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Live Lover

img  Tobias

I’ll admit it right up front: I love albums. Or to be more precise, I love “albums” as a form of musical expression as opposed to live music. Maybe it’s because I grew up with a keen interest in Pop and Rock and because these genres are shaped in equal parts by artists and recordings. As a matter of fact, in Pop and Rock, playing live has become a mere support system for selling albums, while the latter have turned into the pinacle of an artist’s career. After all, while a concert performance fades away like the memory of a sweet kiss, an album stays with you forever. And albums are capable of documenting an artist’s path through time better than anything else (this is true for Classical recordings as well, by the way). Maybe this also goes to explain why I’m fascinated by artists who totally defy this logic and abstain from the studio alltogether. In a way, it seems like an absence from globalisation as well – after all, how is the big, big world going to know about you without you selling CDs to the most remote corners of it? So is Patricia Kopatchinskaja the poster violinist of the anti-globalisation movement?

A quick glance at her excellent, well-updated and informative homepage teaches us to think differently: There’s PDFs of Interviews, a plethora of articles, links to hundreds of resources, Quick Time Video Clips in MTV style and a guest book, which she uses to discuss matters of repertoire with everyone who’s interested. This woman a typical, traditional and progress-averse Classical performer? Forget it. On the other hand, she seems to have turned into a poster child for something for sure and without the worldwide media noticing. Wherever she appears, she leaves a trace, be it a charmed audience or a charmed journalist, who devotes time and paper to her – and in most cases, both. With the TV switched on almost as an extra piece of furniture in many households, we have become used to getting to know personalities by their faces and by short contributions to trivial shows. Kopatchinskaja, meanwhile, compares to these visual emails like a letter written in black ink with a bird’s feather. And our mental pictures of her are half based on the words of those newspaper editors. And half on our own fantasy.

Using your imagination is not the worst things to do on any given day. Especially when it’s hard finding truly valuable information. For, with all due respect to the aforementioned webpage, what are we to make of paragraphs like this one: “Patricia Kopatchinskaja was born in Moldova, the wine-growing country between Roumania and the Ukraine. Both parents are musicians. She studied composition and violin in Vienna and Bern. 2000 she won the international Szeryng-Competition in Mexico, in 2002 the prestigious "International Credit Suisse Group Young Artist Award" and in 2004 the  "New Talent - SPP Award" of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).”. Does this tell us just the slightest bit about who Patricia really is? Hardly. Better switch over to those Video Clips, which, despite their relatively short lenght, come in excellent quality and offer us more insight into Kopatchinskaja’s character than any old bio sheet. Here we can see her jittering in the freezing cold with Bart van Doorn, talking about their joint-project, the “Rüttihubeliade” (English Native Spealers: Forget it!). We are among the crowd, as she performs her pieces with every limb of her body. And we are treated to a movie of her practising contemporary pieces with her good friend Mihaela Ursuleasa, who plays the piano strings with her bare hands, while Patricia shoots baloons into the air. Which tells us: She’s passionate, she’s open-minded, she’s serious yet not grim, she’s got her own mind, she needs real, human friendshp just as much as artistic understanding and she’s got to play live.

All of these come together, of course, to create the violinist and person (or maybe vice versa) she is. She’s well aware of how her idiosyncratic ways sometimes conflict with people’s expectations: “I like Mozart”, she says, “but not everyone like my Mozart”. She also loves the open field of interpretation which modern music offers her, well aware that a large chunk of the audience still waits for the old favourites (which she adores as well). But mostly, she has won over listeners easily. Take the Rüttihubeliade, for example, founded out of the desire to communicate to the audience both a love for chamber music and for some of her dearest colleagues. Calling it a festival would already do its true intentions no real justice – this is a return to what chamber music was about initially: A “family” of players performing in front of a “family” of fans. As with her other activities, it remains a “local” project in the sense that its name has not yet spread around the world with the speed one should expect when looking at the list of guests. The 2006 edition, which just closed at the beginning of January boasted of the following instrumentalists: Sol Gabetta (Cello), Ivan Sokolov (Piano) and Mihaela Ursuleasa (Piano as well), among others.

To some, this will point to a lack of interest in fame and the usual circus that surrounds a musician’s career nowadays. But to me, it seems to be something entirely different alltogether. I believe it was a concert I saw by Freddy Kempf last year that made me understand the incredible power of watching a musican live, without the safety net of a recording studio and without the possibility of skipping back to the exciting passages. There was something essential in this rendition, which seemed to say that “this was it”. Freddy confirmed that after the concert, when he expressed his uncertainty towards the recording situation – where there’s no audience, it’s hard to find a purpose. Something similar is expressed by Particia, when she regrets the demise of the “art of the moment” in favour of an “art of perfection”. To her, it’s all about the “here and now”, about the uniqueness of a concert, its irrepetable nature, its heated ambiance and its risks. You can almost sense a sort of aplogy, as she presents the three CDs she has contributed to – not in order to capture the thrill, but to “present new music” as yet unheard.

There is something both courageous and consoling about this approach: Courageous, because by not recording, you are doing away with the chance of being heard by later generations and because you can not go back and make this decision undone, should you change your mind later on. And consoling, because it reminds us that returning to the art of the moment is possibly more in tune with what music was originally about: Not something that wanted to be documented or serve as food for intellectual debates, but a physical thrill that touched our very existence. By not communicating in this way, Patricia Kopatchinskaja has made an impressive statement – second only to her music, of course.

Homepage: Patricia Kopatchinskaja

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