From the standard classical repertoire to dissonant, avant-garde pieces, the musical territory that Moldovan violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja covers with her instrument is vast. Her musical horizons will expand even further on January 25 when she takes the stage of The Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall for a UCSB Arts & Lectures concert, a performance that will include the world premier of a brand new piece alongside reliable classical standards.
Cellist Jay Campbell will join Ms. Kopatchinskaja for the performance, continuing their collaboration that started when the two played together for the first time at the 2017 Lucerne Festival in Lucerne, Switzerland. Calling her collaborator “a wizard,” Ms. Kopatchinzkaja told the News-Press that Mr. Campbell’s wide range makes it easy for her to play different varieties of music with him.
“You can do anything with him,” the violinist said.
For the January 25 concert, that anything will comprise of selections from the classical canon as well as the contemporary composition “En-Kor Ill,” a piece by Hungarian composer Marton Illes that was commissioned by Arts & Lectures. Ms. Kopatchinskaja said the piece contains “nothing of the common banality” and avoids triteness by making use of “extended techniques that push the instruments beyond their familiar sound. When she first heard the music, Ms. Kopatchinskaja wasn’t sure of how to produce the sounds Mr. Illes’ piece demanded. However, Mr. Illes knew exactly what those sounds should be and met the violinist in Switzerland to show her. Ms. Kopatchinskaja was astonished at how they should be created.
“He knew exactly how to make them, holding the violin between the knees like a cello,” she recalled.
Breaking from classical music convention like this isn’t unusual for Ms. Kopatchinskaja. While she didn’t say whether or not the newly commissioned piece will approach avant-garde territory, she and Mr. Campbell have played pieces in that musical realm before. As shown in a YouTube video of the duo playing live, in 2017 they performed “Das Ruckgrat Bertsend,” an avant-garde piece that utilized transgressive levels of dissonance as well as voice parts by Ms. Kopatchinskaja. This practice of using her voice in performances came about years ago when she was experiencing arm pain that prevented her from playing the violin.
Classical violinists using their voices in performance is unusual, but Ms. Kopatchinskaja enjoys being subversive. According to the violinist, shocking the classical music world with an unorthodox artistic approach is nothing new, as Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata was described by a contemporary critic as “grotesque” and “accessible only to people under the spell of esthetic or artistic terrorisism.” She added that premiers by Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg ended in uproars, and that American pianist and composer George Antheil had a loaded gun on his piano when premiering pieces in Berlin to keep scandalized audiences in check. In Ms. Kopatchinskaja’s opinion, these sorts of artistic shake-ups are necessary to keep classical music interesting and there aren’t enough of them.
“Today nothing seems to move the audience out of the comfort zone. Everything has to be politically correct and smooth. Most concerts are truly boring to listen if one looks for real sensation,” she said.
While there have always been venues that will host avant-garde strains of classical music, Ms. Kopatchinskaja said the challenge now as always is bringing such content to the broader public and convincing inflexible orchestras and presenters to hold such concerts. However, she still sees a great deal of potential in taking classical music into more subversive directions, particularly among the younger generation of classical musicians.
In addition to her unconventional approach to the art of music, Ms. Kopatchinskaja’s live performing style is also unusual for a musician of her kind. Footage of Ms. Kopatchinskaja’s concerts on YouTube show her to have an animated stage presence, moving far more than the ordinary classical violinist. She said her physical style of performing is likely due to the influence of her father Viktor Kopatchinsky, who directed a large folk music ensemble that utilized dancers and colorful costumes. When she was a young girl, she frequently spent time with her father on tour and was influenced by his group’s performances, which consisted of telling folk stories with music and dance.
“Perhaps this influenced my way to feel music as gestures not only in the imagination but also in the body,” she said.
Though she may be adventurous with her violin playing, Ms. Kopatchinskaja doesn’t view having an unorthodox approach to music as more important than technical ability, or vice versa. Both are of equal significance to her.
As she put it, “If you cannot speak, you cannot tell something worthwhile. If you have nothing to say the ability to speak gets you nowhere. And repeating the ever same phrases transmits no information, even if these phrases are beautiful and true,” she said. Tickets to Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s January 25 concert cost $40 and can be purchased online at www.artsandlectures.ucsb.edu. The concert will begin at 7:00 p.m. at Hahn Hall on the Music Academy of the West campus, located at 1070 Fairway Rd.