Facing the music: Isabelle Faust

The violinist on Schubert, Schumann and Schoenberg, and the poetry and charm of Duke Ellington

Vinyl or digital?

I’m a big fan of vinyl recordings. Somehow I do prefer them – every time I compare the same recording on vinyl and digital. Maybe it’s to do with my having grown up still in the vinyl times, but even my son, when comparing, for example, my Bach solo recording on digital and vinyl (available only in Japan sadly) is more into the vinyl sound. There’s something extremely human to it.

What was the first record or cd you bought?

Transfigured Night by Schoenberg played by the Lasalle quartet on vinyl (of course). I took masterclasses with my quartet at the age of 11 with the LaSalle Quartet in Basel and was an unconditional fan of their playing. They were very famous for their interpretations and knowledge of the second Viennese school. Their Schoenberg LP was one of my favourite.

Did you ever consider a career outside of music? Doing what?

I knew very early in my life that I would like to be a professional musician if I could, and never seriously thought about an alternative. But if I had to change today I can imagine trying to do something in the field of sustainable use of biological diversity – the world needs to be taken care of much more than we do.

What’s the most recent piece of music you’ve bought?

Recently I finally played Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet for the first time in my life with a few friends, for this I had to buy the urtext score. We played this piece for New Year’s Day up in the Dolomites for a small audience and it was an incredible treat for all of us to experience this oeuvre in a very intimate and beautiful surroundings.

If you had time to learn a new instrument, what would it be?

I would chose either natural Horn, English Horn or the bassoon. I love the special warmth that all those instrument’s voices possess. Whenever there’s an English Horn solo in one of the big symphonies it gives me goosebumps, and two of my very favourite musicians and close friends are the among the best natural horn and historical bassoon players today.

What single thing would improve the format of the classical concert?

More musical education in the schools is the key to more understanding and enjoyment later on in the concert halls. It’s a scandal how artistic and creative education is cut out today from schools, very much so in Germany, but also in all other countries I guess. As if life was really only about money...

If you had to pick one work to introduce someone to classical music, what would it be?

This really depends on the person. But I think a piece such as a Mozart string quartet or the Schubert string quintet can’t really ever go wrong. Or just take any Bach cantata. But most importantly, it has to be played well and in a very honest way so that the listener can grasp immediately the importance and complexity of the work.

What is the most unusual place you’ve played in?

My quartet once played in a women’s prison when I was 11. I was the only girl in the group and I will never forget the moment when one of the women stroked my hair and talked of her own little girl at home.

What’s been your most memorable live music experience as an audience member?

Almost all the concerts I heard with Claudio Abbado conducting. I think the most mesmerizing and transforming performance I can remember was his rendering of Schumann’s 2nd symphony. He rediscovered Schumann in his last years and got completely passionate about him.

We’re giving you a time machine: what period, or moment in musical history, would you travel to and why?

I would definitely want to experience Bach and his ways of writing, reasoning, thinking music. It’s hard for me today to imagine very clearly Bach’s state of mind when for example he wrote the sonatas and partitas for solo violin. How in the world he got the idea to write for a solo violin in an unheard of polyphonic way like he did? This and countless questions would be fantastic to clarify just a tiny bit.

What’s the most overrated classical work? - is there a warhorse whose appeal you really don’t relate to?

In the violin repertoire I would pick the Bruch violin concerto, which is for sure not my favourite but always very much loved by the public it seems. I last played this piece in public something like 25 years ago and haven’t come close to it since. I would rather leave it to my colleagues!

Which non-classical musician would you like to work with?

I’d love to have played once with Duke Ellington. I adore his music. He was such a poet and also very classical jazz man of such high standards that his music will never lose its actuality and charm. I also imagine him to have been a very wonderful person.

Isabelle Faust performs Mozart’s Violin Concertos nos 1 and 5 with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at the Royal Festival Hall, London, on 18 April.

This article was amended on 3/4/17 to correct a mis-spelling.

The GuardianTramp

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