LONDON: Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja has already applied her virtuosity to a musical depiction of the Columbia shuttle disaster, down to the sounds of the rockets blasting the doomed craft into space and its disintegration on re-entry.
The stunning performance of Hungarian composer Peter Eotvos’ 2006 concerto “seven” – so named for the seven astronauts who died in the 2003 disaster – was last year’s Gramophone magazine recording of the year.
But performing a piece that at times seems to require the violin to disintegrate along with the shuttle is not enough for the restless and questing Kopatchinskaja. For her 37th birthday later this month, she will give the premiere of her first violin concerto in Berne, Switzerland.
It is dedicated to a friend, the Romanian pianist Mihaela Ursuleasa, who died suddenly a year and a half ago at the age of 33. Her death affected Kopatchinskaja so deeply that she said she got carried away composing the music and is not sure she can play it.
“It might be not very realistically written music, it’s a utopia,” Kopatchinskaja, who has a penetrating gaze and is as spontaneous in an interview as she is in her concerts, told Reuters. “It’s something that ... shaped itself. It controlled me, I couldn’t control what I wrote.”
That intensity and spontaneity is very much a part of a phenomenon sometimes called “Patkop” by promoters seeking a shorthand for the unfamiliar Molodovan name of someone who is becoming ever more familiar in music circles.
During a recent visit to London, Kopatchinskaja added another arrow to her quiver by leading, as first violinist, the conductor-less Britten Sinfonia. She won thought-provoking reviews for performances of Brahms, Bartok, Janacek and the Armenian composer Tigran Mansurian.
“You can like or dislike her steely, confrontational timbre, her penchant for extremes, her almost pathological impulse to sway, jump, stamp or visually mirror every passing nuance,” Richard Morrison wrote in The Times.
“What is beyond argument is her fierce, questing intelligence, allied to a virtuosity that lets her turn her instrument into a thousand different characters in a drama.”
Kopatchinskaja might dispute some of that characterization. She has taken issue with journalists writing about her sometimes performing barefoot, which she refuses to talk about anymore.
But she is also the first to assert that she wants performances to contain an element of risk. Without it, she thinks, classical music is suspended in aspic.
“I think concerts have become in our society something like a social entertainment on a high level, where everything has to be perfect and beautiful. But music is not only about making people feel comfortable and relaxed and enjoying themselves,” she said. “Art in general is something that is not very comfortable to see or to experience – literature or painting or music.”
She says when she walks onstage she puts everything – except the notes – out of her mind.
“I hope to get an inspiration and to become like a column of energy which connects the reality with another world,” she said.
Kopatchinskaja comes from a musical family. Both her parents are well-known folk musicians and her mother was classically trained. But she forged her own musical path from an early age.
“Every folk musician in Moldova gets first a classical [music] education, and when I got this education I enjoyed very much classical music and modern music and there are so many things to discover.
“So I don’t play folk music and when my parents and I came into the studio to record some pieces ... they wrote something down ... because I know this music, I listened to this music all my childhood, but I couldn’t play it alone. It’s only my roots are in folk music.”
Having broken with the family business, Kopatchinskaja is making her own path in a music world where the boundaries between classical, pop, folk, jazz and pretty much all genres are becoming more porous – which probably suits her fine.
“I want to leave all streams open, everything should be open,” she said. “I would never say what I’m going to do in 10 years from now because I know it will be different.
“I think it’s so important for an artist to remain fresh and open to what happens in the world and never a make a definition of something that he or she does because then it becomes a monument and then it’s dead, dead art, and art should be alive.
“People should allow us to make mistakes, this is very important.”