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Julia Fischer says she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a musician. She took up the violin because, when she was a child, she always had to wait until her mother and her brother (who is four years older than her) had finished practising on the family’s only piano. But she didn’t make a definite commitment to one instrument or the other. From the age of four she received piano lessons from her mother and applied herself at the keyboard with nearly the same intensity she brought to playing the violin. Finally, at the 2008 New Year’s Concert in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, with the Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under Matthias Pintscher, the internationally celebrated violinist fulfilled one of her fondest wishes, playing not only the Violin Concerto no. 3 in B minor by Camille Saint-Saëns, but also, after the interval, Edvard Grieg’s famous A minor Piano Concerto. Julia Fischer, who was appointed a professor — Germany’s youngest — at Frankfurt’s University of Music and Performing Arts in 2006, has long ranked among the great violinists of her day. A pupil of Ana Chumachenko, she won the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in the master’s presence at the age of eleven, and then took first prize at the Eurovision Competition for young instrumentalists. Other awards followed.
“Being a soloist is very much a matter of having a particular temperament and unshakeable self-confidence. The qualities required differ from those needed to be a first-rate concertmaster, who has, first and foremost, to really enjoy being a colleague and ensemble player rather than a strong, independent-minded leader who likes taking risks.” Thus Isaac Stern. Goodness knows, Julia Fischer has that special temperament, whether she’s playing Bach or Elgar, Schumann or Schnittke, Schubert or Hindemith, and it motivates her to bring out the heterogeneity within and between different pieces of music.
“Unshakeable self-confidence”: Anyone who gets to know Julia Fischer personally encounters a clear-thinking and straight-talking young woman. Her self-confidence becomes even more apparent on the concert platform. She knows no fear in tackling the weightiest concertos in the repertoire, such as those by Beethoven, Brahms and Sibelius, and her fearlessness feeds that crucial intensity, without which a concert would seem lacklustre.
Some listeners mistakenly equate concentration and technical perfection with coldness, detachment or mere diligence. But exploiting music as a vehicle for one’s own emotions, important though one may feel them to be, is equally misguided. Julia Fischer’s self-confidence derives from musical sources. She doesn’t study works only on the violin; her exceptional facility on the piano enables her to explore orchestral scores at the keyboard as well, or to probe Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata through the piano as well as the violin part. Her music-making is thus symphonic in spirit: she knows how much weight and just what role the violin has in the works she plays. That, of course, also applies to her performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto. Hers is a collaboration with orchestral musicians in the truest sense of that word.
A solo player has to be independent-minded, according to Isaac Stern. Learning and studying stop when an artist steps onto the concert platform. There she is on her own and has to make the best of it, regardless of how memorably other great violinists may have interpreted the Bach Chaconne, the Tchaikovsky Concerto or Mozart’s violin works. When Julia Fischer performs, there is only the presence of this enchanting young musician. Her playing is accountable to no-one else. She imitates no-one, not even herself.
Spirited, self-confident, independent: Julia Fischer is all of these things, and she also exemplifies the last of Isaac Stern’s conditions, delight in risk-taking — the strength to seize the moment, to find that elusive element of spontaneity, no matter what the acoustic, her fellow-musicians or the audience might be like. Were she not prepared to take risks, she would not have appeared on the same evening as both violinist and pianist, effectively competing with herself. The soloist must value the imponderable as an emboldening source of momentary inspiration. To enjoy taking risks also means captivating every listener, pushing oneself to the limit in order to convince and compel, as Julia Fischer succeeds so enthrallingly in doing. Stern referred to the personality of a “leader”. It seems doubly remarkable that even a very young soloist can possess and radiate this defining power and sovereignty.
Consider the way Fischer begins the Sibelius Concerto: dreamily, almost trance-like, in order then to spin out the exposition’s expressive line broadly and with vehemently increasing intensity. There is one passage in the first movement’s exposition which is commonly misunderstood as a drivingly virtuosic entry. Julia Fischer, by contrast, articulates the harmonic and dramaturgical structure of this passage without allowing it to be degraded into something flashy and mechanical. And in the Adagio di molto she is able to mould the great build-ups into a breathtaking giant arch.
Julia Fischer’s playing is marked by poise, technical mastery, passion, sensitivity and an exceptional richness of colour. She can build an imposing musical edifice from the Chaconne in Bach’s D minor Partita. In her hands, Mozart sonatas become intimate dialogues, whereas she approaches Schubert with a touching mixture of dazzling virtuosity and poignant melancholy. She turns Grieg’s Third Violin Sonata into a dramatic descent into realms of darkness, danger and foreboding.
This and more Julia Fischer accomplishes, not only by virtue of her temperament, self-confidence, independence and risk-taking but, above all, by means of her highly individual tone, characterised by a Dionysian sensuousness and dark-hued earthiness. Its distinctiveness ultimately is the starting-point and basis of her already unique career. Everything she plays has profundity and vitality, everything is clear in articulation and intonation. Whether in New York, Chicago, Tokyo or Berlin, her performances are acclaimed for a lack of “attitude” that allows the music’s logic and sensuous qualities to unfold with great serenity. That holds true for her interpretation of the Saint-Saëns, which challenges the frequent misconception that this concerto is no more than a zippy, lightweight virtuoso showpiece. Instead she finds the music’s nobility and elegance and infuses them with gripping passion. Suddenly the concerto is revealed in all its brilliance and rhythmic delicacy, its sophisticated sonorities sounding as fresh and new as on the day it was composed. The Junge Deutsche Philharmonie under the direction of composer–conductor Matthias Pintscher brings to the work a corresponding degree of involvement and ardour.
Exploring the world of music and channelling it in performance requires a fully rounded artistic life, organised as thoughtfully and intelligently as Julia Fischer’s. So why not also demonstrate what she has to say at the piano? Lo and behold, Fischer here is every bit as serious: she plays the Grieg Piano Concerto in the same symphonic spirit, with the same courage and the same compelling force — in other words, with everything that has captivated the world when she plays the violin.
- BONUS: Julia Fischer – Two Musical Worlds
- Interview with Julia Fischer
- 1.Ich hab zuerst beide Instrumente gleich intensiv gemacht
- (I was equally proficient on both instruments)
- 2.Prinzipiell ist es sehr, sehr schwierig
- (It's basically very difficult for me)
- 3.Natürlich ist es so, wenn ich Klavier spiele
- (Whenever I play the piano)
- 4.Ich bin nicht jemand, der sehr schnell aufgeregt ist
- (I don't easily get worked up)
- 5.Jeder Musiker, den ich kenne, glaubt an irgend etwas
- (Every musician I know believes in something)
- 6.Julia Fischer möchte, dass Musik eine Bereicherung fürs Leben ist
- (Julia Fischer would like music to enrich our lives)
- 7.Der Starnberger See bei München
- (Lake Starnberg near Munich)
1. Opening titles · Générique · Vorspann
2. I Allegro non troppo
3. II Andantino quasi allegretto
4. III Molto moderato e maestoso – Allegro non troppo
5. I Allegro molto moderato
6. II Adagio
7. III Allegro moderato molto e marcato – Quasi presto – Andante maestoso
8. Closing credits · Générique · Nachspann