same, possibly even wonderful, rendition of that piece. So what happens when something is equally wonderful all the time? It looses its appeal. To me, each concert needs to have a different meaning. This doesn’t mean that you have to tiwst and turn to make things sound different. It simply means that when you’re preparing a work, to treat it as if it were new. You can’t and you don’t need to erase what you remember – your brain works like a computer. It’s about keeping that initial spontaneity. And if it’s good music or a good book, it can take on different meaning on different occasions. I’ve listened to Sokolov three times... He did a great recital two years ago in four different cities and I went there by accident. I was extremely impressed and went to see him for a second time – and I was impressed even more. It was remarkable: How could someone induce a different picture in me on many different occasions? That’s when I know that there are still these great artists out there...

A question in the same vein: What does the word “interpretation” mean to you?
Interpreting to me means creating. It depends on what you’re playing. Before you present  a piece to the audience, someone has taken the trouble to write it, to analyse it, to create it... And when an artist merely tries to use this piece to realize himself, then it can either be a catastrophe, it can be dangerous or it can be highly interesting. You should, however, never forget what the composer was trying to say or do with a certain work. We’re just a medium between the public and this phenomenal, brilliant music by Beethoven, Mozart and some of the contemporary compositions. And simply because we live and breathe, we can add different colours or a scent maybe. It’s often that you realize the true content of a piece only after you’ve played it several times. That’s why I believe that you’re learning a piece anew each time.

Do you feel it’s your duty to put your personal emotions into the music you’re playing?
Well, I am a very emotional person. I mean, I am half Argentinian, half Russian (laughs) and I have a French passport... I don’t know if it’s good or bad. But to me, I can only touch my audience with something that touches me. This doesn’t mean you’ve got to play emotionally or especially forceful, so people “get it”. (pause) Coming to think of it, I do play very emotionally, yes. Maybe it’s easier playing in front of 3.000 people when you’re not that emotional. On the other hand, it’s not a problem for me either. And I am just a little bit sceptical, if you can establish that connection with the listeners.

There’s always this fragile balance that you’ve got to keep, isn't there: If you’re not emotional, nothing’s going to come across... if you’re too emotional, it will be a selfish exercise...
Yes... interesting... If you take any kind of relationship – with your father or your mother, with your friends of with children. If you’re not showing your emotions, you can’t reachthe other one. If there’s too much of it, the other person doesn’t have enough air to breathe. And it’s the same with music. If you’re overty emotional, there’s simply too much coming at the public, everything’s exposed... Actually, I am convinced that everybody’s got this emotional aspect. It’s just a question of whether you’re showing it or not...

Talking about relationships... Would you say that music was your first love?
I’d say it’s a different kind of relationship. To me, my private life is important as well. I couldn’t exclusiverly live for my career, only playing concerts each day. If that were the case, I think my concerts would not be as moving... I just want to have a home. I don’t want to live my life travelling from one hotel to the other. I don’t think anybody’s going to be happy without a home. Right now, my life’s perfect. Let’s see, how it develops!

Do you think people need to be educated about classical music?
Often , classical music is treated as something serious and sometimes even boring. Today... Take Russia, for example... You simply had to do something artistsic. You either had to dance, do ballet or paint or play music. Every child did something. And that’s why among the last two generations, there’s a plethora of extremely interesting artists. This is important to me and I do believe it’s part of education. It’s simply about the opportunity a child gets to get in contact with Classical Music. They will often not have a clue about it and then visit a concert with their grandpa and then discover their affinity with the music. But if the parents don’t help them or draw their attention to it, it will be very difficult. With the Symphonieorchester Basel, we have a “Youth Club”, of which I am president. We try to show to young people that Classical Music is not boring. The media are moving fast and Pop Music gets a hold of you faster. Pretty often, it’s a melody, which is repeated a hundred times and then sticks. With Classical Music, you’ve got to stay focussed with your head, you can not expect it to enter your mind the way Pop Music does. But maybe there is a chance to show young people that they can still profit from Classical Music... In June, we will be organising a sort of overview of our projects, showing people what we offer and trying to find out what they would like to do. It’s also about time, you know – in France, children have a lot of afternoon classes at school. They will do some music as well, and it may even be a good thing, but you just won’t have enough time to play on a serious level. Yes, you’ve got talent, but there’s noone who will really make it without investing some time.

Do you listent to Pop Music yourself occasionally?
I do listen to it, occasionally, even though I feel much closer to Classical Music. I mean, I’m a normal human being and I’ve been to school... so, of course, I noticed it, as I did with Jazz – and I think it’s great! It can bring along a special rhythm, which you can actually feel... And you can most definitely learn from it! The same goes for African Music. Or Indian Music. There’s so much to discover!

Do you have a favourite Classical CD at the moment?
Glen Gould with Bach... His pieces which were just released on CD... They're reall special.

Imagine you are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
I have a festival of my own! (laughs) It’s coming up in June. It will take place 10km outside of Basel, where my boy friend and me just bought a house. The place is called Olsberg and it is a very special place, because there’s a monastery here and a Roman theater, a Roman museum. Because my name is Sol, the festival will be called Solsberg and take place during solstice – this year that will mean between the 23rd and 25th of June. The Internetpage is over at

Final Question: Have you ever tried playing a different instrument?
Oh yes! My god, I was always a “dangerous child” at school (laughs), because I always wanted to play everything the other kids were playing as well. I started playing the violin when I was three and a half years old and then, like many other children as well, I took up playing the piano. When the first small cello came to Argentina from Japan, they knew that my mother would be interested (or rather, that I would interested and would beg my mother to get it)... That’s how I got in contact with the Cello. It was a coincidence, really. It was such a big instrument – I had always been envious of my brother, because he was always taller than me. So I played both the violin and the cello for some time, until I realized that this wouldn’t work well. You really have to make up your mind or else you’ll be playing Violin-Cello. It was my teacher who forced me to take a decision. This was very hard for me, because I really love the violin, but somehow everything was easier for me on the Cello. I did buy a clarinet later (laughs), after winning a competition for children. I did try that as well, but found that creating all these different sounds with a string instrument was more interesting to me.


Sol Gabetta

Picture by Priska Ketterer

Related articles

Sol Gabetta: Cantabile and Shostakovich Double-Strike
Argentinian-born Franco-Russian Cellist Sol Gabetta ...
Concert Report: Guido Schiefen & Berlin Symphonics
Live at the Berliner Philharmonie, ...
Julia Fischer & Sol Gabetta: Gramophone & Echo Award
A double strike by two ...
15 Questions to Velitchka Yotcheva
Things are hardly ever the ...
CD Feature/ Sol Gabetta: "Il Progetto Vivaldi"
The range of emotions is ...
15 Questions to Danjulo Ishizaka
If he hadn't chosen for ...
15 Questions to Richard Boothby/Fretwork
Richard Boothby is a man ...
15 Questions to Maja Bogdanovic
Most artists hate algebra, but ...
15 Questions to Matthew McAllister
"Global" and "modern" are the ...
Interview with Hasu Patel
There's an inward and an ...
15 Questions to Torleif Thedeen
In our first interview with ...
15 Questions to Frank Dodge
Many have tried to analyze ...
15 Questions to Imke Frank
Even if you don't know ...
15 Questions to Jan Vogler
There's something unusual about Jan ...
15 Questions to Nadejda Vlaeva
While many talents choose to ...
15 Questions to Polina Osetinskaya
It seems to be a ...
15 Questions to Oksana Kolesnikova
It's a fascinating contrast: Oksana ...
15 Questions to Joan Jeanrenaud
Even though she was a ...

Partner sites