Patricia Kopatchinskaja

Patricia Kopatchinskaja is one of a tiny number of classical musicians since the Second World War (Glenn Gould was another) who have managed to maintain a superstar career while playing well-known scores in highly unconventional ways.

This makes her an exceptionally encouraging example for anyone hoping to extend the creative range of classical performance. The daughter of distinguished Moldovan folk musicians, she grew up in an environment in which classical and improvised traditions could easily interact. Like the musicians of that vivid culture, she is passionately engaged whenever she plays. Playing, for her, seems never to be a routine, never just a matter of following the rules nicely to produce a guaranteed result. Unlike most modern players, who are wary of putting a foot wrong and are focused above all else on accuracy, she takes risks. She is not afraid to make a harsh sound where that adds intensity to a performance, nor to play so furiously, or so lightly, that beautiful violin tone becomes impossible. While she draws on elements of modern ‘historically informed performance’, including an interest in composers’ variant readings (for example drawing on Beethoven’s lesser-known piano version of the violin concerto for her cadenzas), she is not tied to the letter of the score, nor to modern or imagined historical practices thought to be proper to it. She finds in scores stylistic references to other traditions which she points up by drawing playing techniques from them. Listen, for example, to her Mozart concerto finale here.

Mozart, Concerto in A Major, K415, 3rd movement

Some of her most riveting playing is so quiet as to be almost inaudible, well below the quietest level that others would consider safe; but the gains in tension and attention are remarkable. Audiences know the major concertos almost by heart, and knowing what they can barely hear they appreciate the extra intensity that such playing can bring. Listen to her performance of the Beethoven concerto with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Philippe Herreweghe: especially from around 29′ onwards.

Beethoven, Violin Concerto

This is playing in which extremes beyond the conventional range play a vital expressive role, allowing her to reveal expressive potential in scores that we may be dimly aware of, but that no one else, until now, has been able to turn so vividly into sound.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s website. See especially ‘Why & How’ on My Kitchen.

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